Written by Adrienne McGill
Article first featured in the September 2018 edition of Ambition Magazine
Tobermore, amid a symphony of colour and design, continues to pave its way to growth as Managing Director, David Henderson tells Adrienne McGill, Editor of Ambition Magazine.
Paving has come a long way since the days of bland, grey concrete bricks being the dominant feature outside business premises and on residential driveways.
For decades it was like this…but then along came Tobermore, a pioneer in concrete paving block manufacturing who introduced new sizes and shapes and more than a splash of colour, design and creativity by developing a state of the art production plant and supplying to the domestic and commercial sector.
With a current workforce of 260 people, it has grown to become one of the largest and most successful paving block manufacturers in the U.K, sourcing materials from its own quarry in Lough Fea and manufacturing products at its extensive plant in the village of Tobermore.
Tobermore’s range stretches across block paving, permeable paving, paving flags, steps, kerbs and edging, walling and masonry and retaining walls. The company prides itself on its world-class technology and the unrivalled quality of its products.
History of Tobermore
It all began in 1947 when David’s Grandmother gave David’s father, Sam Henderson, £500 to invest in a fledgling sand and gravel business established by two of his uncles 5 years earlier in Tobermore. Sam saw the huge potential of the business which had grown substantially by the time his son David joined the company in 1976 as a Production Manager after gaining a degree in Engineering at Queen’s University, Belfast before becoming Managing Director in 1987.
Under his leadership and with an entrepreneurial zeal akin to his father’s, David focused on filling a gap in the market – making residential and business premises more attractive with eye-catching paving products.
“My Father and Uncles quickly moved from selling sand and gravel used in the manufacture of concrete to producing concrete themselves and selling that directly to the local construction industry. The business evolved from there but slowly. When I joined we were still producing bricks, building blocks, readymix concrete and footpath slabs – but they were all rather basic grey concrete products, very low margin and very hard to make a profit on.“
“We understood if we made grey concrete – we couldn’t make money – it was as simple as that.We were supplying a broad range of general concrete products to residential and commercial building contractors but I knew there was something more we could offer.“We started to make more decorative products and paving blocks, which were more difficult to manufacture and required investment.“
“We could see the potential. In the 1980s there were emerging markets of block paving for driveways and decorative slabs for patios and we started to see more people putting in patios because there was an emphasis on enjoying the outdoors.”
However, while the company enjoyed decades of growth, David was forced to rethink strategy when the economic recession of 2007/2008 took its toll on the business.
“Our customers in the Republic of Ireland went out of business because of the recession – and that hit us hard. We had to make redundancies and reduce the workforce from 250 to 140 people,” says David. We had to re-think our strategy and decided to focus on the GB market. We pushed hard into the market and it has paid off’’
Ten years on and with many high profile GB applications under their belt such as The Chris Hoy Velodrome, Wembley Stadium – Olympic Way and Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport to name but a few, their play into the UK market has certainly been a success.
‘’It has been a difficult market to break into, but more and more of the big players in GB are recognizing Tobermore for its quality, service and price ‘’David added. ‘’One of the reasons is our most amazing delivery service which has an error rate of less than half a percent.’’
Their move into the GB market is continuing to grow, with 800 loads of concrete delivered to sites across GB in their busiest month this year. Of Tobermore’s 9.97million pre-tax profits last year, 80% of this now came from GB sales, and they’re not stopping.
Continuous improvement is David’s mantra; it has brought the company to where it is today and will guide Tobermore’s future.
Three ultra-modern factories with state of the art equipment producing block paving operate at Tobermore’s operation in Co Derry and an investment of £4m was made in the last year in machinery and a new line to facilitate the sealing of slabs in a new easy clean process. The company produces ½ million tons of products annually.
“We invest in the highest calibre machines using world-class technology. When we first started, we were working with a very basic brick machine, now we use a sophisticated German technology. It is like comparing a Morris Minor with an S-class Mercedes’’,” says David.
“But it’s not just the machines that make our products, it’s our people too, they are the heart of our business and most have been here for many years and are experts in all things concrete. These are the people who ensure the product is the best it can be, checking and applying quality standards. Not only do we manufacture our products with a hard-wearing surface layer, but we also source the very best iron oxide colour pigments available in the market which is how we make products with such strong, vibrant and long-lasting colours.”
What’s next for Tobermore? Well, the future looks solid. Sales have reached are at their highest since the recession and Tobermore is continuing to go for growth.
‘’We are setting ourselves apart in the GB marketplace with our superior product range, innovative manufacturing and first class customer service’’
‘’I am very proud to say that if you travel around GB you will see hospitals, schools, public realm, government buildings and airports featuring Tobermore products. The list continues, and is evident of our successful break into the GB market.’’
Read the latest edition of Ambition Magazine here.