We speak to HireAll Company Director Gavin Divilly and Commercial Director Leona Rothwell as the pioneering event hire company turns 50. HireAll, one of Ireland’s first event hire companies, celebrates 50 years in business this year. The company, which started offering machinery hire in 1973 on Dublin’s Mount Street, is unique in that over its fifty years, the changing company also reflects a changing Ireland. Hotel & Restaurant Times was delighted to sit down with Company Director and Shareholder Gavin Divilly and Commercial Director Leona Rothwell to talk about HireAll’s all-encompassing and large-scale offering, and the company’s fascinating journey, from early beginnings to its place today as an established and renowned event hire company that continues to work with the biggest events, hospitality groups and venues in the country.
HireAll was originally started by William “Bill” Begley and Alan Pilkington who is renowned as one of the first businesspeople in Ireland to enter the rental business. Initially the business focused on tool hire and such was its success it grew to five shop locations around Dublin: Ringsend, Finglas, Monkstown, Walkinstown and Donnycarney. Party hire was an unexpected swerve – in the early 1980s, the business owners frequently visited the Rental Association Show in the USA, which hosted several party rental companies. Research was carried out and the company found there was a gap in the Irish market.“That’s how it started,” Gavin tells us. “Before then no one was really doing party hire and people would go to hotels to rent or borrow for parties. The Begley and Pilkington family started with a small portfolio of stock – tables, chairs and crockery, and it took off so quickly they got out of tool hire and focused exclusively on party hire. It was called HireAll Party Hire and HireAll Catering Hire until the late 2000s, when we cut it back to simply HireAll.” Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the business continued to go from strength to strength, despite a rocky Irish economy. “Ireland was still a relatively poor country, but things were happening,” says Gavin.
“In the 80s there were concerts like Self Aid and sporting events and hotel banquets, and in the 90s, regular events like Punchestown,the Ploughing Championships and the St. Patrick’s Day Festival. HireAll was also involved in several high-profile events, including the Dublin Millennium; the opening of The Square in Tallaght; a private party in Bono’s house during U2’s Zooropa tour; the Murphy’s Irish Open, the Special Olympics; and the 1998 Tour de France.” Gavin tells us HireAll’s biggest event around that time was the Golden Oldies Rugby World Cup in 1993. HireAll provided everything for a 5000-seated meal featuring 110 teams, which was held in the RDS and catered by With Taste. “At the time it was the largest banquet to take place in Ireland,” says Gavin.
In 2004, the business was acquired by Gavin and his fellow directors. “I was a director and shareholder and wasn’t involved in the day-to-day for a long time, as we had managing directors running it from 2004 to 2018,” he says.” Leona joined in 2006 from With Taste, one of our biggest customers, so she had a deep understanding of the sector. Leona was taking on more responsibility, and I was becoming much more involved, so when the MD left in 2018, we decided it wasn’t necessary to replace them.”
Up the mid-2000s, Gavin tells us the HireAll range was relatively limited and more about functionality and need than style – for example, crockery, catering equipment, and cookers. As Irish society began to change however, a more demanding customer emerged.
Demand grew for more extensive ranges, so we had to meet that with investment,” Leona tells us. “As the world became smaller and global trends more apparent, expectations became higher.” Gavin adds: “As we got richer as a nation, entertainment needs changed, as did the scale. Thanks to investment, we offered more choice, inventory and flexibility. Then the crash happened, which particularly affected the events industry, and it wasn’t until 2014 that things took off again.”
Since the country came out come out of recession, Gavin tells what’s been evident is there are many more companies, so HireAll is not reliant on any one sector. Now there are professional firms, tech companies, blue chip clients, and international companies coming to Ireland. Of course, the hospitality customer and industry has also changed dramatically. Customers are more discerning and demanding, and the hire industry has had to rise to the challenge. “There are many more hotels now, and a large number working to a high standard,” says Leona.
“Five-star hotels like Ashford Castle were always around, but not to the level they’re at now. Hotel clients use us to different degrees. For example, we work on corporate Christmas parties for hotels like the Clayton to supplement their stock, or they might have a company coming in and want a theme – they might want gold chairs instead of the ones they have, so we supply them. For the Six Nations all around Ballsbridge, hotels needed pod tables or BBQs, or to fit out a room for a buffet. Needs are constantly changing depending on what’s happening, so hotels are going to rent instead of buy.”
Read more about the amazing HireAll story in the most recent edition of our magazine.