THE Covid-19 pandemic, and the resulting restrictions, have had a negative effect on many businesses across Donegal – but the new reality has also created a small number of opportunities.
As an essential business, Letterkenny-based CBM Signs adjusted its business model to create a full range of Covid-19 warning signage and protective perspex screens for retailers and businesses across the country.
The range includes everything from sticky floor rulers and patterned tape to a smiley-faced reminder to maintain two metres distance and ‘please sanitise here’ signs for clients that include HSE Primary Care Centres and ETB schools.
Termon native Mr Bernard Gallagher started the company in 2007 and today he employs a team of eight graphic designers and fitters from his Port Road premises.
“When we closed our doors on the Friday of the St Patrick’s weekend we didn’t know when we would reopen. As a business owner it was a scary time – not only for me and my young family but for the people who work for me.
“That weekend came and went but by the following week some of our HSE customers were looking for signage while we were asked to provide perspex screens. It was a new market area for us but, thankfully, we got on well and before too long we were working nationwide for the HSE.
“After a while the shops started to reopen followed by hotels, restaurants and bars which kept us busy providing different social distancing solutions,” Mr Gallagher said.
With businesses on the look out for signage, a space opened up for a new approach to way-finding, as companies replaced their hastily drawn signs and gaffer-taped floors with proper non-slip floor graphics.
“After carefully reading through all the HSE guidelines we developed a range of products which became popular. Ireland was ahead of the curve at that time and we sent a lot of the floor graphics to the UK,” he recalled.
“We were doing work all over the country and we had a contract to do work in Government Departments in Dublin,” he added.
Kelly’s Centra, Mountain Top, was the first shop to be fitted out with perspex screens by CBM Signs and before too long other Centra stores followed suit.
“Everybody was putting in measures to protect themselves, their staff and their customers. They all wanted to keep to the guidelines,” he said.
“We were lucky that we were able to diversify into an area in which there was a market during the pandemic. It was hard seeing a lot of our good customers close. Many of them are still closed today.
“We’ve provided a good service and I think people appreciate that. We helped bring a lot of reassurance to those businesses as well,” he said.
With a world-wide demand for perspex screens, Bernard had to place his order three months in advance with his German supplier while similar problems existed with rolls of floor graphic material which were sourced from the Netherlands.
“Restaurants needed screens and signage, chapels needed both too and then, later in the year, colleges and universities were getting ready to reopen. We were buying the rolls of floor graphics in by the pallet.
“There were time during the year when we ran out and we had to borrow from other businesses down the country and visa versa,” he said.
While the vaccine roll-out continuing for the older people, Bernard believes it will be some time yet before we see signs of recovery.
“Level 5 has been a lot harder this time around. Last year there was something to look forward to but this year we don’t know what’s happening. There will be no Rally (Donegal International) while festivals have again been cancelled and that will have a knock on effect.
“In fairness, last year the government did a lot of good work putting in place different packages for businesses but I’m not so sure the current government has as good a handle on it. People are starting to tire,” he said.
Over the past decade and more, CBM Signs has built a solid relationship helping businesses in the retail and hospitality sector kit out their exhibition displays, pop up shops and festival promotions.
“As we picked up more customers and grew we started to look outside Donegal. We did work for the likes of Top Shop in Dublin, Belfast and Cork on a regular basis and today fifty per cent of our business would be outside Donegal,” he said.
The company invested in technology which allows them to provide small, large and multinational business across the country with all their design, sign, vehicle and wide format printing needs.
Last year, Bernard and his team wrapped the Voodoo Bar in Letterkenny while Arena 7 and The Kitchen have also availed of the latest interior design technology.
“We’ve the agency for a Dutch company and we’re started to wrap furniture in bars and restaurants. It’s all about upcycling and recycling,” he said.
CBM Signs also retain their place as number plate specialists.
“We’re well known for our graphics on rally cars as well as vans and lorries. That remains our bread and butter,” he said.
The company has come a long say since Bernard and younger brother Charles went door to door selling ‘Good Luck Donegal’ stickers after the GAA team reached the 2006 Ulster final.
“That got us started but I suppose with granny and grand-dad (Margaret and James McCallion, jewellers) and Manus (McGroddy), Geraldine and Peter (Greaney) and Patrick (McCallion) there’s businesses everywhere in our house.
“As grand-dad used to say: Take it one day at a time and get on with it. That’s all you can do. We’re here now and we have to make the best of it,” he said.
Married to Emma, the couple have three young children Clodagh, Olivia and baby Cillian who was born last September.
“It’s a busy house but thankfully we’re all fit and healthy. No one knows what the future holds but I’m sure we’ll all find out soon enough,” he said.