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A life in paint

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Tony McCrave relaxing today close to the River Dodder

Tony McCrave relaxing today close to the River Dodder

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The refinish business in Ireland has never been short of characters over the years, but few have spent as much time in it as Tony McCrave. From leaving school and working in a coachbuilders, to helping  establish the first major refinish factor in Dublin and then working for a major paint company and starting his own business, Tony has seen and done it all. Autobiz spoke to him about his life in paint and some of the experiences he had along the way.

A native of Dundalk, Tony McCrave started out work in Murphy Coach Builders in the town, working as a pumicer. This often forgotten skill involved sanding, masking and brush priming, to prepare surfaces for painting. He recalls the main business of the company was horseboxes and remembers well the day the huge television star of the time, Richard Greene, who played Robin Hood, came over from England to collect a prime example.

After a few years out of refinishing, Tony moved to Dublin and took on a role with Sun Factors in Sundrive Road. This opened in 1977 and was the first motor factors specifically selling car paint in Ireland. He says, “Sun Factors was opened by Ault and Wiborg, a major paint manufacturer, to sell their paints directly to the crash repairers in Ireland. At the time, getting hold of car paint in Dublin was a challenge with a limited number of suppliers, who were all involved in other fields. These included Briggs & McCray, Wilsons of Capel Street, Oils & Accessories and Crawfords.”

Ault & Wiborg was one of the first paint companies to enjoy success in Ireland and later established a factor on the JFK industrial estate under MD Alan Grainger. Tony says, “I became a sales representative for Sun Factors and received great training from the late Eamonn Bennett.  We had popular products such as Gipgloss Cellulose and later Gipfast 60, one of the first 2K paints. I can remember a litre of cellulose paint cost around 3.75 in Punts when I started.” He adds, “This was the time when the car paint market in Ireland really took off, as the first paint mixing systems where introduced and repairers were able to mix their own colours.” As Tony recalls prior to this, cars would often be repaired and let out in primer, as it could be a matter of weeks before the required paint arrived from the UK.

The success of Sun Factors meant the opening of a Northside Dublin branch where Tony transferred. Austin Flavin was employed in the Southside branch, someone still involved in paint with the Lakkerman business today. The success of Sun Factors in Ireland also caused Ault &Wiborg to establish its own chain of refinish factors in the UK, under the Spray Shop Supplies banner.

With many new companies coming to the market, Tony moved on from Sun Factors in 1982 and joined  Berger Paints in Coolock. This was still in the pioneering days of 2-Pack paint, with cellulose still the dominant force. Tony says, “I remember the first time we sold Standox in Ireland, I personally travelled on the ferry to Wales to collect the tinters from a Berger man, who drove up from Dagenham. I then got the 3am Ferry back to Ireland, so we could have the colour ready to spray on a car in Kilmallock that morning.”

Tony went on to help Berger Paints establish itself as one of the market leaders, but eventually left the company after 13 years when the it came under new ownership. He went on to establish his own successful business, Tony McCrave Agencies, selling Catalfer refinishing products from Italy, to motor factors throughout the 32 counties. He finally retired from the refinishing game in 2014, due to a combination of bad debts and ill health, although he still keeps in touch with many of his old customers.
Tony says, “Over the decades I have had some very interesting experiences and met some great people in the paint business. I enjoyed some fantastic years in the trade, but now I am more than happy to give the bodyshops a miss and spend more time fishing on a river bank.”

Ault & Wiborg was one of the first paint companies to enjoy success in Ireland, pictured is an original Ault & Wiborg mixing system

Ault & Wiborg was one of the first paint companies to enjoy success in Ireland, pictured is an original Ault & Wiborg mixing system