The man who saved PJ Matthews
Here we spotlight the man who took a gamble during a depressed building industry and saved one of Limerick's established firms from extinction.
Ciaran Smyth is a straight-talking genial Cavan man and was Manager of the Limerick branch of plumbing and heating contractors P.J. Matthews in Ballysimon when the enterprise was facing voluntary liquidation in 1987.
In his busy upstairs office he told Business Limerick: "the building industry was on its knees at the time and of course we would be one of the first to suffer.
'There were about a dozen people employed at what was part of the Abbey Plc Group. My family and workers were probably facing emigration and that was my incentive to try and save the situation", he said.
The native of Gowna who came to Limerick in 1975 from a plumbing merchants in Sligo continued: "I saw the potential of the business and decided I would try to continue the operation. I saw that the area required plumbing merchants like P.J.
"The liquidator was in place at the time and I approached him with a package which I put to him prior to the completion of the liquidation.
"This was a personal decision and I also approached an employee John Byrnes who was a representative on the road for the firm for his support.
"The liquidator accepted my proposals. The premises closed for a week and we began again from scratch with a small staff. We found suppliers were very loyal and stood by us with materials ", he recalled.
The business was originally started by a family of brothers in the Fifties in Dublin who opened a branch in Limerick in 1969. "It would have been a pity to see such a business disappearing said the now Managing Director of P.J. Matthews which is now a multi-million euro enterprise benefitting from the building boom employing thirty-five people in sales, deliveries, warehousing and showrooms.
The revitalised P.J. Matthews is now in its 19th year in business and a lot of the original staff have returned to work with the firm.
With the climate not good for the building industry trading was difficult at the beginning and Ciaran found himself working strenuous sixteen to eighteen hour days. "Sleep was something you snatched here and there", he remarked.
"We gradually built up the business again and we were one of the first to create bathroom showrooms in the South-West and can proudly claim that we are regarded as the place to get choice and service from the staff".
P.J. Matthews is now entering a new era with its new luxury state-of-the-art E2 million showrooms called the Bathouse due to be opened this month. The Bathouse will carry materials from exotic countries such as China as well as the U.S., the Continent, England and Ireland.
"We will have available what the Americans call 'the wellness centre' which caters for all your comforts and sensibilities from whirlpool systems, steam systems to body jet showers and to the plain ordinary basic showers or bath unit", he said.
Showing the diversity and variety of products now available on the market, he revealed that the new Bathouse will have about forty-five different bathroom suites on display and twenty-five different shower displays.
"A new concept in bathing will be displayed in the introduction of an atmospheric lighting system with different colour sequences that we are told allows your body and mind to relax.
That's the world we are living in today", suggested Ciaran.
He pointed out that P.J. Matthews in its earlier days was located in splendid isolation on its own in the countryside surrounded by green fields where cows grazed. "In fact there are still cows across the road", he said.
Today the firm's premises is surrounded by a number of modern-day business parks, but P.J. Matthews still stands alone outside any park complex.
"This change in the physical landscape of the area and the plethora of new enterprises that have sprung up shows how Limerick and its suburbs are growing and expanding at a terrific rate.
"Our business is strategically placed for distribution throughout Limerick city and county and the region around.
'The fact that we are beside the ring road makes access to and from us easy and for us it means that we can deliver without serious traffic delays.
"There are further road developments in the pipeline including tunnels which again will further streamline access to our location", he suggested.
Ciaran revealed that P.J. Matthews "are a buoyant business offering services to all sectors within the trade. Building is going through a boom time and of course we are benefitting.
"Contractors send their clients into our showrooms to view materials and seek expert advice from our experienced staff. Now with our new Bathouse showroom coming on stream, customers will be able to choose at their leisure which can be a difficult task. The Bathouse will give them a whole new experience In a relaxed atmosphere", he said.
He can see the building trade prospering into the future. "We have a young population coming through who are well-educated and who will be looking for housing in the future.
"There is also the new trend of immigrants coming here to work who inevitably will require housing and are now essential to the needs of the economy.
"It's a measure of our openness that we have accepted these people who are being absorbed into our society", he said.
The Bathouse which is certain to be a huge customer draw will have six staff managed by Noel Keane from Corbally in Limerick. Ciaran's daughter Fiona is also a member of the sales team.
The company head lives in Monaleen with his Leitrim-born wife Christina from Kiltyclogher. The couple have four children Melvin, a solicitor in Limerick, Fiona on the company staff, Jennifer an environmental engineer and Orlaith who is studying acupuncture.
Ciaran and his wife are serious hill walkers and enjoy places such as the Burren, Keeper Hill, the Galtees and the Kerry mountains. "We walk quite a bit and we are not involved in any club.
I play a bit of golf when I have time", he volunteered.
It was back to business and the phone as he was pushing to get the new showrooms completed and up and running.
He gave one final reflection: "it was hard work getting the firm going again when business wasn't good. You just had to go out and sell and work mad hours.
"Now thankfully when I go home the business stays behind in the office. I don't work eighteen hours anymore.
I'm not a television watcher and I read a lot especially history and about civilization. I'm not into fiction", he concluded.
author: Business Limerick magazine