Published On: Thu, Nov 18th, 2021

Austin McGillian, Chairman, New World Developments, owner of Apeer Doors and Lumi Windows

First job: Delivering newspapers. That was the only job I have had outside of the family, and I kept that paper round until I was 15. After leaving college at 18 I joined the family business, which was a petrol station, grocers and general store and I stayed with that until I was 29 years old.
When did you set up the current company?: I started Ace Fixings Ltd in 1978. Apeer came in 1993, with Lumi set up in 2014.
Most useful/favourite gadget? That’s a tough call: My new Ping Heppler putter although for many years it was the Titleist Scotty Cameron Phantom.
Business person you most admire? At the risk of sounding sentimental, my son Asa. But he has turned an excellent business into a great one and his handling of some pretty tough issues during the past year cements that view. In the early years I would have said ‘my wife’; we were a great double act – Deirdre chased the money!
What lesson have you learned about business during the past 12 months? Undoubtedly the value of a good balance sheet.
What has helped you during lockdown? My wife – who has been a rock throughout this – and I have walked a great deal in some of the most beautiful countryside around here. Which of course was helped by the beautiful weather – even we had plenty of sunshine!
Best business decision: Having started Ace Fixings, I would say the best decision was buying the seven-and-a-half-acre site in the late ‘eighties, upon which we have built our factories, now more than 130,000 ft2. We paid off the loan for the land within two years of buying it.
Other interests: Well, there might be a clue in my favourite gadget – golf! I get out whenever I can which of course, has not been a great deal over the past year. And my family – I have eight grandchildren between the ages of 3 and 10 years old. We are a very close family and that takes a great deal of my time.

Working Week: I travel in the short distance from my home to the office every day at around 09.00 these days, although that has been disrupted lately due to Covid-19. We have three companies here – Ace Fixings, the original company; and New World Developments which includes Apeer Doors and Lumi Windows. I tend to look after the non-operational aspects of the businesses as we have excellent teams responsible for production and logistics, product development and so forth, led by my son Asa. I oversee issues relating to the land, the factory, finance and I have specific responsibility for our fleet of vehicles…I like to keep charge of that. And I have always walked the factories chatting to our people each day, but we have grown so much in recent years that takes me a week to do the full tour now. It helps me to keep a hands-on feel for the businesses, which is important. I try and leave by around 6pm, later if required though earlier if there’s a chance of some golf.

Working Location: I share an office with my son Asa in offices above the factory on our site in Woodside Road. But I spend as much of my time as possible walking around the factories, visiting every department across a period of a week. I still find the various processes fascinating, which now include glass processing lines, a cassette studio where we make the glass units for the doors; paint shops, window fabricating lines…it’s come a long way since we began selling fixings 43 years ago.


Of course, Covid has dominated our business as well as our private lives here just as anywhere else. As I sit contemplating my answers for this it’s the anniversary of the first UK lockdown. When that was imposed upon us we had no idea about what was still a mysterious disease, and with no solutions about how to deal with it being discussed with any real conviction. We had a factory, around 250 employees, customers waiting for orders and…we shut our gates overnight.

I am sure that we had the same anxieties as everyone else; we had never experienced anything like it. But perhaps because of where we live and work we are a resilient bunch and, although we had no idea how long it would be before we reopened, what sales would be like – would we have any left at all? – we decided to keep whatever we could going within the business. Our factories closed, that was a simple enough decision to make although we had systems to maintain so kept a crew on in there; but we quickly arranged for key members of our team to set up at their homes, including sales and marketing…which as it turns out was a stroke of genius. And which was down to Asa, my son and who has been managing director of the businesses since 2008.

He decided, together with our Marketing Manager Linda Tomb, to go ahead and roll out a series of consumer lifestyle videos that had already been made as part of our revamped marketing programme – we had the videos, we had plans to roll them out through social media channels, so we let them go….And we had no idea of course how good a decision that was to become.

One year on that first lockdown seems mercifully short now…and by the time we reopened in May, we had received hundreds of sales leads from homeowners with too much time on their hands, a story that I believe has affected the whole of our industry. And of course, that sales boom has continued unabated ever since.

By using what we learned from that first lockdown, we have doubled our consumer marketing budgets and intensified our campaigns. And from a state of considerable anxiety early on when we were preparing for potentially significant financial losses, so positive have our sales been to England and Wales, we are 10% up on our original budget for 2020/21, despite Scotland and Southern Ireland remaining closed.

We are very optimistic. Whilst we are delighted that the UK has a strong and so far, successful strategy for easing out of lockdown and the clutches of this dreadful disease, we are considering what the next 12 months will bring. Scotland is opening up again and we hope that our neighbours in the South will not be far behind. And with our factories getting back to capacity again without these two key regions, we are preparing for a significant step up in production.

Whilst Covid-19 appears to be getting under control, we face the issue of the Irish Sea border, which of course will not simply go away. We began Ace Fixings pretty much at the height of The Troubles. And, just as every business has done in Northern Ireland, over the years we have had issues to deal with that are beyond the comprehension of businesspeople located anywhere else.

Thankfully we have had peace here now for many years although the border in the Irish Sea is of concern. Brexit itself has not disrupted our supply routes to the mainland or the South – a bit more paperwork is all – and we are confident that this will continue despite the best efforts of the politicians. But it is one more thing to have in the backs of our minds in the coming months.

However, in the short term, installing manufacturing equipment back in the ‘Nineties to allow us to manufacture our own composite door slabs, is another decision that is standing us in good stead, as we hear that supplies of slabs from Far Eastern factories continues to be disrupted, and by some months. Our lead time is 12 to 15 days.

That continues what looks like being the status quo for the foreseeable future. When we began our business 43 years ago we had to deal with some quite extraordinary circumstances; but with events affecting our day to day lives that are so far out of our control, life seemed so much simpler then. But as always, we will ‘tee ‘em low, and hit ‘em hard’; that seems to have worked pretty well so far.