At Hazlemere Windows there are 150 employees, 2 offices and a turnover of £14 million – not bad going for a business started around a dinner table 30 years ago by a father and his two sons.
Having built up Hazlemere Windows & Conservatories HWC over this period, managing director Stuart Braham is now preparing to hand over the reins to the next generation, with eldest daughter Rachel set to take charge within the next 18 months.
Braham’s five tips for entrepreneurs
Braham’s ethos and vision for the company will continue long after he has departed to manage the holiday cottage complex he has purchased down in Devon, as evidenced by his mantras for doing business:
- Get the service levels right
- Work ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ your business
- Find something you like doing, and do it.
- Work hard to create win:win situations
- Written business plans generate commitment.
Get the service levels right
Walking round the HWC showroom before the interview, one’s eye is drawn to the customer feedback wall, covered with letters of praise. Not just clichéd testimonials either about ‘a professional service’, but long handwritten letters detailing in depth the lengths to which HWC staff had gone to before, during, and after the installation process, in order to ensure complete customer satisfaction.
In what is traditionally regarded as a high sales pressure industry, HWC stands apart, as Braham expands upon how old-fashioned family values have shaped the company’s approach: “My dad was the best salesperson I ever knew. The double glazing industry has always had a bad reputation for high-pressure selling, but he was completely different; he would call round in person, listen to what his customers wanted, give them his 30 years of experience, and leave them with a quote. He was unbelievably successful and here at HWC, we’ve always remained true to his low-pressure, family style selling.”
Braham stresses how local the retail side of the business is – around 90% of HWC’s retail clients are based within a 12-mile radius of High Wycombe, which means that if anything were to go awry, word would get round very quickly, amongst customers and employees.
Work on rather than in your business
“I had no option but to get good quickly”.
Having taken over the business temporarily when his father was taken ill with stress, a twenty-something year old Braham was forced to step up from the manufacturing side and manage all aspects of the business.
His father’s success as a salesperson had led to the company over-expanding in the early years without the requisite infrastructure, neglecting critical functions such as credit control.
It was only after years of hard work that Braham was in a position to step back from the day-to-day functions and start to manage his business.
Find something you like doing
One of the first memorable pieces of advice given to Braham was by a ‘real-life millionaire’ in a speech at primary school. Having looked forward to this speech all week, expecting some ‘get rich quick’ advice, he was somewhat taken aback when told the secret was that ‘millionaires work hard’…so you’d better like what you are doing.
Create win:win situations
“I’m not a hard businessman – I like to act with consensus.”
This attitude holds true for both HWC’s customers – “admit when you’re wrong quickly, and even when you’re not wrong, find a compromise” – and its staff, many of whom have been with Braham since the very beginning.
Written business plans
“It’s amazing how often we’ve committed a business plan to paper and achieved it within six months.”
Braham believes in three-year business plans “five years is too long, it’s just a wish list” with the act of writing it down and gaining commitment from his employees the key to achieving great things.
Eyes to the future
As we tour around the impressive manufacturing facilities which stretch out from the rear of the building and via the numerous offices next door, it’s clear that Braham is justifiably proud of all that he’s built up over the past 30 years. However, his eyes light up most at the sight of two of his daughters, busy on the phones, ready to carry on the family business for the next 30 years.