Raising customers’ expections

Gary Dean tells Glass Times why he decided to establish Onlevel in the UK.

OnLevel has been supplying the UK market via a small selection of solid distributors for over four years. These distributors have done excellent task of growing product sales but this has been naturally constrained to some degree by logistics and the ability to stock and sell the whole of the OnLevel product line close to the market.

Therefore, it became clear that the time had come to have stock held here, while offering direct access to OnLevel’s growing range of solutions, technical support and training facilities.

The unknown impact of Brexit was another important consideration, in both protecting and growing the UK business for OnLevel as we expand the business internationally.

Startup expansion opportunities have always excited me. That was the situation when starting Bohle in the UK in 1998 and CRL in Europe in 2010, and what I enjoy the most is making a difference.

OnLevel was also looking for new investors and someone to add skills and experience to the management group. My experience in business development, product development, and international expansion has been added to those of my partners, which are both technical and commercial.

I enjoyed my time with CRL, especially with my great team in Germany, but CRL is a huge company with a very strong USA base and as time passed it became clear that we didn’t always have the same views about the direction of growing a global business, particularly in the more complex cultural microcosms of Europe.

CRL is a good generalist supplier with a solid range and good choice, but I wanted to become a more specialist supplier with true expertise in a particular field. One of our goals at OnLevel is that we want to become the best supplier of balustrade hardware, which means very detailed knowledge of the products, the markets and to keep innovating.

I have been in the glass industry my whole life. My father had a glass business and I remember sweeping the broken pieces from the floor in my school holidays.

I started my own company when I was 18 and sold that to a subsidiary of Saint Gobain when I was 24 with dreams of owning a bar in the sun. When I realised that was a silly idea, I came back into the industry and have worked in senior sales and management roles (for Interpane, Guardian, Bohle, CRL, and now myself) ever since, moving from glass into glass hardware over this time and living in several places including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, the USA, and even India for a short time.

Manchester is ideally located in the centre of the UK, which is arguably the UK’s second city with a good resource of educated and multicultural employees to choose from. It’s also my home town so I feel very comfortable here.

OnLevel has a logistics warehouse, sales and technical support teams, and training facilities in Manchester, so we are well resourced to support the UK market.

We talk every day and all day to our German team. For me this is particularly important as we have a strong vision to grow the organisation internationally, celebrating our shared values and divergent market expectations at the same time. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to expanding global business – it starts with empathy and ends with respect.

At the heart of our solutions is the passion for genuine innovation; to look at products and find ways to make the user experience better.
Examples of this are our worldwide patented ‘Flex-Fit’ glass adjustment system, which can be used across our range of balustrade systems and makes glass alignment simple and fast.

Our new SkyForce juliet balcony (a ‘balcony in a box’, as we call it) offers a range of fixing options and widths of up to 3m glass. Finally, our soon-to-be-launched Kronos glass clamp takes a very old fashioned and traditional product and turns the manufacturing and user experience on its head to revolutionise the market.

I believe that if we are not raising the expectations of our customers, if we are not seeking to make tomorrow better than today, then we are failing as true entrepreneurs.