Pallet Power: Oliver Conroy Pallets Still Going Strong as Family Firm

Oliver Conroy Pallets | All-Ireland Business Foundation
Left to Right - Niall Conroy, Oliver Conroy & Feargal Conroy of Oliver Conroy Pallets.

Covid has family firms under the cosh, according to research, but industry will always need pallets.

The Covid impact runs deeper in some sectors than others. But industry will always need pallets, and while not quite Covid-immune, Oliver Conroy Pallets is weathering the storm. Three generations of the Conroy family work in the business, which will celebrate 70 years in production later in 2021.

The company employs c40 people and is a steady earner. With three depots in Westmeath and Dublin, OCP recycles and supplies pallets to businesses in Ireland and the UK, among them Diageo, Smurfit Kappa and Tayto.

Fergal Conroy (47) owns 58% of the OCP shareholding and his brother Niall (49), who heads up production and logistics in the business, owns a 35% stake.

Founder Oliver Conroy sold most of his shareholding to his sons several years ago and retains a 6% shareholding, while his wife, Maura, owns the remaining equity. Fergal and Debbie Conroy own a sister company, Flamers, which recycles surplus timber into wood logs, kindling and other biofuels.

OCP originated in Mullingar, where Oliver Conroy set up a timber business that felled trees to make fence posts and firewood. “I left school at 15 and went straight into the business, says Fergal Conroy, explaining that OCP pivoted into pallet supply during the 1980s. We were always a customer-focused business and I learned the importance of that when selling Christmas trees in Dublin-we did that from the age of six or seven. Before focusing on pallets, we had been selling fencing posts, doing some forestry work and agriculture contracting.”

With the move to pallets, QCP could start customers on long-term contracts. The business takes in pallets from customers, repairs or replaces constituent parts, then ships them out again.

“We don’t manufacture pallets from scratch, although that is an area that we are looking to get into in the future,” says Conroy.

OCP processes around 1.5 million pallets every year in its 60,000 sq. ft. facility in Robinhood Industrial Estate in D22. The company’s sustainability credentials are good too, as its focus on reusing pallets means that more than 22,000 tons of timber is diverted from landfills and Halloween bonfires every year. BR Transport in Mullingar and IWT Transport are used for most of OCR’s logistics requirements.

Fergal and Niall Conroy became directors in 2002. “Our father wanted to sell most of his shareholding and he was happier having done so,” Fergal Conroy recalls. The company founder stayed on as a director until 2019 and still works in the business at the tender age of 83. Once his two sons took up the reins, they began to sketch out how best to continue growing the business.

“We realised that we needed to move into Dublin and establish more depots,” Conroy recalls. “We also put more Individual skill sets into play. “I like the sales side of the business best, while Niall is very good with production and logistics,” says Fergal.

The Flamers business is based in Sonna, Mullingar. Established in 2009, it sells kindling and compressed wood fire logs made from OCP timber through stockists that include BWG Foods, Topline and TJ Morris. Around 50% of Flamers business comes through exports to the UK.

Conroy says that Brexit is a worry for OCP and Flamers. “Companies tended to stockpile products in the months before Brexit and it will probably still take a few months to flush that out of the system in the UK. Raw material coming in from Britain could also be a problem for us, but we won’t know how bad Brexit might be until later on. Overall, the Covid effect levelled out among our customers.”

FAMILY BUSINESS REMEDIAL ACTIONS DUE TO COVID

  • Reduced salary/benefits for managers 34%
  • Reduced salary/benefits for employees 25%
  • Temporary layoffs 47%
  • Permanent layoffs 28%
  • Reduced working hours 52%
  • Utilised state 81%
  • Availed of bank loan breaks 32%

Source: DCU Business School

“Some were busier last year while for others, their trade dried up a bit.” OCP’s turnover has grown year on year for the past three years and Conroy says that plans for 2021 include opening a new depot. “We want to break into the market for new pallets, as well as expand the packaging side of our business, Pallets and packaging are competitive markets but I see that as a good thing. OCP didn’t just arrive this morning the business took a long, hard road to get here.

At Oliver Conroy Pallets, we believe that continuing to invest and expand the technology within the production,…

Posted by Oliver Conroy Pallets on Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Though the Conroys are chipper, recent research from DCU National Centre for Family Business, Ulster University and others, paints a rather gloomy outlook for Ireland’s family firms. The research took in 251 family business owners, managers, and employees across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and highlighted the following short-term concerns:

  • 96% are concerned about a loss of revenue over the next six months.
  • 85% are concerned about insufficient cashflow.
  • 25% worry about loss of family control of the business due to pandemic impacts.

Family businesses are estimated to account for two in three of all businesses in the Republic of Ireland and three in four north of the border. Report author Dr Catherine Faherty stated: “For some family business teams, survival beyond Covid-19 may not seem viable in the present moment, and for others, continuity has not been possible and the doors of the family firm have been closed for the last time.

“This research shows that the family ownership structure can be an advantage during difficult economic times. Those leaders who have been transparent with their teams and demonstrated a genuine concern for the treatment and wellbeing of their employees have fared significantly better during the crisis.”

To learn more about Oliver Conroy Pallets, visit their All-Star showcase page here.

The process to select the next group of Business All-Star accredited companies has begun and further information is available at businessallstars.ie.

This post first appeared in Business Plus.