Published On: Fri, Sep 11th, 2015

Stuart Buchanan, Sales and Marketing Director, Consort Windows

First Job: Dispensing Optician

When did you join your current company ?: 1999

Most useful/favourite gadget: It may sounds simple, but it has to be my iPhone. Not that I use it for anything other than phone calls mind. I am reluctant to read emails on it because I received so many emails a day I would be worried I would miss important ones on my phone. A phone call gets a response and also you can gauge emotion from a conversion, far better than any text or email.

Business person you admire: I was part of the team that built the Forestry Commission Headquarters in Edinburgh and a man called Roy Roberts was running the job. This guy never forgot anything, he could have gone into any top line job in the world, he was unbelievable. Never lost his temper under pressure and was always in control. He had a great mind but didn’t always trust it, he would always write everything down and was constantly asking questions. I quickly bought into his philosophy and I stand by it today. Being constructive is the key to success in business – there has to be an answer. I often say to people ‘don’t come and tell me why you can’t do it, come and tell me how we can do it’.

Recommended hotel/restaurant: Hotel Du Vin in Tunbridge Wells, fantastic service and always a popular choice to take customers at Christmas.

Best business decision: Joining Consort. My former job was more regimented in the role I played, I find at Consort I am more things to all men and have a wider remit.

Other interests: Reading is probably my favourite pastime, I often polish off two books a week. It relaxes me at all times of the day, if I wake at 5am I will read. Historical fiction is my preferred subject. Golf is my other passion, and I have also been supporting Manchester United since the Dennis Law days, although my home team is Dunfermline Athletic. I have four grandsons that also keep me on my toes.

Average working week: I am office based on Wednesday and Thursdays and this gives me an opportunity to stay in touch with the goings on in the business. We hold a meeting with all departments to discuss issues regarding production, accounts, technical and quality control. There is no hiding in these meetings as all issues are bought to the table. Sales are then dealt with in a separate meeting with my two co-directors. Monday and Tuesday can be varied with me visiting customers or working from my home office. On Fridays I round-up the business with all the departments heads. Being on the roads on a Friday is a complete waste of time, my time is far better spent catching-up with customers over the telephone and clearing the emails for the start of a fresh week.


SAM_1116The industry from installer right the way through to manufacturer has changed dramatically over the years. In years gone by it was simply a case of how many items you could make and sell. Nowadays, running a window business is more complex, and you need to adhere to the essentials of making it and delivering on time. It’s not just about the selling price, but about quality and a short lead time. Twenty years ago customers were happy with a four-week turnaround of orders. Although the delivery time was 4 weeks, installers were constantly selling so orders were being delivered on a weekly cycle.

The difference now is that the consumers want their windows immediately and this fuels the demand for a 5-day turnaround. This puts even more pressure on the manufacturer when you consider the products are bespoke and very varied. We weren’t the first to offer this bespoke service, but we were part of the sea change that coincided with me joining Consort over 15 years ago. At that time it was very difficult because there were two things happening simultaneously. Firstly, a number of fabricators were producing externally glazed windows, with no internal beads. So when I joined Consort we decided to move to internal beads, from a situation where transoms and mullions were mechanically jointed and externally glazed. This had massive time implications in manufacture.

Secondly, we changed to the Veka profile which allowed us to speed up manufacturing and improve the performance of our window, and later we moved to our current 70mm sculptured window profile. It is important to remember that the lion’s share of our business is with the replacement market, and most of the cavities will be 2.5 – 3 inches, and 70mm fits this well. None of us thought then that demand for PVC-U windows would last forever. You would read reports that calculated the number of windows available for replacement in the UK and you could see that it wasn’t an unlimited stock, so eventually the need for replacements would dry up. The hope was that this state of affairs would last out your working life! However, it all changed. Feedback from installers showed a new and fascinating trend. They would say: “We’re not taking out old aluminum on timber frames anymore, we’re ripping out first-generation PVC-U windows, and replacing them with white, cherry wood and mahogany PVC-U windows.”

Our customers have also moved with the times in terms of after-sales activities. They keep detailed records of past installations and now return to these homeowners and offer the latest new composite door, conservatory or different window designs. The main aim of our salesforce is to liaise with and talk to the customers on a regular basis. Engagement is key to this process. We have moved on to the Veka bi-fold and have been busily replacing the former bi-fold we offered in customers’ showrooms.

As a business, Consort has changed its strategy over the years and we now find ourselves more focused expanding and constantly evolving our marketing offer. This isn’t to say we aren’t looking to take on new installers and retailers, it’s just that we have a commitment to servicing our existing customer base and ensuring they remain competitive in their own marketplace. Added value is the name of the game and we do everything we can to ensure customers continue to buy off Consort. Apart from essential quality and service credentials, we support them with website design, showroom presence and sales literature. Making a customer well known in their own particular area is all important; it’s not about Consort, it’s about the installers’ or retailers’ own identity. Delivering this before they ask for it has always been one of our strong points; we genuinely try and keep ahead of the game.

