True Stories: Lenehans takes DIY route to online success


5 Jan 2004

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There’s no getting away from it – we’re a nation of DIY enthusiasts. In an age where the humble doorknob is being described as ‘the handshake of a house’, our passion for enhancing our homes is reaching an all-time high. Lenehans DIY has made the most of this market through its website www.lenehans.ie. The site sells all things DIY from cordless drills to tile cutters and is backed by a store on Capel Street, Dublin that has been around for over 100 years.

Founded by Thomas Lenehan, a high sheriff and alderman of the city of Dublin, the company originally manufactured iron but has gone through many changes to become the present day mecca for DIY enthusiasts.

Lenehans’ website was the brainchild of director Mark Lenehan, who set up an information site five years ago for his greenhouse range. “After the success of this site we developed a fully fledged e-commerce site about a year ago to sell DIY products online,” he relates.

Although Lenehan declined to give a figure for development of the site he did say that it cost “enough to hurt a bit”. But the investment has definitely paid off and not just in Ireland. In the Nineties Lenehan’s acquired some DIY companies in the UK including ‘Knobs and Knockers’ whose website was going well. “It gave us a taste for selling online,” explains Lenehan who replicated his Irish Lenehan’s website in the UK. “I had the foresight to register www.diytools.co.uk early on so we had a good start in the UK.” Lenehan was recently nominated for the TCM Significant Contribution to the Irish Internet Industry Award at this year’s Golden Spiders and his site proudly displays the nomination.

The Lenehan’s website was developed by the Go2Web design agency although updating of products is done internally, “currently we have two databases – one for the UK site and one for the Irish site,” explains Lenehan. “What we want to do in the near future is merge this into one database so we only have to update products once and indicate the price in sterling and euro.”

Design and development of the site took about three months although adding details of all the products took a further couple of months. The main learning curve from development of the site was fulfillment. “It’s relatively easy to put together a website,” says Lenehan, “but you have to have the capability to deliver what you sell and that means having the products in stock and getting them out to people when you say you will.” Lenehan uses An Post’s SDS service for next day delivery of products.

Although Lenehan wouldn’t reveal how much business was being done online, he did say it was a good complement to the store in Capel Street and that even if people didn’t buy directly off the site they might browse online before buying the product in the store. Lenehan believes that the strength of the offline brand was a significant factor in the success of the website. “Our brand was a strong brand in the DIY market, people knew our name and so were more inclined to buy from us online.”

Lenehans’ foray into the UK market has also proved successful. “Our website in the UK is flying, we are experiencing 30-40pc growth in sales month on month.” Lenehan puts the success down to the nature of the market. “Obviously there are more people in the UK but also there is a huge amount of people selling online than here in Ireland so the online market is growing.” Lenehan attributes this partly to the rollout of broadband in the UK. “Once we have the same level of broadband rollout here in Ireland and retailers become serious about selling online than I think we will see the same success,” he says. Lenehan employs minimal marketing for website relying, instead, on some online advertising and affiliate marketing where like-minded partners promote your website and vice versa.

The phenomenal success of the DIY market is down to our tastes, as consumers, becoming more sophisticated and discerning thanks to our travel abroad and exposure to foreign influences. The home environment has become more an expression of our individuality rather than functionality. And with increasing house prices, consumers feel the need to protect their investments and put their own mark on their house. The boom in DIY is also due to the difficulty in sourcing professionals tradespeople to carry out minor work and, as we attempt these small tasks ourselves, we feel empowered to complete more difficult tasks which prompts our investment in DIY products.

Which is good news for Lenehans, whose plans for the future include making both the UK and Irish website bigger and engaging with more partners.

By Gillian Cope