Based just outside of Mullingar, Frank Bell & Son Ltd is a second-generation home builder which has been in existence for the best part of five decades now. Building Ireland spoke with Managing Director Shane Bell to hear all about the company – from its origins to the state of business today.
Since its establishment in 1976, Frank Bell & Son Ltd has been building houses to private market around the Mullingar area.
In doing so, the company, as well as the Bell family name itself, has gained an excellent reputation for their work along the way.
When Frank Bell set-up his building venture 47 years ago, he started small, built it up and its longevity has been off the back of consistent quality work and finish throughout each project.
Having come on board the family business on a full-time basis six years ago, Frank’s son Shane is now following in the footsteps of his now retired father as Managing Director and took some time to fill Building Ireland in on the ins and outs of Frank Bell & Son Ltd.
“We’re stablished since 1976 and we have six full-time staff at the moment,” he outlined.
“We’ve a very simple business model to be honest here in that we just build houses to private market.
“So, we’re the landowner, developer, builder, salesman – the whole lot in one and we try and keep it tight enough to be honest so we can close the gate and come back in a few years of the world has another slowdown.”
The world itself is certainly a different place compared to when Frank first set-up his own firm in Parsonstown outside of Mullingar all those years ago.
After a stint aboard, Frank returned home and grew the business gradually and the next four decades would see it building numerous housing estates around the region.
“Frank was in Canada for years building houses for miners out in the Yukon and then he came back and started building with his late brother Tom,” explained Shane.
“He actually started the company with his brother first and did that for a while and then set-up on his own in ’76.
“Several estates locally include Valley Bungalows, Oaklawns, Beechlawns, Martins Lane apts., Bellville apts., Auburn Village, Burnell Drive, Sherwood Park and just completed Ardmore Hills. We are at the planning stages on acquired lands at the moment and plan to continue building quality homes locally into the future.”
He added: “I got involved in 2017 after Frank had taken a back seat for well-earned retirement. So, I jumped in and that’s where we are today.”
Today, business is in a good state overall in spite of the challenges out there for the industry.
The Covid-19 pandemic, of course, brought about its own challenges and the knock-on effect from those unprecedented times saw the drastic rise in construction material costs, which companies like Frank Bell & Son Ltd had to contend with.
As Shane himself outlined, they were difficult times but he’s happy to report that it looks like a corner has been turned.
“Our bottom line was hit pretty hard by inflation in 2021 and, with the price increase in houses, we were okay last year and this year so far,” said the MD.
Right now, Frank Bell & Son Ltd is finishing off its 85-unit project at Ardmore Hills, Mullingar.
It’s a development which the company has been immersed for the last three years, completing 20 to 25 units per year and it is currently finishing off the last 10.
Elsewhere, there are plans in place for other projects to get underway, as Shane himself explained.
“We’ve planning in at the moment for the first phase of a project which is located on 35 acres beside us, so we should be popping into that towards the end of the summer,” he revealed.
“It’s slightly different now with densities etc. Our last plannings were seven-year grants and they were all of lower densities, so even in that brief period we’re gone from 22 per hectare to over 30 per hectare. So, we’re still trying to provide own door, own access, own parking, own gardens as is kind of wanted in Mullingar in an out of Dublin setting basically.
“We’re trying to keep the size of them up while keeping our green space etc. It’s difficult enough but we’ve managed it and we’re happy enough with the application that’s in at the moment, so we’re just dealing with a couple of things there locally and expecting the grant pretty soon.”
To date, Frank and Shane Bell have sold to four generations of families between them.
All of that considered, the burning question is what has been the secret behind this family company’s success to date?
How has small start-up grown into a thriving home builder which has amassed a golden reputation amongst its clients over the past 47 years?
For Shane, it comes down to a combination of different factors.
“We’re local builders and we like to stay local and like to employ local,” he stated. “We buy local and we work hard at keeping our quality up and keeping ahead of the game, basically.
“When A3s were the thing, we were building A2s and A2s are the thing now, so in our next phase we’ll be building A1s.
“We try and keep ahead. We try and keep the fabric of the building as opposed to throwing technology at it to keep up our energy ratings, which I feel is the best way to do it. Technology can change but the fabric is where you need to be.
“It’s down to quality. We spend the extra money on finishes and do complete fit-outs, tiling, kitchen everything. Whatever you want in a house, we can do it to a point as opposed to just sending over a bare shell.”
Looking towards the months ahead for the business, Shane is obviously keen to see material costs dip down further as they look to embark on more projects in and around Westmeath’s county town.
“We’ll be hoping this inflation starts to level off a bit,” said the MD. “We’re still getting letters in the post every month like. The latest one was a local concrete supplier informing us that they’d gone up another six per cent.
“Insulation is on the rise again, so I just hope it levels out. Timber and steel have come back a little bit and seems to have settled and hopefully that’ll stay that way.”
He concluded: “It’s tough times but that’s the game we’re in and sure we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Frank Bell & Son Ltd
Phone: 087 254 7060
This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, August 2023, Vol 9 No 8