When you enter the offices of Kiernan Structural Steel (KSSL) in Killoe, two large aerial photos loom large and in many ways, they tell the story of this uniquely successful Co Longford firm. The first shows the firm in its infancy, then a fledgling family enterprise, and the more recent photo shows us the base for probably the most successful steel business in the country today.
The journey has taken 25 years and as one of the biggest and most successful indigenous businesses in the county, it is only right that KSSL are celebrating this landmark year. At the core of the business are the well known but unassuming couple, Frank and Dolores Kiernan.
So many young families across the region at the moment will be able to identify with the foundation of KSSL. Both Frank and Dolores were finding work hard to come by and were facing a bleak future.
They looked at emigrating but with the first four of their six children already born, they felt it was best to try and make a home for them here in Longford. They made up their mind to do what Frank did best – steel work - and with a shed at the back of the house, a van and a few tools, KSSL came into being.
Today the business employs 110 people and many more indirectly.
Their huge HQ, which now spans six acres, might be hidden from the public eye in Killoe but it is a state of the art facility where production manager, Seamus Farrell, runs a slick operation.
Frank and Dolores Kiernan’s first projects were small sheds but today they have worked on company headquarters and new buildings for many of Ireland’s leading employers, including Google, Intel, Abbott, Elan, Kerry Group, Diageo, Tesco, Dunnes and many more.
For Longford people, one of the most visible and striking projects for KSSL of recent times would have been the temporary roof which they placed over St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford to allow the refurbishment work proceed uninterrupted by the elements.
In truth, Frank Kiernan had twenty good years of experience in the trade behind him before they launched the business, whilst Dolores had honed her business skills and sharp accounting skills with the likes of ICI in Dublin and GEM Construction in Longford.
The business truly had humble beginnings but it quickly grew and was greatly helped by the introduction of the government Farm building grants scheme. It enabled them to build their first purpose-built facility and also take on their first employees.
With the extra capacity and an emerging infrastructure behind them, they were now able to challenge in the wider construction sector.
It was in 1996 that the couple made their first major investment in equipment when they bought an automated sawing and drilling machine. It cost a massive €300,000 but it was a prudent move as it dramatically increased productivity and enabled them to target even larger projects.
Shortly afterwards they secured the contract for the new Elan facility in Athlone and this really moved the business to the top of their game. Unfortunately the downturn of 2007 was just lurking around the corner and the business’ turnover was literally quartered. Sadly, the couple were forced to let staff go and those that remained had to take pay cuts to help the business survive.
A couple of critical projects including the Irish Cement works in Drogheda and the Cathedral project in Longford helped them to stay on the road. At the same time they were encouraged to look overseas and helped by Irish builders and developers based in London, they were able to secure their first contracts in the UK. Soon afterwards the business completed the new Primark facility in Hannover, Germany.
2012 would also prove to be a pivotal year with the securing of two major contracts – the new Diageo Guinness Brewhouse at St James’s Gate in Dublin and the new power station at Great Island in Co Wexford. More landmark projects followed and included the new Intel plant in Leixlip and the new Global Technology Innovation Centre for Kerry Food in Naas.
Twenty-five years on, KSSL is a calling card for Longford business nationwide and overseas. And as the business celebrates a quarter of a century, it is only right and proper that Longford celebrates a real home-grown success story in Killoe.
For photos from the company’s 25th anniversary celebrations in Lough Rynn Castle, see pages 48 and 49; and for more on this great Co Longford business, see page 50.