“We have built a really cohesive team here at Coatek ” – CEO Q&A with Hugh Kenny of Coatek

By Business & Finance
18 May 2022
Pictured: Hugh Kenny, CEO of Coatek

Hugh Kenny is the CEO of Coatek, a window film and glass manifestations company set up by Hugh in 2004.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

We specialise in the supply and installation of window films, signage, wall graphics, manifestations, re-writable paint and whiteboards. The variety of services we offer means my main priorities include developing and maintaining business strategies for each area while ensuring our teams are equipped with everything they need to provide an outstanding level of service to our customers. Growing our team with qualified people who are passionate about what they do has also always been a priority, it allows us to expand into new markets and to constantly improve our services. Our main goal at the moment is to continue to build on the successes we have made over the past couple of years by  maintaining an excellent level of customer service and product offering while expanding into new markets in Northern Ireland. 

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Finding the time to prioritise the parts of the business that I need to concentrate on so that I can grow the company.  There are a lot of demands on your time so organisation of my day is pivotal but in a busy company it is inevitable you will get pulled in different directions.  Apart from that the biggest challenge is sourcing and retaining good staff.  We are fortunate in Coatek to have a low staff turnover so we must be doing something right but it’s always a concern.  All you can do is try to make sure you are giving your staff the conditions to thrive and excel.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Our team grew by 7 new members in as many months last year. As we welcome new team members we feel it is important to evolve how we communicate with each other. Regular team meetings and quarterly staff days help us to connect and celebrate company and individual successes. Monthly team newsletters highlight customer reviews so everyone can celebrate those together, upcoming projects are also included so that the team can familiarise themselves with exciting new projects. We believe in supporting our team in their career and training ambitions so we are happy to facilitate that in any way we can.

Communication is key, we believe in listening to each other so new ideas are always welcome from any team member. 

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Right now it would have to be the continual increases of prices for materials.  Every supplier seems to be increasing right now and you can’t help but feel some are taking advantage of the current climate to up their rates.  The other big challenge is staffing levels, especially the availability of installers.  We have always had a good level of Polish and other nationalities but there is definitely a trend of them returning to their homelands which is great to see in one way but it is definitely our loss as these are great workers.  However, there are still lots of great workers here but you have to make sure you make your company a place they want to work and even that sometimes isn’t enough.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

In the window film side of the business the emergence of Insulation films is proving key for growth.  Heat loss during the winter months especially in older houses is costing homeowners thousands of euros each year and a film installation will make significant changes straight away.  Our Solar film range is very popular with commercial and domestic clients alike as they continue building beautiful offices and homes with lots of glass but the downside is they are proving very uncomfortable for people even in a country like ours with a very changeable weather pattern.  Excess heat, glare and UV damage are a major problem.  The installation of one of our solar films will have a hugely positive impact on their working/living environment.

Also the modern office is continuously evolving.  Clients want everything that’s new.  Our re-writable paint for example is proving very popular.  We recently installed 1500 sq metres of it for a large multinational and now essentially their staff can stop in the corridor or any office and have a brainstorming session and write it all on the walls and before they leave they return the wall to the way it was with a simple wipe down.  It’s only one of our new products but we have another couple that we will be launching in 2022.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Actually I think we are in a sector that is quite well controlled.  A little more regulation would always be welcome but in general if you do things right in this country in this sector you are taken care of so no complaints on that score from me.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

While recruiting for roles last year we learned that the uncertainty that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused has made people cautious about moving jobs. Given the services we offer we are finding candidates will have experience in one area but not another, finding suitable candidates with window film experience is increasingly difficult as it is such a specialised skill. 

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

When that crash happened we thankfully weren’t exposed to heavy bank loans or overdrafts.  Our growth has been driven organically and it always has been. 

We re-invest in the company all the time. 

Obviously business got a lot quieter for a while but we used the time to identify where we could focus on as and when the green shoots of recovery began.  For example some of the major commercial office fit-out  contractors and construction companies that we know were going to be around after the crisis we targeted and started the process of getting on their tender lists so that when work started again we now we’re getting the chance to quote for it and slowly we started to make our mark with these clients and once they gave us the chance we knew we would deliver and then the repeat business started to happen and referrals started coming our way.  It probably has been one of the most satisfying parts of growing the company to see some of those accounts that started off small develop into major accounts for us now. 

How has Brexit affected you?

Thankfully the negative impact of Brexit has been minimal so far.  We source most of our materials in France and Luxembourg and the one UK supplier we had, we have now reduced our orders significantly with them.  On the plus side we have secured a major contract from an Irish company who was sourcing a particular product in London.  Increased prices and an uncertain delivery schedule forced our client to look elsewhere and we had already contacted them about our ability to offer this product so when they became unsure of their UK source they turned to us.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

Our services are heavily linked to the construction industry, both in residential and commercial areas, so the closure of those sectors meaning that we couldn’t actively be on site, had a huge effect on us. We were initially very concerned about what that would mean for us, however clients were very understanding given the times and background work such as tenders, quotes and design work began to increase quickly in anticipation of the reopening. In terms of the residential sector we have seen a marked increase in these enquiries as people have been spending so much time in their homes, noticing issues like solar gain, glare and privacy a lot more. 

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success to me is going above and beyond for a customer, exceeding their expectations and creating a long term mutually beneficial relationship. Building trust with a client to the point that they become a regular customer or recommend us regularly to others is a level of success we strive for every day. We have built a really cohesive team here at Coatek and having a crew that is so dedicated, inspired by their work and that support each other so well, drives us all to succeed. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Listen to advice from people who have been through it and met the challenges and still came through.  I have been very fortunate to learn from some great people and never think you know enough.  Personally I love taking part in programmes such as the Owner Manager course run by the LEO and joining a group of fellow entrepreneurs on the Plato programme in Dublin

Continuous reading of business books and involving yourself in these type programmes is instrumental for business growth. 

Also reach out to your LEO, Enterprise Ireland, LEADER and other organisations that are there to help you.  You will be amazed by what is out there and you can only benefit.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

In our case it has been the arrival of some new key staff.  They have brought a new level of knowledge and professionalism and it is just great to work with them and see their ideas being introduced to Coatek.  I think the fact that despite offers from other prospective employers they chose us gives myself and Martina a great sense of pride in our company.  The other main highlight has been experiencing our clients getting back to work and sending business our way again.  Obviously we were concerned at the early part of the pandemic as to what way this would pan out but as usual Irish companies have hit the ground running and are back at it stronger than ever and it’s great to be part of it.

What’s next for your company?

We are trying to source a larger premises which will allow us to purchase some new equipment which in turn will allow us to develop our current customer base and enter new markets which we have identified already.  We also have a couple of new products which we are going to introduce to the Irish market in 2022 which we think will tie in well with our core business and appeal to current and potentially new clients.  

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We want to continue to increase our customer base here.  We have the potential with a lot of our clients to up-sell to them with further products and we fully intend to do this.  We want to bring the Coatek brand to every corner of the island of Ireland.  Whether it is window films for your home or work place, branding, signage, whiteboards and manifestations for your office we want people to know what Coatek can offer them.  We hope to employ a sales person for Northern Ireland in the next couple of months which will bring us into a market we have only really touched the surface of previously.  Beyond that we have ambitions to enter the UK market when it all settles down and perhaps further into Europe.  We really believe there is an exciting future ahead for Irish companies and we know there will be challenges but we are good at identifying challenges and overcoming them and spotting opportunities where others might see obstacles and I think in Coatek we have this ethic right throughout the company.

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