Bespoke timber craftsmanship

Morten Bach Valsted
Morten Bach Valsted

Allan Brothers, thought to be the UK’s oldest timber window and door manufacturer, located in Berwick upon Tweed, has scooped ‘Joinery Product Supplier of the Year’ in the 2022 Timber Trades Journal Awards. Glass Times catches up with managing director, Morten Bach Valsted.

For a company that has been manufacturing timber products for more than two centuries, winning Joinery Product Supplier of The Year, which showcases product quality and service excellence across the timber industry, is a significant milestone and a fair indicator that Allan Brothers has got its products, customer service and business strategy right.

“The fact that this was a ‘voted for’ category, where customers who buy timber products right across the supply chain – from builders, specifiers, merchants to the end users – could nominate their best performing suppliers, was particularly meaningful to us as we receive a lot of repeat business from our customers,” says Allan Brothers managing director, Morten Bach Valsted. “The award was a strong indicator of their ongoing loyalty.”

Market challenges

Originally founded in 1811, Allan Brothers manufactures made to measure timber and Alu Clad windows and doors for the new build, home improvement and architectural markets, using craftsmanship and traditional timber joinery skills that have been literally passed down from generation to generation.

Steeped in heritage and what some people might consider to be old-fashioned values, the company has undergone a modernisation of its manufacturing plant and re-focussed its commercial strategy to better meet today’s market challenges.

According to Morten the biggest threat to business in recent years has been the vast number of cheaper softwood windows coming in from Eastern Europe.

“As a relatively small, niche manufacturer, we struggle to compete against imported low-cost timber products on price, and so we have decided to focus all our effort on what we do best – that’s to say making high quality bespoke windows and doors, designed to suit typically British architecture, and backed by exceptional customer service,” says Morten.

Whilst losing none of its traditional craftsmanship, the company has also invested heavily in streamlining its operations with new machinery, and in the last year has recruited 14 new full-time operatives to its 86 strong team.

“Our staff are our most valuable resource. Recruiting has been a challenge – and it takes up to two years for a skilled operative to be fully trained – but thankfully we’re a tight knit team and once staff join, they very rarely leave!”

Strong demand

Despite the universal challenge of rising material costs – particularly energy, glass, timber and hardware, which has led to price increases for customers – Allan Brothers has chosen not to compromise on its fundamental approach.

“Over the years, we have found that, even in a cost-of-living crisis, there’s always a market for high specification timber windows and doors,” continues Morten. “Some house builder customers may have chosen to migrate towards lower cost PVC-U windows and budget products, but the demand for bespoke timber solutions for traditional Victorian or Georgian renovations remains high.

“If anything, higher energy bills have served as an incentive for some customers to invest in new timber windows sooner than they would otherwise have done, because they know that the value of high-quality energy efficient windows will save them money in the long run. Spread over the years it’s a very good investment.”

Continued investment

In 2022, the company joined the Guild of Master Craftsman and looking to the future, Allan Brothers remains positive, so much so that the company will be making significant investments in manufacturing machinery in 2023.

“Joining the Guild was also an important thing for us, as in many ways that too represents our values and our commitments going forward,” concludes Morten.

“Being a niche player is a good place to be. Happily, there is no one quite like us manufacturing timber windows and doors – we are part modern and highly efficient and part almost from a bygone age.

“Being based in a small town in the Northeast of England is also very much part of our DNA. We are about people and community and very conscious of our heritage and how we relate to customers.”