Paul Black reflects on 50 years of Alpha

  • Sync NI spoke with Paul Black, Managing Director of Alpha, as he reflects on 50 years of the company.

    Alpha Managing Director Paul Black started to plan for his company’s 50th anniversary a few years ago.

    Paul says: “It’s a big thing for a company, Surviving in business, and prospering in business, for that length of time is no easy feat. So it’s something we were all keen to celebrate.”

    Little was he to know when he started thinking about the anniversary that the small matter of a global pandemic would sweep in. And one of the major changes brought upon by the Covid pandemic, of course, is that it has changed the way we all work.

    But that doesn’t spell bad news for Alpha. With bases in Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow and now also in Oxford, the company has been well placed to advise client companies on how best to redesign, re-equip and re-invigorate their office spaces.

    “The office is still the centre of business life,” says Paul Black. “There was talk at the start
    of the pandemic about how offices would become almost a thing of the past and how we’d all want to work from home.

    “But it hasn’t worked out like that. Some people want to work from home, of course, but the vast majority at the very least want a mix of home and office working. And some will always prefer to be office based.”

    What has changed, though, is the nature of those offices. The look and feel of our working spaces. That’s changing all the time, driven in part by the repercussions of Covid, but also by the pressing need to provide state-of-the-art working environments for staff.

    “The working environment is so much more important these days,” adds Paul Black. “It’s become more important as organisations work hard to entice staff back into office working. But it’s also important as a means of staff recruitment and staff retention. The working environment and facilities are a crucial part of the overall package. The days of the old-fashioned office with as many desks piled in as possible were numbered. “People are looking for a number of key things – quality, spacious surroundings, good wi-fi and good coffee. If they can tick all three boxes, they’re going to be happy.”

    Alpha weathered the Covid storm better than Paul Black might have imagined when the pandemic first hit. “At that stage, everyone was being sent home to work and we wondered where our future lay as office experts,” he says. “But, after that short initial period, our role became clear. Companies and organisations were going to need our advice and our services more than they’d ever done.” He also took the opportunity during the Covid era to plan for the future of Alpha, and that included the rolling out of a new, simplified and rejuvenated Alpha brand.

    “The market was a bit confused. We had the Alpha Office Furniture brand, but we also had the 1080 brand and a separate brand name (Matrix) in the Republic of Ireland. We asked our customers and the emphatic answer was that most of them knew us simply as Alpha.”

    The company worked with the experienced Ian Bennington and his team as Part Two Design in Belfast to come up with a sharp new Alpha logo incorporating the Number 1, which reflects that we are a single, unified company of many facets with a very powerful blend of expertise and knowledge across furniture, fit-out and design. The new corporate identity was officially launched when Alpha sponsored a key category at June’s NIE Networks Business Eye Family Business Awards.

    “The new single-brand also meant that our sales team in Dublin could become an integral part of a £30 million company and not an €8 million division,” Paul adds.

    Rebrand complete, the company has just come off the back of a very busy 2021. “We managed to turn a profit in both of the Covid years and that’s quite an achievement for a company in the office marketplace. It’s also a real tribute to our staff.”

    The headcount across the company’s four British Isles bases has also grown by six to a total
    of 105. “The future looks very good,” says Paul Black. “We’ve got a number of big contracts running in Ireland north and south as well as Scotland, and the pipeline is looking strong.”

    Alpha’s teams have just completed a major refurbishment and fit-out project at ESB’s headquarters off Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green and the Central Bank’s office elsewhere in the city.

    “Organisations are coming to us for advice all the time. The key thing we’re telling them is that, where they used to squeeze in 100 desks, go for 60 instead. Today’s working environments are all about space and they’re all about communal areas.

    “People are much more likely to move around a building now and work in different areas, rather than sit at the desk day in, day out. It’s about café areas, rest areas, outdoor spaces, and making space as flexible as possible.”

    “What we always have to remember is that big office investments are big ticket capital spends for our customers. They’re not something that they embark on lightly, so they want all the advice they can get and they want to get it right. That’s where we come in...right at the start of the process.”

    Paul Black sees a continued return to more pre-pandemic office working levels over the summer months and into the autumn. “I think that, by the autumn, we’ll be back to normal as much as we can ever be.

    “For Alpha, it’s a case of building on the momentum that we’ve already built up. We’re a strong, outward-looking business and we’ve now got a strong, simplified brand. Change is a good thing, and the change brought on by the pandemic has been good for us. But it’s also been good for anyone who works in an office.”

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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