The decision by Northern Ireland’s biggest independent electrical wholesaler to expand further west may appear at first glance to be part of some grand scheme. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The opening of Cable & Accessories N.I. Ltd’s latest branch in Enniskillen was actually the result of family ties – and being in the right place at the right time. With headquarters in Derry, plus subsidiaries in Limavady, Letterkenny, and Buncrana, the company’s sphere of influence was largely the Emerald Isle’s north west. A further branch in Omagh dipped the toe a little farther afield, but there was no real intention to go (further) west.
“It just sort of fell into our lap,” explains Director, Kieran McAllister. “There was a branch of Foyle Electrics in Enniskillen, owned by Victor Kyle, brother of the founder of Cable & Accessories, Basil Kyle. We had chatted over the years about taking it on, nothing more. Then he came to me one day and said he was packing it in, and asked if we were still interested. That’s how it happened.
“The new branch is not even in keeping with our company profile to be honest. Here [in Derry] we have nearly 20,000 square feet, Omagh is 8000, Limavady and Letterkenny 6000, whereas Enniskillen is just 4000 square feet. It wasn’t part of any grand plan, and probably further than we anticipated extending our reach, but it has worked out really well.”
Capitalising on an opportune moment gave rise to the opening of branch number six. It was also how Kieran came to join Cable & Accessories back in 1990. The first chance encounter came when he agreed to fix a light on a boat. It sparked a lifelong obsession. “He took me out sailing and that was it. It was actually at Lough Swilly Yacht Club that I first met Basil [Kyle]. We got chatting over a few friendly beers, and he offered me a job.”
Kieran had been working as an Electrical Estimator for DuPont, but took the plunge to join the local firm that Basil and his wife Pat had started just six years previously, based at Pennyburn Pass (not far from Cable & Accessories current HQ). The original ‘electrical back-up’ remit didn’t last long, and Kieran was soon playing a wider and more influential role.
A first branch outside Derry, behind Canning’s Garage in Limavady, was followed by the establishment of a store in the old Fiesta Ballroom building in Letterkenny; a further Donegal outlet in Buncrana; and the aforementioned branch in Omagh. With each move the time felt right, part of a gradual, considered growth, rather than the sort of rapid rise that is often the prelude to an even swifter fall.
Each development provided lessons that were incorporated into the latest move. “The recession in 2008 was a very challenging time for the company. It made us conscious of the type of business we were in, and the type of customers we had. Closely connected to the construction industry, we had no choice but to batten down the hatches and work through it. We had to step back and take a cold, hard look at ourselves. To be honest, from that experience everything is now better, more streamlined, more efficient.”
“When the opportunity presented itself to move into Enniskillen we made sure not to arrive all guns blazing. We kept things low key, and retained all the existing staff. Everything from changing the signage to installing our computer system was implemented gradually, ensuring the transition was organic, for want of a better word.”