Published On: Tue, Dec 15th, 2020

Justin Harris, Managing Director of Winkhaus UK

First Job: As a 17 year old I was at Barclays Bank in South Wales where I gained some great experience over 6 years in regard to understanding economics, colleagues, customers and management styles, which varied from the austere to the progressive. This was a great learning curve that has undoubtedly shaped my long term thinking.
When did you join Winkhaus: In 1997 as Technical Sales Engineer.
Most useful/favourite gadget? IPhone: I think like most I have seen a creeping dependency over the years to the point that my use of it is interwoven into my everyday business and personal life.
Favourite/most useful website: My wallet tells me its Amazon!!
Businessperson you admire? I have met many impressive people in this industry in the last 23 years, but the best are always the straightforward, honest plain speakers who deliver what they say they will.
Recommended hotel for business? Apart from this year for the obvious reasons, I travel to Germany, Austria and Poland regularly for Group meetings and my favourite hotel is the Edelweiss Hotel in Berchtesgaden, just inside the German border but 20 minutes from Salzburg. Great business and leisure facilities in a beautiful town.
Favourite UK restaurant? Nant Ddu Lodge Near Brecon.
Best business decision? Gaining my first Winkhaus customer, GRM Windows of Pontyclun in 1997 will never be forgotten, but I think the best decision overall was introducing our AV2 auto lock to the market, it worked out ok, we have sold one or two!!
Other interests? Welsh Rugby is right up there for me, win or lose!! Watching my son play rugby and my daughter dance is a privilege. I also like a beer and a good night out!!

Working week: I arrive at work around 07.45 and leave around 6 pm. The day is varied and at present alongside my excellent team we are very proactively planning for an expected strong year in 2021, whilst having to react to the ongoing challenges brought about by the Covid pandemic. So the daily challenges vary, which continues to make it fun and interesting.

The main feature……

The past twelve months have been and continue to be shaped by the global pandemic. As I write this, we as a company are reacting to the decision to go into national lockdown for a second time, understanding what this means for our customers, suppliers, staff and trading till year end. Guidance is thankfully clearer this time for the construction industry, with the hope that these restrictions reduce the R rate back below 1 and set us on a path back to a level of normality.

Following 7 years of year-on-year growth in which our product volume output has more than doubled, we had strong plans in place for continuing this trend for 2020, but in Q1 it became clear everything was about to change. COVID-19 meant we locked-down with other businesses in our sector. Prior to re-opening in late May, we only shipped for specific government projects to support in their completion. It was September before we had everyone back in the business and able to trigger activity originally set for the first part of the year. Considering the impact the pandemic has and continues to have, I am pleased to report we are tracking close to our original forecast, excluding the period of closure of course. The past few months have included some of our best ever trading months, for me a powerful sign the market is returning to predicted levels.

I am so grateful to the team I work with every day and the leadership shown for our business through this period. Gaynor Walton, our head of operations, exemplifies the spirt within the Winkhaus team, leading all the behind the scenes activity that ensured we were able to return to a COVID secure workplace.

What are your trading expectations for 2021 – Market volumes will I believe be impacted in some sectors by the pandemic for a period to come, with social distancing impacting on output and confidence for some in sanctioning work. In addition to adjusting to the implications of the pandemic we are transitioning out of the EU customs union at the end of this year, currently without clarity on a trade deal. Winkhaus has been planning for some time to exit the EU, twice completing plans and building stock for previous BREXIT deadlines, it is of course more of a challenge to achieve our desired position this time due to supply challenges brought about by the pandemic along with the unprecedented level of sales we have seen in recent months. We remain confident however that we can once again be BREXIT ready at year end. For 2021 we anticipate a market opportunity that will allow full recovery to a point that our growth curve is fully back on track with the medium term targets we set ourselves a couple of years ago. This will in the main be driven by stronger performance in some of the sectors in which we share greater focus and the assumption that social restrictions are lightened over time allowing greater output across the whole industry.

Early next year we will launch our first annual customer survey, an activity I want to be become a benchmark from which we can build a culture of continuous improvement. This is the first step in our customers setting the agenda for improvement and having a real say in prioritising change for their benefit. 2021 will be an exciting year for measurable improvements for customers as we seek to roll out new and enhanced service propositions. These include new enterprise software that will simplify customer order processing, a brand new customer portal to access everything from price information to CAD drawings and marketing collateral. Once created and with the feedback from the customer survey we will prioritise further enhancements through the year.

You have mentioned service improvements, are you introducing any new products or propositions? The past few years have seen significant changes in fire door legislation, how products should be tested, along with the introduction of third party auditing from manufacture to installation and maintenance. I am proud of the role we have taken in championing these changes and building with our customers a bank of test evidence to support these new requirements. Chris Flaherty our Technical Director has worked tirelessly for several years across all aspects from supporting in the creation of legislation and 3rd party audit scheme creation to education for specifiers and supporting customers through the certification/compliance process. We have now invested over a £2m in fire door system development with solutions with fabricators for both timber and composite systems.

We have just expanded our evidence bank to include glazed permutations for our composite FireFrame systems, expansion of the tested ancillary components to provide both choice and maintain continuity of supply for fabricators. Updates to the field of application for our timber fire door systems include the Halspan XT30 door leaf, the addition of side screen permutations and ancillary expansion also. We will further strengthen our fire door proposition through next year expanding available systems with a continued focus on education to support the specifier to understand the requirements of these vital legislation changes.

What other steps are you implementing for 2021 and beyond? It’s often said in hindsight, that successful companies invest during challenging times. Our business has grown to its current position through its entrepreneurial spirt, seizing opportunities before others and championing change. This year is no different as we have invested significantly in people to aid in our next steps. Six new starters in the second half of 2020 with further additions being sought for early next year. These include expansion of our sales team with Tony Barnes joining as Architectural Project Manager for the South, Cameron Taylor joining our Project Management team covering Scotland and Ireland, plus a further addition to the Project Sales team to be announced this month. Andrew Wilkins joins in the new role of Business Strategy Manager bringing over 30 years construction industry knowledge to aid in defining our strategic direction, improve our processes, plus drive our marketing and digital evolution. We are also expanding our internal customer facing teams with recruitment currently in logistics, procurement and customer services.

On a personal level, social restrictions are having their impact on daily life. Both my children are very active in sports and the biggest disappointment is that they have not been able to play and fulfil their ambitions for the year. My son was scheduled to tour South Africa with his rugby team and had spent a year physically training to be ready, only to see it taken away, so it’s not just the education our kids are missing out on at present. It’s also difficult at present to get back to Wales to see family, however we all remain fit and healthy and that is more important at this time.

Tel: 01536 316000