David Thornton, chairman at The Window Company (Contracts), talks to Total Installer about the company’s latest G-Awards accolade, ‘value engineering’ challenges, and why it’s important to ‘walk before you run’ when it comes to business…
Total Installer (TI): Congratulations on your recent G21 Awards win – how do you feel?
David Thornton (DT): We were genuinely delighted to have won. It feels as though we’ve been rewarded for keeping our installation standards so high, even after all that has been thrown at us over the past two years.
TI: Can you tell us a bit about your winning entry and what the judges said about it?
DT: We highlighted new innovations, such as the bespoke app which lets our fitters do on-site Point of Work Risk Assessments (POWRAs) via their mobiles, and our backing for initiatives such as the Good Business Charter and the Living Wage movement. The judges said we had continued to innovative and develop our systems and provided good incremental improvements to our overall service and efficiency.
TI: This is your fourth ‘Installer of the Year’ title at the G-Awards, which is unprecedented. What’s the secret to your success?
DT: Our success as a business is obviously down to the hard work and commitment of the whole team and our determination and constant drive to do better. When it comes to success at the G-Awards, we approach every entry as if it was our first and we always try to paint a complete picture of how we’ve improved and the impact that has had on our customers.
TI: In your view, why are industry awards such as the G-Awards important and how do they benefit the industry as whole?
DT: I know there’s a fair degree of cynicism about awards in any industry, but I genuinely think
the G-Awards provide a platform for the best to shine, and highlight to the wider construction market the innovation and excellence taking place in glass and glazing.
TI: What was your path into the glazing sector?
DT: I took a share in a domestic installation business 20-plus years ago and soon realised that good service is good service whatever industry you’re in, and that attention to detail will always matter.
TI: You started out as a retail installer. When did you make the switch to commercial, and why?
DT: We won our first school contract and it dawned on me that it had taken approximately the same amount of time to ‘sell’ the product to the school as it would have done to the average homeowner. So, in 2010, we made the switch to commercial. It is a very different animal, involving a lot of necessary accreditations, but I have never regretted the decision.
TI: If you had one piece of advice about starting a glazing installation business, what would it be?
DT: Walk before you run, and never forget the old adage that profit is sanity and turnover is vanity.
TI: Tell us about an installation project that you are particularly proud of…
DT: We fitted new, A-rated windows in large parts of the village of Jaywick in Essex under the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP). At the time, Jaywick had just been named as the most deprived council ward in England, and the improvements we made to what were, in many cases, very basic properties really made a difference to the quality of people’s lives.
TI: What is the most challenging project that you’ve worked on?
DT: Difficult to pick out just one, but large new-build projects where ‘value engineering’ is prioritised over quality and common sense are always challenging.
TI: What’s the most frustrating thing about your job?
DT: At the moment, it’s obviously the unreliability in the supply chain. It means we can’t always know if we can meet installation targets which isn’t just frustration, it’s costly as well.
TI: … And the most satisfying?
DT: Without doubt, it’s the emails, letters and texts we get from clients and residents praising a particular fitting team. These are passed on immediately to those fitters and shared with the whole team.
TI: What’s the biggest issue currently affecting you as a commercial installer?
DT: The shortage of skilled, conscientious fitters with good all-round backgrounds is seriously impeding our growth. We provide lots of training and good rates of pay, but Brexit combined with Covid and our industry’s ageing workforce has had a dramatic impact on the size of the labour pool.
TI: Which trade associations is the Window Company Contracts a member of, and what are the benefits?
DT: We’re big believers in the value of trade associations as a source of advice and to represent our interests on a wider stage. Currently, we’re members or associate members of: the Glass and Glazing Federation (excellent technical information and industry knowledge), the British Woodworking Federation (useful training expertise and specialist knowledge), the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers (invaluable help and advice on choosing and fitting fire doors), Good Business Charter (our commitment to running a company with a social conscience), and the Living Wage Foundation (because it’s fair).
TI: What are your main concerns and hopes for the future of the fenestration industry – in 2022 and beyond?
DT: This is a good, well-regulated industry that I’m pleased to say has proven itself to be fairly resilient in most areas throughout the pandemic. Looking ahead, I hope suppliers will do more to limit the constant price rises they are imposing on installers and dispel any impression that
they are taking advantage of the current market conditions. Common sense needs to be to the fore because the tide will turn in the future and the approach that suppliers took towards customers will live long in the memory.