The level of support we offer installers has changed drastically over the years. Investing in a digital printing facility has revolutionised this for our customers. We tailor brochures to exactly what the installers want and it is never about Consort. Our marketing department is inundated with brochure requests from customers which just shows brochures often hold the key to a successful retail sale. This is supplemented by the bespoke website offering which has access to the Consort website giving the homeowner peace of mind that they are having their windows manufactured by a major company. Our website backs up our customers. Consumers won’t care much about Consort, but they will want to know all about the installing company they will be using and maybe a little about the accreditations associated with the products. Homeowners will ask: “Where’s your web page, where’s your guarantees and where’s your BSI accreditations and the like?” The partnering and support approach I believe has moved our business upmarket, though this isn’t to say we can’t be competitive as we need to be realistic.

Despite the surge in niche products such as bi-fold doors, vertical sliders and such like, our business remains predominantly dominated by PVC-U casement windows and composite doors – these are the products that give us our volumes and create economies of scale in the factory.

Attracting new customers is tough in today’s market as the market is dominated by a number of large fabricators like ourselves who do a good job keeping hold of their customers. At Consort we run a very tight, good business. We never set up a customer next to a customer; this still goes a long way in the minds of installers and retailers – and often leads to us turning down business. This isn’t to say we are not looking for new business, as we need to replace customers who may exit the industry. The challenge is to find new businesses we want to work with. Our four sales reps are meeting this challenge. There is a company we have been trying get on board for five years. Slowly but surely we are making inroads, supplying conservatory roofs and a few obscure window frames. This is not uncommon as big strong customers don’t just jump to a new supplier. The underlying reason behind our decision to invest in two new Rapid machining centres is need to increase our capacity to 3,000 frames per week. Last year we were approaching this level which was fantastic and it was pleasing to know we can operate at this level.

We have a responsibility as a fabricator to equip our customers with the latest ordering systems and products. Interestingly, the most asked for components are handles, and we need to make sure we only stock the best. I can guarantee that we won’t be beaten on quality; our products will stand up to anybody’s in the market and we are extremely proud of this.

Our biggest challenge is ensuring the accuracy of the orders we take from customers. Currently, we have a customer support team that check through quotes and orders with customers. To alleviate many of the issues we are confronted with, we have been investing in new ways to guarantee the smooth flow of quote to order and to manufacture. In certain areas we know the drop for a transom will be 450mm almost without exception. So for many customers this is a default setting in their online orders. Similar order trends can also be detected, and for these they are also placed as default settings. The net result is time savings for both us and our customers. In addition, we have been working extremely closely with First Degree Systems to incorporate their Fengo quoting software into our own system. The end result is the ability to use Fengo on a laptop and PC – a requirement filtered back to us from our customers. Uptake from our customer base has been staggering, as it allows us to simplify the whole quoting and ordering process while also building in their own discount codes into the overall pricing. Listening to what installers and retailers required was the key to its successful incorporation into our customer interface. Accuracy is then guaranteed, as unmakeable configurations are now not accepted by the system and simple missed items such as colour and hardware options are flagged. This is a win-win situation for both us and our customers.

Sometimes we do need to push hard on a new product, but in most instances our customers will know if it’s going to sell or not. Over the last few years, composite doors and orangeries are good, successful examples, and I am a believer the new solid roof conservatory we are about to offer has mass appeal and is right for the market. Colouring is another interesting area. We believe the market has too many options and lead times are often too long. The industry is trying to be all things to all men, and sometimes it is better to concentrate on core products. Nevertheless, colour has a rôle to play, and for this reason we invested in our own spraying facility. It means we can spray our own frames and don’t have to hold stock or wait for deliveries of coloured profiles. In today’s market I hope we are viewed as a top-end supplier – the feedback from customers backs up this notion. They are comforted by the guarantees they received on our products and the fact they are manufactured in accordance to BSI and other exacting standards. You can also add to this the knowledge they can safely rely on us to ensure their products offered to market adhere to all the relevant standards and requirements such as CE marking and energy ratings. Customers are focused on their business which centres on making money selling and fitting windows.

What is interesting now is to see how the market is evolving and how the model that has worked so well is being tinkered with. For many years, the systems companies supplied the profile for fabricators to manufacture into windows, doors and conservatories and then to sell on to installers to fit into homes. Today, this is being challenged and it will be intriguing to see where this leads. From our position as a trade fabricator it is important we focus solely on our strengths in producing top quality fenestration products for our loyal customers. By concentrating on this, we and our customers will remain profitable. You do what’s best for your own company and we have a culture here that is very customer-centric. During the recession we maintained sales levels, which was initially surprising. We didn’t make anyone redundant, but we didn’t replace anyone who left. The end result was that it made us incredibly efficient across the whole business. We watched everything we did in terms of cost and systems, and during the whole economic downturn we didn’t lose a customer. In fact, we gained a large new customer in Scotland. We have a very good business owner at Consort, who is very business orientated. Investments are made in the right areas which is important. I have worked in factory environments all my life and it still amazes me how we achieve the volumes we do in such a short space of time. It’s testament to the workforce we have here at Consort. The high quality we achieve is down to their efforts and the manufacturing systems we have mastered over the years.