Passion and ceramics – two words you won’t often find in the same sentence, unless you’re in conversation with Andrew O’Brien, that is. Founder and Managing Director of MyLife Bathrooms, his enthusiasm for the design, manufacture, and distribution of bathroom products borders on the obsessive. It’s a fixation with fixtures and fittings that is nothing short of infectious, and is one of the fundamental reasons the company has grown from five employees to 75 in just seven years. Now boasting three distribution centres – Newry, Wishaw (Scotland), Hailsham (England) – and 130,000 sq ft of warehousing, MyLife Bathrooms has taken the next step towards fulfilling the ambition to be the leading bathroom industry brand in the UK and Ireland.
Considering the company’s rapid growth since 2013, MyLife Bathrooms could
have been forgiven for sitting back and admiring their handiwork. Instead, they have re-invested, implementing a series of changes guaranteed to take things to the next level. With new headquarters in Newry’s Greenbank Industrial Estate, a new Warehouse Management System, and a new management structure – MyLife is more efficient and more effective than ever.
“It’s going to be a massive next few years for us,” said Andrew. “The business was largely built over the first six years on instinct, my gut feeling. Everything came through me and, with a bit of luck, it worked out well. But, it couldn’t go on that way if we wanted to continue to grow. We’ve made the move to the new offices and warehouse, and we invested £100,000 into a new Warehouse Management System that’s been up and running since January. It speeds everything up so much, on the purchasing side, sales, and also the order process. We have also added structure to what was previously a bit ad hoc with me making purchasing decisions. Now we have two buyers, a stock controller, and an analyst. When you’re growing so fast, keeping up with stock and cash flow was probably the toughest challenge. You could see how something could go wrong. That’s why we have spent a lot of time looking into this over the past six months.”
Appropriate stock levels, and the ability to supply those products when and where they are needed by the client, is the lifeblood of businesses like MyLife Bathrooms. “Customer service has, and always will be a massive thing for us,” added Andrew. “Now, the guys have a structure. We have the items categorised, they know the buffer stock, the double stock, everything. We know what to carry so we should never be out of stock. The WMS also tells you exactly where to put the stock and where to pick it from. The WMS and our new loading bays are saving time, saving money, increasing efficiency and getting the products in and out to our customers as quickly as possible. That’s what it’s all about.”
When you’re used to being the first point of contact, the key decision-maker, the go-to guy, it’s not always easy to delegate. For nearly seven years Andrew O’Brien was that guy. Everything at MyLife Bathrooms revolved around, or went through him. Not anymore.
Don’t for a second think Andrew is easing off the accelerator, taking a step back – far from it. As Managing Director and his company’s marketing lead, this is still very much a business in his image. It’s just that to progress further, things had to change. “It couldn’t go on the way it was,” Andrew freely admitted. “Now, we have a new management structure in place, with defined roles. J.P. Quinn, who was a General Manager and National Sales Manager, is now the company’s new Sales Director, and Grainne Fearon is our Financial Director. Grainne is a Chartered Accountant and it makes sense to utilize her financial expertise. We are also currently looking for a new Operations Manager… I have full trust in both JP and Grainne and also the rest of the team.”
If all things numerical are right up Grainne’s street and with JP focused fully focused on sales, Andrew is pretty sure what aspects of the business are best suited to his skillset. “The marketing side of the business incorporates product development and brand awareness. Together with our Product Design and Development Manager Cahal Lynch,
this is an area I particularly enjoy. We source products from China and all over Europe, and dealing with suppliers, building those relationships, sourcing the products, that is my background. Looking for the product, ensuring the very best quality of production, making sure it’s right, seeing what our competitors are doing – that’s my favourite bit of the business. Every factory that deals with us knows that we are about quality, quality, quality! MyLife has a reputation in China and elsewhere, every factory we deal with knows we will only accept the very highest standards. Our business model is geared towards the independent showroom, the person with a bricks and mortar premises. We help them in every aspect of their business, from making sure they get the right products, through to marketing,” he explained.
It’s that personal touch and attention to detail that has helped dispel the doubters. Andrew continued: “There are quite a few of our customers who were originally ‘tile’ guys. They were very wary of ‘bathrooms’ because in the past they’d had their fingers burnt dealing with people who never had the stock, or had faulty items. Many of them just didn’t want to know. They came up to see us, to see how we operate, our expertise, that we know our products inside out. Having taken the chance with us, they’re now a nearly 50/50 business, when previously they would have been 80% tiles and 20% bathrooms. They can now see how its helping their business, which is great.”