When was the company started and by whom?
Ernest (Ray) McGowan started the business in 1968 alongside three sleeping partners. Soon after opening Ray bought over the three partners and became sole owner. The reason behind it was “back in the day” Ray had been marketing manager at a similar type of company and used to have colleagues in the same company undercut him on sales. He had installed a Pull Down Linen Hand Towel into a business, at 5 shillings, and his colleague that worked for the same business undercut him by half the price. So he then decided to go into business himself. In the late sixties health and safety didn’t have the same importance attached to it that we do nowadays. Engineering firms and garages were extremely dirty with oil and debris and workers used rags to wipe their hands which led to bad dermatitis. Because they put the dirty rags in their pockets it was suggested that this was causing testicular cancer, however was not proven. This was seen as an opportunity to introduce paper hand towels into businesses so staff could wipe their hands and throw the dirty paper hand towel in the bin.
Where did the business start off?
It was originally based in Belfast at Stewart Industrial Services and then moved to University Street Belfast and then to Jennymount Ind Est Belfast. The reason for leaving Belfast was because it was the height of the troubles and there was an actual bomb that hit the premises. The company then moved to Ballyrogan Road, Newtownards and when it started to grow beyond what Ballyrogan could hold, it moved to Belfast Road Newtownards where there was an existing car garage and the premises were bought over.
How has the business evolved over the years?
In 1968 the business started with a D20 Miler Roll. This was the first ever product to be introduced. Secondly hand cleanser was introduced and thirdly non woven wipers and j-cloths. After that products just continued to be introduced and the years went on. Karcher came on board approximately 20 years ago. When we started out we had two female sales representatives and now we have twenty five staff members. Before you ask, they are not all family!
It is a very family centered business so how have the generations got involved ?
Ray McGowan owned the business and his two sons Richard and Nigel worked in the business from a young age, their father was reaching retirement the two sons decided to buy the business off him and own it between themselves fifty/fifty. As Ray sold the business to his sons he still continued to work there until retirement, but the transition was very easy as everyone had been working together for many years already.
Have you suffered any setbacks over the years?
After buying their father out Richard was appointed Managing Director and Nigel was appointed Sales Director. Family tragedy hit in December 2004 when Managing Director Richard fell extremely ill and was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Due to the progression and aggressiveness of the cancer Richard was diagnosed and passed away in under a week leaving the family severely distraught. As the death was very sudden and the company had lost it’s Managing Director, Nigel who was then Sales Director and Richard’s brother had to step into the role as Managing Director with no preparation. This was a very difficult time for the family. Richard’s wife Sharon McGowan now owns the company alongside Nigel. Nigel’s wife then came onboard, Louise as a sales representative for the company and as time went on Richard’s children came onboard Louise as sales/admin and quality representative and son Carl as a driver for the company. The family members have just naturally progressed into the business. Ray’s wife Margaret also worked within the company. Grandfather Ray jokes that the reason the family got involved was because no body else would employ them… Like every family business everyone has their opinions but when it comes to it the business is the main priority. Apart from that, everyone gets on.
What advice would you give to another family business?
Don’t fall out and stick together as a family and talk to each other! What is the secret to lasting fifty years and what are the plans for the future? Like anything else hard work but always try where possible to re-invest the money back into the business and help it to continue to grow with the times. Training yourself and the staff is important. As an example of this when Ray first started he studied at the tech four nights a week for three years to improve and help him with the understanding of running a business. We also try and keep adding more lines and products for our customers. We were the first Karcher store in Northern Ireland and in 2017 we acquired over Hilditch Martin Services which was based in Belfast. Our plan is to keep doing what we have done for the last fifty years but try and do it better for at least the next fifty! For further details on how Consumable Products Ltd can help your business call us on 028 9181 4818 or visit us at 180 Belfast Rd, Newtownards, BT23 4TA.