At your service
Glass Times editor, Luke Wood, visits Nationwide Windows and discovers how the company prioritises its people – and its service – above anything else.
Founded in 1986, Nationwide Windows is one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of fenestration products into new build and local authority projects.
The company, which predominantly fabricates Eurocell profile – incorporating Kubu ‘Smart as Standard’ technology – along with Doorco composites and fire doors from FDS, plus Smart Aluminium products, is based in Rugby and boasts a 150,000ft2 manufacturing and main distribution facility on a seven-acre site.
It currently employs a workforce of 520 that includes factory and office-based staff, plus 170 installers, 23 project managers, eight site supervisors, 15 surveyors and seven estimators. It also has nine regional installation hubs throughout the UK, with a 10th due to come online soon in Maidstone, Kent.
It is a successful business. Annual turnover for 2022-23 was £44m, and it is forecasting in excess of £50m for next year – a confident outlook that is bolstered by a bulging, £100m plus orderbook.
What is the key to this success? The fact that is a privately owned firm, with a long-term business plan, certainly helps, especially when it comes to investment and positioning for future growth.
It has also invested a huge amount of time and effort on the specification and approval required for the new build and local authority sectors. Nationwide currently supplies into seven out of 10 of the largest house builders by volume in the UK and nine local authority framework providers & consortium across the country.
That’s backed up by a comprehensive support service, providing help with everything from wind load calculations, structural engineering and access control solutions, to property surveying.
Nationwide has also developed extensive customer care procedures and a thorough environmental and sustainability programme.
But if you ask any of the senior leadership team about what really makes Nationwide ‘tick’, the answer is the same – it’s the people at the heart of the business.
“We are proud to say that a job is not just a job at Nationwide, it’s a career,” explains Dan Edwards, production director. Dan, who has 24 years’ experience in the industry, accrued at various high-profile organisations, is a relative newcomer to Nationwide but has already implemented a number of big changes to the factory floor that are designed to improve efficiency – as well as working conditions for staff.
“Our location, in Rugby, which is the distribution hub for the UK, means that attracting and retaining new employees can be a big challenge. We have lots of competition from the likes of Amazon, for example, which might pay a better hourly rate, even if it is just for short term or seasonal work.
“To counter that we have invested significantly in new machinery and fine-tuned our production processes,” he continues.
That includes developing a bespoke software package, built around a First Degree Systems software, and the installation of new Urban welding and cleaning lines. The Urban lines, which represent a £1.5million investment, have helped to speed up production while improving the accuracy and consistent quality of frames.
Dan explains that one of the most exciting features of the main new Urban line is its ability to increase the output of foiled product. Around 90% of Nationwide’s frames are processed through the Urban machine, but by lifting and ‘cooling’ foiled frames offline, the production line can keep moving more efficiently with the potential to process up to 55 frames per hour.
It has also reduced manual handling and the potential for damaging frames, and importantly, has allowed Dan to re-allocate staff in more rewarding, less repetitive roles, enhancing their personal development within the business.
“It’s a challenge in a factory environment to minimise repetitive roles but the introduction of the new Urban line has helped and so has a new machine that applies a protective film to the glass units in our frames,” says Dan. “We’ve also worked hard to improve pay and career progression opportunities – including becoming an accredited Real Living Wage Employer which means we are committed to paying a higher rate of base pay – and our staff retention has improved massively as a result.
“That in turn has helped to raise the quality of service we offer to our customers, and that’s one of the key advantages we have over our competition,” he continues. “Lots of people can make a Eurocell window after all, but ultimately, we win and retain business through the quality of our service and the quality of our products.”
In addition to improvements in the factory, Nationwide also invested £270k in workforce learning and development throughout the business, with an e-learning management system for the entire workforce offering more than 800 courses, around 2,000 of which have been taken since the start of 2023.
It also offers leadership and management programmes and represents the GQA’s only employer centre within the fenestration industry.
And when it found itself facing a post Covid skills gap, Nationwide introduced an installer trainee initiative, designed to attract new people from other industries. The pilot scheme, that ran in Nottingham, brought in six candidates and a second phase in Swindon trained a further three installation teams.
Ongoing training is available at Nationwide’s, bespoke, inhouse training and R&D facility.
On the front line of FHS
While Dan explains that he is overseeing further improvements to Nationwide’s PVC and composite door operations – including a new ‘just in time’ system that is being developed with Doorco to reduce stock holding and enhance efficiencies – he adds that the next phase of major investment will be in the company’s glass factory.
As a company that supplies primarily into commercial (local authority) and new build, Nationwide works overtime to demonstrate that it is compliant to a whole raft of regulations, but also finds itself on the front line of new regs such as the Future Homes Standard – including for the windows it supplies and the glass units within them.
It has, as a result, earmarked over £3million in capital expenditure for its dedicated glass factory, to prepare for any increase in demand for triple glazing but also for a big uptake in laminate glass to meet amends to Part Q.
The first phase of that spending will be on a new laminate cutting machine, followed by an automated glass racking system, and then a new IGU line to cope with an increase in demand for triple.
“We’re still waiting for the official announcement on Future Homes Standard, and we are preparing for greater volume of triple, it’s worth noting that housebuilders are also asking for glass with improved G Values, for solar gain, and that actually means a specification that’s contrary to U values,” says Dan.
“Our planned investments and the strength of our order book going into 2024 mean that we are very well placed for the future and that gives us a level of confidence that we try and communicate to everyone here at Nationwide.
“Ultimately, all the investments we have made, in machinery, production and in our people, are designed to help us deliver the best service we can,” concludes Dan. “We’re not just a fabricator and installer, or a social housing partner or new build supplier – above all, we are a service provider.”