At the heart of Northern Irish confectionery for 45 years
Declan Hardy, managing director of Hardy Brothers, talks to Neighbourhood Retailer as the company celebrates 45 years as a leading wholesaler in Northern Ireland.
In just a few decades, Ballymena-based wholesaler Hardy Brothers has gone from one man and a lorry delivering to retailers within County Antrim to a Northern Ireland-wide business boasting a product-range of over 2,000 leading brands across confectionery, crisps, snacks, soft drinks, energy drinks water, and other ambient grocery categories.
Managing director, Declan Hardy officially took up a position in the company in 2005 but his impression on the family business started long before.
“You could say I’ve been working in the business since I could walk,” he jokes. “As with many family businesses it becomes a way of life and childhood memories are filled with helping Dad load the lorry and going out on runs with him during Saturdays and the school holidays.”
Declan’s parents started the company in 1976 but the family has had roots in the confectionery sector ever since the 1940’s when Edward Hardy snr. owned a small shop and wholesale business at the same premises.
As managing director of the company, Declan has a broad role that involves overseeing every aspect of the business. His father, Sean, is still very much involved in the running of the company and wouldn’t miss a day out on the road selling, and his mother, Frances, remains very hands on in the running of the office.
“It’s in our bones,” Declan tells Neighbourhood Retailer. “Even at a young age you really learn a lot about relationships with customers and suppliers. We still have customers that I remember delivering to 30 years ago as a kid.”
Now with a young family himself, Declan believes that Hardy Brothers’ customers really respond to the more personal approach that only a family owned and family operated business can bring. Although there are only currently three members of the Hardy clan currently managing operations, the family ethos has trickled down through the staff.
“Every member of team has taken on our family values. It’s a bit of a cliché but we do see our customers and suppliers as friends as well as business partners,” he says.
Customer service is of utmost importance to the Hardys, underpinning everything the wholesaler does. Offering value-driven promotions that ensure competitive prices in market, and keeping customers up to date with the latest product developments is all part of the basic service from Declan and the team. Despite growing to over 20 employees, customers report that the personal touch is still there.
“It’s something we’ll never lose,” agrees Declan. “We’re out there every day speaking to our customers and if they need anything there is always a friendly voice at the end of the phone.”
Anybody in the industry will know that the wholesale and distributer sectors have experienced more than a few challenges in the last 45 years. However, more recently, changes to government legislation has meant the company has had to think on its feet to continue servicing its retailers as effectively as before.
The removal of tuck shops from schools and the sugar tax has forced suppliers and wholesalers to shake up the market and think more creatively about their product range.
“I see us as being the right size to make quick decisions. Being a family-run business means we can react quickly to any changes or challenges that might come up and deliver the right solution accordingly.
“A lot of these challenges encourage innovation. Ahead of us we have the uncertainty of Brexit and the many possible scenarios that it can throw at us, but like before, we’ll tackle any challenges with the same attitude of looking for opportunities.”
One of the ways in which Hardy Brothers has been solidifying its business model is through utilising the latest technologies available to them. At the end of last year the business launched an Online Ordering Platform designed to streamline the ordering process, both in-house and for its customers, as well as giving 24/7 access to the wholesaler’s product information and offers. So far, the response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We still see ourselves as very much a traditional wholesale business where our sales team is the main point of order capture. Saying that, wholesale has changed a lot over the last few years and to future proof the business we cannot just rely on this,” says Declan.
As well as the Online Ordering Platform, Hardy Brothers is also currently looking at introducing a bespoke ordering app that will allow its customers to order even more quickly via any mobile device.
“Convenience and information are crucial for our customers so anything that can make the process smoother is always an opportunity. We have also invested in upgrading our warehouse management system which ensures more accuracy both with goods in and out, helping us to ensure a ‘Right First Time’ approach to everything we do.”
With 45 years of experience, Hardy Brothers, are more than prepared for what the next decade will bring whether that means challenges or opportunities. As the business enters this milestones year, Declan and the team are quietly confident it will be one to remember.
“2020 will be another exciting year for us. We have plans in place which will see us continue on our recent growth journey which will be driven by opportunities within our existing territories and expansion into new territories and we plan to increase our product offering by diversifying into other categories.”