A builder and supplier of natural stone by trade, Roly Henderson looked to the future and did not relish the thought of long days working outside in all weathers.

When the recession began to hit the construction sector in 2007, he diversified into providing natural stone. A further diversification of his business has seen him team up with his wife Barbara to provide slateware products.

By adapting his business model over the last few years, Roly has been able to continue working as a tradesman, whilst running this new venture from home, where he can be near his wife and two children, Rhys (7) and Katelynn (6).

Barbara, who works as a SEBD support teacher at Willowbridge School, has been using her experience as a former Business and ICT teacher in Devenish College to make the most of the potential offered by the internet, contacting potential customers via facebook and working on creating a company website that will allow them to target a world-wide market as the business develops.

“The social media and website side of things wasn’t daunting, the problem was reaching the right people,” explains Barbara, who has built up the website using vista print. She would now like to negotiate with a local website developer on creating a website with a reliable shopping basket facility.

Getting online is the main aim of the business, which has adopted the catchy name, Rolhen Stone.

“At the minute we find that word-of-mouth is a good way of getting customers but once we get online, we can target a global market,” Barbara states.

Roly attended Fermanagh District Council’s Survive and Thrive initiative but, because it is a ‘micro-business’, it has not had access to finance. “We are always put off by the level of paperwork attached to gaining funding and have up until now financed this venture ourselves,” Barbara says.

“Roly has always had a passion and creative flair for working with stone and natural products. It was when the recession started to set in that we decided to utilise our current equipment and start up slate dining ware, which was launched at Taste of Monaghan in 2013.

“From there, we branched into place mats, napkin holders, cheese boards, cake stands, serving platters, trays etc, all of which can be personalised.” An investment in a laser engraving machine means they can offer finishes such as etching, engraving, deep carve, painting on the surface, engraving and painting.

“Initially our company had the vision of working with slate, however we have been approached to work on wood and stone. The bottom line is, Roly has a passion for good workmanship and he gets great satisfaction out of a job well done,” Barbara points out.

The wedding market is one they are keen to target, because, increasingly, they have had interest from brides who want individual signs for their big day. “We can offer those for hire,” Barbara comments.

Supporting local is important to the company, with all slate coming from within Ireland.

Networking is essential, Barbara advises. Recently, she has forged links and generated custom from local businesses such as Cafe Merlot, The Valley Hotel (who requested engravings on their butcher blocks) and Lisdergan Butchers, Fintona. When networking, making assertive approaches and bringing a sample product is key, according to Barbara, who requested a meeting with Maurice Kettyle, Managing Director, Kettyle Foods. That meeting resulted in Rolhen Stone providing slate products for Kettyle’s Butchery in Tesco, Enniskillen.

In addition, “Rolhen Stone now liaises closely with Maurice to perfect the presentation of the recent development of Irish salt-aged beef. We are delighted that our slate is currently being used to complement Kettyle Irish beef in refrigeration displays in the Czech Republic and Dubai as well as being used in trade shows across Europe and USA.” The husband and wife were also pleased to have provided local school girl Grace Kettyle with their products when she took part in the All-Ireland Rotary Club Cookery Competition recently.

Networking over facebook can also help, as the business has had positive feedback from local restaurants such as The Black Cat and The Tannery.

Looking to the future, Barbara hopes to get online as soon as possible. She concludes: “Our vision is to get our product recognised, get the word out there and get people talking about us. I believe in word of mouth to be the best recommendation and Roly’s motto is ‘nothing is a problem’.”