Can you tell us about how Air Impact started and the kind of customers you service?
It all started with a bus company, which dates back to the mid-1940s. We used to service buses, but found it hard to source equipment to change wheels etc. So in the late 60s, my dad started doing some research on equipment to service buses more efficiently, reaching out to various manufacturers. He actually used to buy a trade publication magazine with pull out cards which you could use to inquire about different products, and they’d send you back a catalogue.
At what point did you come across Chicago Pneumatic?
Around 1980 – so 10 years later. They were just entering the market and looking for customers in Ireland. They actually sought my father out and he took on agency for it. At that time, they had a company in Dublin where they were selling direct. They then pulled out of Ireland, and he took over from there.
How have your customers evolved since then?
I suppose back then there was more manufacturing in Ireland, and more heavy engineering type businesses using our products. That’s not to say there aren’t many now, but there were certainly more back then, and less choice when it came to tooling.
Fast forwarding to 2021, can you talk about the typical customers you serve today?
Along the way, we started working within the construction industry. Today, we work primarily with the transport industry – namely passenger transport and haulage companies. We serve many clients across the manufacturing industry, and sell lots of compressors to agriculture distributors. We also have a market presence in the aerospace industry.
Have you noticed any major trends or innovations in the air compressor market?
More and more, our compressor market is starting to focus on industrial applications. With the advent of cordless tools, which has given people much more choice, the demand for air tools has lessened. Smaller users will generally opt for cordless nowadays. The pneumatic tools are more industry-specific. For instance, they’re being used in aerospace as I mentioned earlier.
In terms of innovations, air compressors are definitely becoming more energy efficient, especially electric ones. Newer models will offer variable speeds so that you can use only the amount of air required for the job rather than having the machine running at full capacity all the time. More expensive models, like the screw industrial compressors, have digital control displays. You can often even control them remotely using your phone.
Can you give an example of one or two challenging projects where Air Impact’s knowledge & experience was important in resolving a tricky problem for a customer?
We worked on a project a couple of years ago with an engineering company for tightening applications on their boiler assembly line. We provided them with a range of pneumatic tools to streamline their critical tightening strategy for the fasteners on their boilers. Instead of continuing to do this manually, we were able to provide them with traceability so they knew how tight each fastener was on the boilers before they went out. This essentially enabled them to assemble the boiler knowing exactly what torque the bolts were to be tightened to using a serial number. When the machine left the factory it was fully tested and serviced with all of the certifications to prove it. This gave them an electronic paper trail to track and trace every boiler they manufactured.
We worked on another application for a company making parts for aircraft interiors, namely server cabinets for Google in large quantities. Google had specified their own fasteners which were being imported from the States. We then had to source tooling that was compatible with these fasteners – which was no easy feat because they weren’t off the shelf, they were American fasteners and therefore the threads weren’t metric. We got some samples of the fasteners and had to reach out to multiple tool companies to try and source the equipment we needed. Eventually we gathered four sets of specialised tools to get the job done. So now every time they run into a problem they tend to ring me!
What role does your website (www.airimpact.ie) now play in supporting your customers when they are looking for advice and new products?
Our website is essentially a continuously evolving live catalogue. When people call to inquire about getting a catalogue sent out, I point them towards our website because any physical catalogue would almost be out of date by the time it reached them. People use it to find new products, to look for information on existing products, to read our technical data sheets and more. We can also direct customers on the phone to our website to show them images as well as guides. We also tend to get quite a few after-hours shoppers who can browse our website at any time.
Do you get many overseas inquiries?
We are competitive on price, so a certain percentage of monthly revenue would be generated by international orders. Brexit and Covid have impacted our volume of overseas orders but we’re expecting things will bounce back.
How often will a customer need to talk through over the phone their particular requirements before you can give them best advice on what product or part to purchase? Why is there a considerable level of complexity in your market?
It depends on the requirement – most people would have some idea what they want. Professional customers will usually just need some extra advice or a nudge in the right direction which we’re more than happy to provide.
Can you give an example of such a request?
Garages often call looking for a specific type of compressor for their workshop. We usually offer basic and more expensive models so we talk them through their options.
What impact has Covid-19 had on your own and your customers’ business?
Our sales have gone up thankfully – most businesses we serve are deemed essential so we’ve been kept going. Deliveries and our supply chains in general have been challenging though – everything has been slow coming in. Anything coming from the UK was a problem at the start of the year but things have improved since. Also, I would usually head to trade shows around Europe a couple of times a year but obviously those are on hold for now.