Fingal Business Interviews S & S Office Inteior’s CEO, Alan Spain
Alan Spain relaxes back in a swivel chair as he begins to detail the story behind the success that is S & S Office Interiors the Swords Enterprise Park based company he heads up. Behind him on the wall is a mural of the last project the business worked on a deal with CAE Aviation that Alan’s business won with a tender of a heft 1m euro. He leans forward and reveals, ‘That was the deal that has enabled us to pitch for a higher level of project, we have now shown we can deliver on a million-euro project and that has helped us progress up a level with what we do.
‘We worked on that particular job for eleven months before we got the nod that we had won the tender, we placed great emphasis on placing both resources and time into trying to win it and we had an inner confidence in our ability to deliver it on budget and with a high degree of quality. ‘We are now in a situation where we have the financial stability and backing from the manufacturers for a large project and in terms of growing as a business that’s vital. ‘Part of the reason for our success is that we actually source our products directly from the manufacturers in Italy, Spain, France and the Netherlands, Nomique is a big supplier of ours as is BMA Ergonomics.’
The S & S success story is very much the Alan Spain success story as well, the second S came from his wife’s name, as he gambled on the whole thing working out and thankfully it appears the gamble has paid off. ‘I was always a salesman, IT and office furniture mainly, and when I was selling I could clearly see the opportunities in the sector, but it wasn’t easy when I initially went out on my own, I had to build a customer base virtually from scratch when I started back in 2008, in the height of the recession and the economic downturn. ‘My dad was a self-employed consultant for pubs and hotels, I saw how hard he had to graft to make that work and I’d like to think some of his work ethic rubbed off on me. ‘If there was a master plan at all at the time I started it was as simple as this, get as many sales as possible and put dinner on the table for the family! This is a numbers game really, you can get a large order that will cover your expenses for a month or there are times you can sell one individual chair, we pitch ourselves to operate at the level of selling multiples.’
There are difficulties though, no success story is complete without having overcome some of those, and often it is the customer who thinks biggest that can cause complications. ‘Some people have champagne tastes with cider budgets’, is how Alan puts it, before he elaborates, ‘People don’t really want to pay for the creme de la creme of office furniture, so we operate in the middle of the range. ‘the higher up the market you go the higher the rewards are, but equally the higher the risks are, there has to be a balance, and ultimately I earn my money by being a decision maker. ‘Look, when I started off I was told I’d fail if I didn’t have serious self-belief. I knew myself I wouldn’t fail, and yes there have been mistakes along the way to where we are now.
‘Two years into the business we set up an online company called Small Office Furniture with a promise we would deliver anywhere within 48 hours. ‘We got stung badly with a credit card scam, people were buying with stolen credit cards, we’d deliver and almost immediately a bank would contact us to say the card was robbed and reclaim the money from it. ‘Ultimately it proved far too difficult to police and we closed, thankfully with no losses, to reach this point, where we have twenty contractors working for us, seven full-time staff, vans on the road and two premises, has been a series of trial and error and thankfully we got more things right than wrong. ‘If I come up against a problem I find the best way is to take a step back get a wider view and see how it can be fixed, there’s a solution to every problem.’
Currently I hold position of President of the Dublin/Fingal Rotary club, ‘I love the voluntary charity work’, and am also council member with the Fingal Chamber of Commerce, ‘It gives me some good business contacts’, Alan says he has the right life/work balance in place. ‘I am enjoying life more now that I have financial stability, our highest turnover was 2m and we want to grow that further, but even though I’d never fully switch of when I close the door behind me on a Friday evening, I can and do devote weekends to family time I have a good balance in that regard. ‘I’d always be open to diversifying as well, I have expressed interest before in investing in other companies or in what I see as a good business idea, if you stand still in business you’re finished.’