Published On: Tue, Jun 17th, 2014

Martin James, Managing Director at Dutemänn

First Job: Was as an apprentice painter and decorator. My old headmaster got me the job. My first job in the industry was with Schlegel, selling weather stripping and seals.

When did you join or set up current company?: We started making bi-fold doors eight years ago and rebranded as Dutemänn in October 2012, although London Bifold’ s website is still active and used for retail customer lead generation for our retail clients.

Most useful/favourite gadget: It’s not really a gadget – it’s Outlook Express and the calendar on it. I ‘sync’ my whole life through it; my phone, my ipad (which isn’t really an ipad), my whole life. It’s what gets me to meetings!

Favourite/most useful website: The Council for Aluminium in Building website, – am I allowed to plug the CAB? It’s a great website and there’s loads of really useful information there. I strongly believe that the industry should support its trade organisations. They do a lot of really good work and offer the industry a lot of support.

Business person you admire: Kevin White, Commercial Director at Winkhaus UK and before that Schlegel. He gave me my first job in the industry and was my first real influential boss. Kevin had a very different management style. I learned loads from him and he gave and continued to give me advice right the way through my career up to his retirement last year.

Recommended hotel for business: I tend to use chains because then you know what you’re getting. Village Hotels – you get a pool and a gym. It gives you something to do in the evenings because let’s face it, being on the road all the time can be pretty bleak.

Favourite UK restaurant: Akbar’s in Bradford – it’s the best curry that you’ll ever eat!

Best business decision: Launching Dutemänn, without a shadow of a doubt.

Other interests: Family, Football and Food in that order.


Working Day: I’m out of the house at 6.30am and go to the gym three days a week. I might be on the treadmill or sweating it out in the sauna but it’s often where I do my best thinking about what’s coming up in the day ahead. The silence just gives me clarity. I probably do a lot of my best thinking at 100 degrees! Other than that I’m in work most days at 9am and out by 5pm as spending time with my family is important. That doesn’t just go for me as MD or us as directors but the rest of the people here. If we need to stay late to make an order we’ll do it, but if someone wants to take time to see their kid in a school play, they can. We want people to be happy because you get the best out of them that way.

Working Location: I suppose you could describe it as ‘sparse’ or maybe ‘minimalist’ on a good day! We have had to remodel the building three or four times since moving in to make more room on the factory floor. We have expanded so much the offices have been pushed back into a corner. We have 8,000 ft2 at present but really need around 16,000 so we’re looking to move as soon as we’re able to.


IMG_8167[1]If a product is good enough, people are always going to want it,” explains Martin James, Managing Director, at trade specialist fabricator, Dutemänn, with an unquestionable logic. “It’s simple,” he continues. “Give people a quality product, take care of them, give them something more – a better service – and they’re going to come to you and most importantly, come back to you. It’s nothing more than that.” This clarity of thinking runs to the very core and throughout Dutemänn. From its focus on niche markets – aluminium bifold, entrance and inline-sliding doors – to its quality control processes and its finance model with no account customers, which has delivered cash flow to fund the company’s exceptional growth – there is a simple but genius logic.

“Apple is phenomenally successful because they keep it simple,” continues Martin. “They have an aspirational product. It’s easy to use, easy to buy, it does what it’s meant to do and what people want it to do. When it comes off the shelf, it’s all there in the box. Our approach is to transfer that into manufacturing. To attract high-end retailers who are also focused on providing a quality product and service. Price is important but it shouldn’t be seen as the only factor.” While being in the right place at the right time, or more accurately having the right product at the right time – the bifold door – has contributed to Dutemänn’s success, it is by no means its foundation. Doubling in size last year and with plans for 40 per cent growth on top of that this year, Martin and the business are not short of ambition. But it’s this drive, coupled with a commitment to quality and service and underpinned by a continual evolution of its offer, which has been the foundation of Dutemänn’s growth. Having started out true to its heritage, manufacturing the Schuco bifolding door, two new products followed in quick succession: Haus Door, a stylish and contemporary aluminium residential door range, and Glide – Dutemänn’s ‘reinvention’ of the inline sliding-door.

