Teamwork, talking, and flexibility underpin this leading hardware distributor’s success despite a challenging 18 months.
It’s not just the home improvement boom that has brought Window Ware record sales since the turn of the year! The solid efforts of the company’s Area Sales Managers played a vital role in that upturn too.
With travel and site visits off the agenda during the first lockdown, and customer calls coming in thick and fast, Window Ware’s area sales team were taken off furlough very early on and drafted in as an extra resource to effectively double the size of the sales office team.
Working remotely and drawing on their extensive product knowledge and practical know-how gained out in the field, they helped to provide a fast, informed response to up to 100 calls a day. Crucially, the ASMs helped to keep the lines of communication open even in the depths of lockdown and give customers a dependable point of contact during uncertain times.
And for a company whose reputation has been built on superior service, expertise and strong customer relationships, the team’s fast-thinking agility and resilience has helped to maintain Window Ware’s renowned high standards, while keeping the hardware and the advice coming for fabricators and installers in spite of the challenges created by the pandemic.
Glass News speaks to all seven members of the Window Ware area sales team about their experiences over the last 18 months.
How did the role of the sales team change?
Demi Whitbread: Before COVID, we were out in the field 80% of the time, visiting as many as six customers a day. When we came back from furlough, things were very different. We had to be prepared to channel our efforts wherever they were needed most, whether that meant assisting other departments, manning the phonelines or helping to source alternatives so our customers still had a reliable source of hardware to keep their production lines moving. It was tough at times and we had to really stay on our toes, but great teamwork helped us pull together and rise to the challenge.
Richard Adams: The focus of my role changed massively, and it was all about the day-to-day servicing of customers’ needs, fulfilling orders and looking for alternatives. Everybody in the industry is busy, so with the increased demand and ongoing supply disruptions, people had started to panic buy. This all helped to make our job that much harder. Nevertheless, we managed to keep on top of the situation.
What challenges did you face?
Karl Williamson: In my case, most of my customers are trade counters. At first, we had ample stock of the Xpert range on our shelves, so we didn’t struggle to cope with the initial surge in demand. It wasn’t until the latter part of 2020 that we started to experience challenges in the supply chain. By the 3rd lockdown, we were having to work really hard to cushion our customers from these ongoing supply shortages.
Demi Whitbread: Now more than ever, time is of the essence for our customers. With increased demand and growing lead times, they simply can’t afford to wait around to get the answers they need. That puts pressure on us to not just maintain our usual quick response times, but rather speed them up!
George Esler: Getting grounded was tough for me because I was so used to being out on the road and seeing customers face to face. But everyone was in the same boat and you just had to adjust and use different methods of communication.
What positives can you take from the experience?
Tim Plant: I’ve certainly realised I don’t need to be knocking on doors all the time to still be successful in my sales role. I’ve helped to grow the business, not just because things are busier in general, but because I’ve won new customers and I haven’t needed to visit them to do it.
Dan Gilson: My technical knowledge has increased tenfold in the last 18 months. Every time I answered a customer query or solved a technical issue, I got to learn even more about our hardware and their best usage. I could never have gained this extra knowledge while driving between customer visits.
Richard Adams: The pandemic has given us the opportunity to work closer than ever with our customers in order to still meet their deadlines and fulfil their hardware needs even when the odds were against us. I think this has helped to build greater trust and strengthen relationships with our customers further.
How has customer behaviour changed?
Richard Adams: The pattern of ordering is still the same, but the order size has increased, as there has undoubtedly been an element of panic buying and stock hoarding. Customers also expect a quick delivery which sometimes, depending on stock availability, just hasn’t always been possible. However, being upfront about any delays and constantly having a range of alternatives to hand really helped us to keep everyone happy.
Tim Plant: Customers have relied on us a lot more during the lockdowns and got used to almost instant responses to their queries while our team were desk-bound. Being back out on the road means we’re not able to get back to them straight away, so it’s been a challenge for everyone to readjust.
How have you managed to continue your customer service levels?
Demi Whitbread: The key was to keep communicating with our customers and being transparent with them. That way, there’s no uncertainty and no misunderstandings. We have always done that of course, but the last 18 months have shown just how important this is.
Karl Williamson: Being open and honest whenever products are out of stock or deliveries are delayed has definitely helped us to successfully navigate this period. We made sure we set realistic expectations and offered workable solutions rather than break promises.
There were some difficult conversations at the start, but customers slowly became more open to accepting alternatives. They’ve realised that this is the best way to get the hardware they need within their allotted timeframe.
George Esler: During our busiest periods, we had to focus on looking after our existing customers rather than actively finding new business. And if a product was in high demand or proving difficult to get hold of, we managed our inventory carefully so that no customer had to go without supply.
Do you think your role will have changed for good?
Richard Adams: People in this industry are pretty resilient. Traditionally, they’re used to operating face-to-face and, if you need to gain a proper understanding of a technical process or issue, there really is no substitute for a factory visit.
Dan Gilson: I can’t see a return to being on the road full time. Over the last 18 months, we’ve learnt how to make a success of hybrid working and I can see us fulfilling roles that have evolved to combine both the sales and technical aspects of the job.
How long do you see the industry boom lasting for?
Richard Fraser: There are still restrictions on travel, so realistically, it probably won’t be till next summer that consumers resume their usual spending habits and begin booking holidays and activities again rather than investing in new windows or doors for their homes. We could well see a drop in demand then, but we’ll have to watch this space!
Karl Williamson: I agree. I think trading volumes could revert back to 2019 levels if it turns out the current boom has effectively brought 2022’s business forwards a year. The general feeling amongst my customers is that foreign holidays will take over next year.
What makes the Window Ware Area Sales Management team the best of any hardware distributor?
Demi Whitbread: We really believe we are all in it together! We all want the best result for our customers and for Window Ware, and we’re all willing to work hard to achieve that success all round. With this shared purpose, and our extensive collective knowledge and experiences, there isn’t a hardware requirement we can’t meet.
Karl Williamson: Every member of the area sales team brings their own unique set of strengths, skills and experience to the table. And when you add up all that practical insight and know-how, you’ve got one expansive knowledge base to call on the moment our customers reach out for help.
Why do you think Window Ware has been able to have such a successful last 18 months?
Richard Fraser: Simply put, Window Ware is very good at what it does! The technical expertise of our team is second to none, so people can always get the answers they need from us. Despite ongoing supply challenges, we’ve managed to deliver over 94% of order lines on time and in full, and warehouse and purchasing teams are working all the time to maintain healthy stock levels for our customers. Our large and varied product range means we have solutions for almost every sector of the industry. The staged reopening of Window Ware post-lockdown was perfectly timed and executed to ensure our customers’ needs were meet, while a continual focus on communication helped to minimise any stress or uncertainty over supply. It’s been a massive effort from everyone.
Tim Plant: We offer a wide range of products; we have knowledgeable staff across the board with a comprehensive understanding of all things fenestration; and we understand what the customer is trying to achieve, so we’ve always got their end goal in mind. Our service and delivery KPIs are consistently high, and by working closely with our leading brand partners, we can usually find the right hardware solution to suit almost any application. That makes us a convenient one-stop-shop. When you add it all together, Window Ware is THE place to come for any door and window hardware requirement.
Karl Williamson – Business Development Tools & Consumables
Richard Fraser – Business Development Commercial Contracts + Aluminium
Daniel Gilson – Area Sales Manager, East of England
Demi Whitbread – Area Sales Manager, Home Counties & East Midlands
George Esler – Area Sales manager North West & Yorkshire
Richard Adams – Area Sales Manager South East
Tim Plant – Area Sales Manager South West and West Midlands