More than Manufacturing

Oliver Phelan, National Sales Manager, Uform tells IKTG why personability is the greatest quality in order to succeed in the Irish kitchen industry.

When IKTG speaks to Oliver Phelan it’s almost six months to the day since he joined Toomebridgebased manufacturer Uform as National Sales Manager, overseeing the company’s Domestic sales team which spans the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

'My role is mainly as a mentor,’ explains Oliver. ‘I’m there to guide and assist our Area Sales Managers, who in turn support our customers to grow their businesses by helping to maximise every sales opportunity available. ’Uform is an indigenous Irish business which was formed in 1993 by the late Eddie Donnelly and his sons, Eamon and Paul. It was originally named Oakwood Door Designs but rebranded in 2007 to Uform and established its market leading end consumer brand, Kitchen Stori, a brand synonymous with quality and sold via a network of approved independent retailers nationwide.

Oliver, whose background is in construction manufacturing, states the most rewarding aspect of his new role is being privy to the joy that the Kitchen Stori product range brings to homeowners.

‘The kitchen industry is a very personal industry,’ he says. ‘When our end users select a range from our Kitchen Stori offering, they are making that purchase on the assumption that that product will reside in their home for 10-15 years; it’s a privilege to be able to make that happen.'

Like the industry in which it operates, Uform has cultivated a reputation as being a customerfocused business, especially where its trade customers are concerned.

‘We don’t just sell to our trade partners, we’re there to develop long term, mutual partnerships to help them achieve success in every aspect of their business,’ he says.

For example, when a trade customer partners with Uform they are offered a comprehensive service, this begins with a customer focussed meeting which helps determine what their objectives are for growing the business.

‘Establishing the business owner’s hopes and dreams really helps us to get a feel for how we can match our offering to their business model,’ says Oliver.

Uform will then consider how the customer interacts with their end consumer and helps with world class imagery to ensure all products are marketed to their full potential. Comprehensive training on Uform’s diverse product offering is provided, in additon to guidance on the company’s service offering including ordering and delivery options.

The team will then help the retailer consider how the products will be displayed in the showroom.

‘Many retailers have their own design team, but we offer the use of our dedicated in-house Showroom Design Team to ensure Uform product is displayed in the most commercial and trend setting way to ultimately maximise sales for our retailers,’ says Oliver.

 

Manufactured on Irish soil

Over the course of his previous role, Oliver dealt with customers from all over the globe, but the manufacturing industry in Ireland is second to none, he says.

‘Irish industry has been self-sufficient since day dot, which is why we have been able to rise to any challenges that have come our way. What sets Uform apart from its competition is the ability to change and improve systems to meet the end users’ needs.’

‘Irish kitchen retailers are exceptionally capable, and many can manufacture their own carcases and fit the kitchen inhouse. Talking to the end user, they have a level of trust in our customer and us; they know if they pick up the phone that the person on the other line is knowledgeable in all aspects of delivering a new kitchen or other home furniture solutions,’ adds Oliver.

In 2021, the award-winning door and component supplier launched a bespoke e-commerce website, Uform Online, which features a host of self-service options for trade customers, from placing orders 24/7, to building quotations, paying invoices, and availing of exclusive promotional codes.

‘It’s not just an ordering system, it acts as an account management system which is entirely bespoke for every customer and has been developed in line with our overall company vision of being easy to do business with,’ says Oliver.

Helping trade customers to reduce the amount of time spent on admin gives them more time to concentrate on creating valuable sales opportunities.

 

Innovation is key to success

The Irish kitchen industry is built on a foundation of innovation, a value which has enabled Uform to dominate in the Irish market for almost 30 years.

Currently the company is expanding its purpose-built factory to 225,000sq ft, home to their automated manufacturing and distribution facility. This latest investment, which is due for completion in late 2022, will position Uform as having the largest painting capacity within the kitchen industry throughout UK & Ireland and additional warehousing space will place the company in an even stronger position when it comes to servicing the Irish market in terms of product choice and shorter lead times.

‘We can’t stand still or rest on our laurels,’ says Oliver. ‘We want to constantly remain ahead of the curve to stay one step ahead for our customers. Our mission as a company is to enable our customers to create aspirational living spaces focussed around the heart of the home, and we will ensure we deliver on this through a continual focus on product innovation’.

Currently, Uform is working behind the scenes on their latest phase of product development which will be unveiled in the coming weeks; a range of ex-stock colour extensions and new accessories will be the latest additions to the already comprehensive product portfolio.

It’s never been more important to remain innovative and competitive as the industry prepares to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, the latest blow in a series of unprecedented challenges.

‘Like many companies, we’re facing challenges that we have never experienced before, regarding the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit on the marketplace. We have proven our resilience as a business and our commitment to ensuring we minimise any potential implications from an end user perspective.

‘Consequently, this has meant increasing stock levels, bringing more product into the country, investing in different infrastructure, and becoming as self-sufficient as possible to offset any challenges other countries might be facing.

‘Our main challenge is to find a way to continue to deliver quality kitchens and furniture solutions which offer choice, convenience, and value for money, and expanding our off the shelf ex-stock offering is just one way to ensure we remain competitive.’

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