The power of professionalism

Sternfenster’s Mike Parczuk tells Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell that he wants to run a professional manufacturing business, not just a windows company, and the pandemic has arguably made this easier.

Many companies’ plans were put on hold once the pandemic hit, and businesses focused first on maintaining a viable business, then on managing the unexpectedly high volumes of work.

Managing director of Sternfenster Mike Parczuk, however, saw an opportunity to use those pressures to fine-tune the professionalism of his company, with some impressive results.

Talking to Glass Times in mid-November 2021, Mike summarised some of the key challenges facing companies working in the glass and glazing industry.

“The ‘pingdemic’ following the coronavirus pandemic is a constant challenge,” he said. “All while the supply change is under a lot of pressure, such as: raw material shortages, continuing process rises, and installers overwhelmed and struggling to plan ahead.”

Mike’s eyes, however, were on the bigger picture, and he said he would rather concentrate on the opportunities that were currently available.

“Demand from retail is exceptional,” he said. “Households are reported to have accumulated around £190 billion in additional savings during the lockdowns, and consumers spent £110 billion on home improvements during the pandemic.

“Meanwhile, the property market is booming: 1.3 million buyers benefited from the Stamp Duty Holiday, and the national average price of a property coming to market is at a record high of £342,401.”

So, rather that dwell on the negatives, Mike and his senior management team published four business goals: to turn over £21 million; to achieve a 10% profit; win the Investor in People Gold award; and constantly meet a complete on time in full (cotif) target of 98%.

Key to these ambitions, Mike said, is to provide the best service you can to your customers, starting with improved communication, especially as companies were turning to their suppliers for information and advice.

“We were one of the first fabricators to open up after lockdown,” Mike said. “We have sent 131 news stories via our interactive website, and 58,656 emails to customers since then.

“We developed a real-time production capacity planning system from scratch during Covid, and we offered our EasyAdmin CRM for free, allowing customers to quote and place orders remotely.”

Glass Times spoke to two of Sternfenster’s customers – Select Window Systems, and Total Window Repairs – and both said they appreciated the regular contact.

Investment in product and service was also vital in combating some of the negative side-effects resulting from a surge in demand.

“We’ve invested heavily in our aluminium production, bought a new PVC cutting and machining centre, and spent £500,000 on new delivery trucks,” Mike said.

This was accompanied by investment in customer support and lead generation.

“We supported our customers through three price increases, and made a significant investment in lead generation,” he said.

Sternfenster generated an average of 700 leads per month across all platforms and, in Q2 2001, generated 3,556 consumer leads for its approved installers.

Crucially, this active support was accompanied by a greater visibility of the company’s processes, which had a profound effect on how Sternfenster approaches orders and lead times.

“We now have a live production capacity feed across our PVC and aluminium lines,” Mike said. “And customers can check the status of orders, contracts and deliveries.

“This capacity planner is a big change for the company, as it helps to iron out the peaks and troughs in the business, and cuts down on overtime.

“As a result, we won’t go back to a five-to-ten week lead time – we don’t have to, and nor do our customers.”

However, key to being a professional manufacturing business, for Mike, is how the staff are treated. Arguably, out of the four business goals, visitors to the company walk away believing this is the most important one.

Mike would argue that without investing in the workforce, then the other goals are not easily achievable.

Sternfenster was awarded Investors in People Silver status in 2020, and immediately set out to achieve Gold in the shortest amount of time possible.

“Engaging with people has been vital in transforming the business.” Mike said. “On top of introducing employee perks, and greater support for mental health, we have given our staff four pay rises in 12 months as we benefited from the increased spend on home improvement.

“As the company improves, employees will get further pay rises.”

It is this focus on the staff wellbeing that has pushed Sternfenster ahead of the competition, Mike believes,

“Yes, investment in machinery, processes and software have all been critical to how we coped with the pressures brought about by the pandemic,” he said. “But without the hard work and dedication of our staff, it would have amounted to nothing.”