“We’re a niche manufacturer – we know we are and that’s what we do. But that doesn’t mean standing still and not changing. We are constantly changing and looking for the next challenge. But in whatever we do, we want to do it well and make sure that we’re giving quality to our customers.” The focus that he and Production Director Steve Prudence have placed on quality is evident as Martin leads a tour of the company’s manufacturing facility. If expansion has meant that the business is short on space, the space it has is exceptionally well organised. There is also evidence of the investment that Dutemänn has made in its operation to support growth, with new saws, CNC and crimping machines, hard at work. “We crimp and pin the corners of our bifolds and then inject ‘concrete’ into the join – it’s actually a high strength adhesive but we call it concrete because it sets like it! It means that when the glass goes in, double- or triple-glazed, it’s never going to move. It’s a little thing in itself but it’s another thing that won’t go wrong on site and won’t lose our customers time or money,” says Martin

And while the investment the company has made in equipment contributes to the quality of its end product, it’s the people and the processes it employs which underpin it. There are processes and checks for everything at each and every stage of the manufacturing process. Tape is removed and profile is checked with an almost forensic attention to detail before manufacturing starts. Measurements are checked and then checked again by someone else – a process that continues throughout manufacture before the product is fastidiously wrapped and protected for transport. “We have logged four rejects in two years. If it’s not perfect we remake it. That’s how seriously we take quality control,” says Martin. “This is a figure all the more impressive for a company manufacturing more than 120 panels or 40 three-panel bifold door sets each week.” As in any winning ‘recipe’, it’s the quality of the ‘ingredients’ that go in to its manufacture, that contribute to the quality of the end product. “The Schuco bifold is just in a different class,” enthuses Martin. “The hardware that we use, the little sledge that keeps the track clean, the operating system to the stainless steel rollers and the weather seal on the hinges – it’s just an exceptional product.

“If the measurements are right, it’s going to fit and it’s going to do everything that it’s meant to. There is so much flexibility built into the system to deliver adjustments. You don’t get that on other systems and that’s what tends to cause problems on installation. We do some big doors, you can manufacture six 10m sets, 60m and it’s going to work. For most domestic installations you’re so far within the tolerances of the system that you’re simply not going to get a problem.” If this was Dutemänn’s starting point, the company has taken the same ethos through to its other product offerings. Haus Door, its contemporary entrance door, has the same focus on quality. With a choice of 90 panel styles available, it can be manufactured to 950mm wide by 2150mm high. 44mm thick and featuring a highly insulated inner core, they achieve a panel u-value of just 0.71w/(m2k). Available as panels or as complete door sets, the latter from Dutemänn features toughened triple-glazed units and with German-manufactured automatic locking mechanisms. These can be connected to either fob, finger-print or retina recognition systems. “We launched Haus at the FIT Show last year. I think people got the quality. It’s a cracking product which we supply to the trade as either a completed door set or as a panel. The range is absolutely unique to us. It’s been designed as a high-end offering but even as a high-end door, the quality is superb,” says Martin.

But it is its latest offering, Dutemänn Glide, which may prove the trade fabricator’s most significant. Dutemänn has taken upon itself a commitment to ‘reinvent’ the inline sliding door. Increased structural integrity and sophisticated opening and closing mechanisms, mean that Dutemänn Glide can span a space of up to 6.7m wide and 3.2m high with just two panels. Capable of accommodating a sealed unit of up to 55m thick, Dutemänn Glide offers high thermal performance with an unbroken vista – something Martin believes, will gives it new reach. “Not everyone always wants to open up a whole aspect so bi-folds won’t always be right. Glide allows you to span large spaces with just a single 110mm vertical so your view isn’t interrupted. The system’s gearing means that operation of panels weighing as much as 400 kilos is effortless. It has also been designed so that it lifts as it opens and drops back as it closes, which gives it a great weather seal, it’s just incomparable to the inline sliding door that was. Rooftops, patios, commercial, it doesn’t matter, it’s such a flexible product.” That Dutemänn has followed up its launch with the addition of two new product ranges in the space of two years, doubling in size in the second year, during a downturn is impressive in anyone’s book, although Martin remains modest. “In this end, there wasn’t really a downturn in the market because people weren’t moving, they were spending on home improvements. What we did was to be there to supply retailers with a product that they could sell, that was good to fit and people wanted. We may now see a little bit of a lag as the property market now picks up and as people move before that movement filters through and translates into sales but as it does, things are really going to pick up and the opportunities are there,” he says.

Martin concludes: “We will continue to grow, continue to innovate and continue to change but what is probably consistent in what we do is who we work with good retailers, who have a strong identity in their local areas and who deliver a quality job. Price is important, it always has been, is and will be, but alongside that, quality and service is no less important. We work with people who understand that.”

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