Windows of opportunity: West Country manufacturer celebrates 40 years
In 2017 Somerset and Devon-based West Country Windows is celebrating 40 years of being in business and as one of a handful of West Country manufacturers with a business that is still run by two of the same directors who set it up in 1977; it holds a particularly unique position in the double glazing sector.
When the idea of West Country Windows was born in 1977, directors Ken Ashplant and Tim Earle remember the world as a very different place. Tim recalls the first Concorde flight between London and New York - something which was of particular significance to him as he was studying and living in the USA at the time.
Meanwhile Ken, who is West Country born and bred, was busy honing his skills as a carpenter and joiner at a national double glazing company, but when he became more involved with the research and development side of the industry it was apparent that there were a number of problems that were not being properly addressed. Ken says he saw his "window of opportunity" and together with Tim and a third director Tony Hamilton (who later retired through ill health) formed West Country Windows.
In the late seventies the firm was located in an old gloving factory, moving to its current HQ in Yeovil in 1980. The Barnstaple office in North Devon was opened in the early 1980s. In those days the market was all about aluminium windows, but that was soon to change with the arrival of UPVC.
In a market that has traditionally been the province of big national companies at one end and small "one man" bands at the other, West Country Windows has stood out as a business that has grown organically, taking time to see what is really important and actually manufacturing its products in the UK rather than sourcing them from large manufacturers churning out thousands a week"
Ken comments, "I think that part of our success can be attributed to our emphasis on having control over the product from start to finish. We firmly believe in controlling the quality of everything we do. Around 90% of the market comprises one man bands, often builders, who are buying in from a range of big trade suppliers more often governed by price than quality or performance."
An important factor contributing to the success of the business is the firm's loyal staff, many of whom have been with West Country Windows since the 1980s. Factory Manager Anthony Smith, known to everyone as "Tommy" is a prime example. Joining the business as part of the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) at age 15, he has never left and now relishes the role of Factory Manager which means he organises and oversees the workforce, making sure they are adhering to the high quality standards that has ensured the success of the business.
Another "lifer" is Office Manager, Angela Walker who joined in 1983 and said it's more like working for family than going into the office. She emphasised how both directors are always on hand to help staff with any issues or problems and how supportive they are of their team both in and outside the work environment.
Angela said, "Both Ken and Tim are always here and that has really helped to build the feel of the business; we are all in it together and everyone feels they have a role to play in making the company successful and working as a team."
With nearly 40 employees West Country Windows has built a really well managed, close knit team which is essential when keeping up with the demands of the industry. Ken is proud of their loyal customer base and the fact that they regularly see repeat business. "What's so interesting is we are often asked to fit windows for the same family as they move from house to house. Then we are asked to do the same for their children as they have grown up and had families of their own."
However the market is not just about double glazed windows and one of the biggest sellers for West Country Windows is its wide range of conservatories which can be constructed from UPVC, aluminium or wood and come in a fabulous range of styles and sizes. Tim said, "When we started we probably only sold a handful of conservatories, and the market didn't really start to take off until the late 1990s, but now they are one of our most popular products."
Keeping up to date with current trends is particularly important for the business and they have seen the market change to become more of a design and fashion choice rather than a distress purchase because the house is freezing! Ken says, "The power of programmes like Grand Designs and other lifestyle programmes and publications play a really important role in shaping what people are going to ask for."
Popular trends at the moment include an emphasis on colours - particularly greens and greys, plus solid insulated roofs for conservatories, sky lights and bi-folding doors.
Ken and Tim are confident that whatever trends the future may bring, they will rise to the challenge and continue to exceed the expectations of their customers. As a way of saying thank you they are offering up to 40% off selected products, plus the opportunity to recall memories of those heady days of transatlantic Concorde flights with the chance to win £5,000 in holiday vouchers for any destination in the world. See the website,www.westcountrywindows.comfor more details.
1. L-R Directors Tim Earle and Ken Ashplant
2. Some of the West Country Window employees
Further details:www.westcountrywindows.comor T/: 0800 378 371
Further press information or hi res images: Jane Adkins, A Head for PR, E/:email@example.com T/: 01935 813114
Feb 2017 (WCW 01)