40th anniversary celebrated

The fenestration industry is one of the more vulnerable elements of the UK construction industry so it is a real achievement for Ford Windows to have prospered and grown for the past 40 years.

The Sheffield-based business was started by Dennis Taylor, a plumbing merchant, and Charlie Ford as Ford Glass & Glazing, and then joined by Roger Sidebotham. Originally the company simply fitted glass into timber frames but, by the mid-1990s, it was clear that PVCU was the way forward and so they switched into producing double-glazed PVCU units.

Turnover nearly doubled between 2013 and 2014 and now Ford has invested significantly – well over £1 million – in plant and expanded its operations so that its growth can continue. Altogether, Ford fabricates and installs 2,000 Eurocell windows a week for 50 housebuilders – including Taylor Wimpey Homes, Barratt and Persimmon – on up to 200 sites throughout the UK.

To meet the needs of its growing order book, Ford Windows has also expanded beyond its base in Darnall, Sheffield, into another 1,300m2 factory in nearby Tinsley. It has also doubled the size of its facility in East Kilbride, a business that it only established four years ago and now has an annual turnover of around £4 million.

“That has gone from a standing start to fabricating and installing 350-400 windows a week,” Philip Shackley, managing director, said. “For us the window business is booming on both sides of the border. We find that house builders like the fact that we’re a one-stop shop: we fit and supply everything.”

But many businesses have grown quickly, only to fall victim to the great fluctuations in demand that characterise the UK construction industry. Philip – and financial director Julian Thorpe – emphasise the importance of cashflow and in maintaining close relationships with all elements of the business, from staff to suppliers to customers.

“Cashflow is the mainstay of any business and that is maintained by good management and by good housekeeping,” Philip said. “We pay our own suppliers – that’s Eurocell, Oakland Glass and Total Hardware – on time and in full and, in return, we get a good, robust supply chain which in turn means that we’re a reliable supplier to housebuilders. So if we’ve missed the cheque run we can ring up and make sure that we do get that cheque. And that is how you keep your cashflow healthy.”

That approach is appreciated by the suppliers. “We understand each other because we’re manufacturers and our businesses are very similar,” Tina Moorhouse, managing director of Dewsbury-based Oakland Glass, said. “And we have a close relationship with Julian and Philip and we work as if we are part of their business.”

From first supplying toughened glass four years ago, Oakland is now Ford Window’s exclusive supplier, sending two to three deliveries daily.

“Manufacturing has its ups and downs, and sometime people let you down and sometimes it is the machines but we we’re always talking to each other and it never gets to the point where anyone’s jumping up and down over some issue or other,” Tine said. “And they’re never late on a payment.”

And, as Chris Morris, director of Total Hardware, points out, every element of the supply chain is mutually dependent so it is important to ensure that everyone’s cash flow is equally healthy.

“Ford gets around 95% of its door and window hardware from us so we carry stock for them and work to their schedule,” Chris said. “So, Philip also makes sure that we’re looked after, especially if we hit the occasional difficulty or customer suddenly going into administration. It’s good business practice.”

The company’s ‘good business practice’ is also demonstrated by its investment programme after Philip and Julian acquired 50% of the business from the original owners in May 2015. They are ploughing nearly £1 million into new IT systems and two top-of-the-range Stuga ZX4 sawing and machining centres.

Although this investment is considerable it is, as Julian points out, all part of the company’s plan for steady growth and is easily within its means.

“The investment might be a new step in terms of the pace and size of development but we haven’t had to use external sources to fund this investment so we’re very secure financially,” he said.

Each of Stuga ZXs can produce an extra 800 to 1000 windows per week and can be configured to manufacture a range of Eurocell windows. This itself provides a marketing benefit because housebuilders are looking to windows to provide ‘kerbside appeal’, with systems such as Eurocell’s Modus offering the slim sightlines of a timber windows with the very best of modern performance.

These computer-controlled machines only need two operators, whereas previous machines required ten, but there will be no redundancies.

“We’re very proud of keeping people in employment,” Philip said. So, when the downturn of 2008 hit, no one was made redundant because the whole staff pulled together as a team.

“They knew times were tough so they volunteered to work few hours for less pay, rather than lose their jobs,” Philip said.

The company builds that ethic through organising corporate events such as bowling or golf days and upmarket evening functions but, for its 40th, the whole firm went out to Doncaster Races where there was a company-sponsored race and a series of very special presentations. Engraved decanters were given to eight men and women who had worked with Ford for more than 20 years.

One of these, Andy Hallam (33 years of service), said: “It’s always been a family feel to the business. I can honestly say I don’t want to work anywhere else. If you have any problems, Philip always listens and tries to help.”

The door of Philip’s office is wedged open. He is there when production starts in the morning and he ‘walks the floor’, talking to everyone on first-name terms. His philosophy is that he is enthusiastic about his work and he wants everyone else to be too, so this comes out in the staff’s attitude.

“As the order book ebbs and flows all the employees – that’s from me to the girl making tea – pull together to meet demand,” Philip said.

The company also innovates in a constant campaign to add value. Its latest venture is a smartphone app uses a QR code, stamped out of sight within the frame, that will provide every detail about the window’s construction: when and where it was made, where it has been fitted in the premises, its components, and its dimensions. This will benefit everyone from the housebuilder with a damaged unit, needing organise replacement parts, to Ford Windows itself as it will provide a wealth of data about the durability of components.

According to Philip and Julian, it is taking this care over details, in every part of the business, that will set the company on the right course for the next 40 years.