Belfast Telegraph

Co Derry kitchen firm boss eager to expand into GB market

By Rachel Martin

The boss of a luxury kitchen company in Co Londonderry which featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs says he's ready to grab the GB market by the horns.

Coleraine businessman Willie Oliver - who runs high-end kitchen manufacturing company, Exorna - said he sees opportunities to increase sales across the water and is on the hunt for a sales rep to cover Great Britain.

Mr Oliver founded Exorna - which calls itself Northern Ireland's largest kitchen maker - 35 years ago and today runs the company with his son Richard (34). He also owns logistics firm William Oliver Transport, run by younger son Andrew (32).

Last year, the company saw a 20% increase in turnover - up on £4m in 2014. And Willie Oliver says he wants to see 20% year-on-year growth in both production and turnover as the company makes the most of Brexit opportunities.

"Everyone is talking about Brexit as if it's a negative thing but I can only see opportunities for manufacturers," he said.

"Even in my own company we've started sourcing our chipboard from Great Britain instead of Spain - with sterling devaluing it makes imports a lot more expensive so it makes sense to support other UK companies.

"There are a lot of kitchens going into GB from France and Germany. We've been to several factories in Germany and we know we are offering everything they do so there's no reason that we couldn't step up to that.

"Other companies have seen the opportunities and have been getting quite aggressive with their marketing. I would like to see a year-on-year increase of about 20% in turnover and production - one drives the other so we're looking at ways to expand our factory."

The factory currently employs 50 people, but Mr Oliver said he needs to take on more staff to keep up with demand.

The company carries out both private, residential work and commercial contracts for housing developers and social houses. Across both sides of the business, the firm fits more than 4,000 kitchens a year.

"Historically, the contract side of our business has been the biggest side but the private housing has been very strong recently and is a real area of growth for us," Mr Oliver said.

"We suffered a bit in the private housing end of things during the crash in 2008 and 2009. There was a major drop in new builds but things seem to be picking up again and the banks are more willing to finance building projects.

"We're involved in a development in Limavady and another in Derry but expect that side to get bigger as things pick up."

The company has recently invested over £350,000 in new equipment as it prepares to gear up production. The new machinery has allowed the company to increase production to over 1,000 cupboards a week and has also meant the company has needed to take on more employees.

In October, a kitchen made by the company was featured on fantasy build series Grand Designs in the episode named 'The Blacksmith's House'.

The episode saw presenter Kevin McCloud venture to the North Coast to watch the stunning conversion of a 100-year-old forge.

Belfast Telegraph