Two of the region’s biggest window companies have gone out of business in recent months and only the fittest will now survive, says Kevin Taylor, the managing director of Warmseal Windows in Newcastle. Peter McCusker asks why he is so confident.
KEVIN Taylor leaves you in no doubt he is a driven man. He started in the window business at the age of 16, three years later he was a supervisor managing 20 staff – most of them twice his age – and by the age of 34 he was managing director.
Not yet 40, his five-year tenure at the helm of Warmseal Windows has seen turnover rise from £8.9m to £13m and as the economy slows down, while recognising the gathering storm clouds, he is keen to dispel any sense of gloom.
His confidence suggests that despite the collapse of Budget and Pennine windows in the last eight months, his company is in good shape.
“Anyone who says things are not tough, and I will not pull my punches on this, is a bare-faced liar,” he says. “The collapse of Pennine is an indication of how tough the market place is at the moment and it was a shame to see the company fail. Brian Perry (the founder of Pennine Windows) took a chance on me, and gave me a job when I was 17. And when I led the management buy out of Warmseal in 2003 he was one of the first people to telephone and congratulate me. But this is now a case of the survival of the fittest.
“Slowly but steadily we are growing the company. At this moment in time we are in a difficult market place, a market place which has got noticeably tougher.”
One thing Taylor leaves you in no doubt about is his determination to succeed.
“I left school at 16, did six months on an architecture course and then left to get a job because I wanted to have some money.
“I have worked hard ever since. I don’t have the qualifications that others may have, but what I do have is determination and common sense.
“Some people may say, that by saying that, I am underselling myself. But that is why I have the drive.”
Taylor’s determination to succeed shone through at an early age.
Cramlington born and bred – and still a resident – his first job was at the Cozi Glaze window factory at Kingston Park in 1985.
He loved the work but wanted to be closer to home so he approached Brian Perry at Pennine Windows.
Taylor recounts: “He said he didn’t have anything available at the time and said I should ring back. I rang him back every day for about three weeks until he relented and invited me over for an interview.
“My dad gave me a lift over and when Brian Perry saw my father he invited him to sit in on the interview and even asked him (my dad) why he should give me a job. I pestered him. I was very determined. I have a will to work and I think he recognised that.”
At the age of 19 quick learner Taylor was promoted to production supervisor. “I was managing people who were twice my age and on twice my money. But if I wanted to progress that is what I had to do.”
Taylor recounts how he would even work weekends of his own volition with one of the fitters, Walter Hepple, so he could learn not only how to make windows and doors but also how to fit them.
“I still see Walter now and we talk about those days,” says Taylor.
At the age of 20, when many of his peers would be at university, Taylor got engaged and he says this gave him even more drive to “push on and progress”.
He didn’t have to wait too long and by his coming of age he was Pennine production manager.
His first brush with his future employers Warmseal came in 1993 as he was in the process of accepting a new job at Clayton Glass in Stanley.
Judith and Terry Holliday, had established Warmseal Windows in 1989, and they tried to snatch him from under the noses of Clayton with an improved package.
However much Taylor was tempted he says he is a man of his word and he had given his word to the owner of Clayton, Stan Metcalfe.
Mr Metcalfe had employed Taylor as production manager where he was asked to establish a window production line.
By 2001 Taylor was 31 and he was now set on becoming a company director when again Warmseal came calling and this time it was an offer that was too good to miss.
“Things had changed at Clayton, they had been taken over by a Barnsley-based company called Cestrum and things were not the same.
“I talked to Terry and Judith Holliday, they were looking to retire and they said there was an opportunity for me to come in as production director with a view to becoming MD, leading a management buy out.”
Ensconced at Warmseal Taylor recounts how he was often called in to referee on minor Holliday matrimonial disputes.
“They had their own office and in between them was a filing cabinet, when I joined they moved the cabinet and I was put in the middle. We used to see the funny side of things,” he adds.
Just a few days before Christmas in 2003, and after 18 months of negotiations, the MBO deal was eventually signed.
At 9.45pm, after a tense 13-hour day in and out of the lawyers offices on Newcastle Quayside Taylor, operations director Paul Janson, sales director, David Luke and production director David Reed, successfully took over Warmseal.
Taylor recalls: “When I walked into the lawyers’ offices at 8.30am I was greeted by mountains of paperwork. I had never seen so much in all my life. There was document after document after document.”
It proved to be a long and emotional day and after the Hollidays began to waiver in the early evening Taylor was called in to smooth the waters.
“There was certain aspects of the deal they were not happy with, I suppose they were playing hardball, but we got it sorted out into something we were all happy with.”
There were some moments of mirth amongst the tense negotiations.
Taylor says: “We were told there was lunch at 12pm, but we went out for a walk and were on the other side of the Millennium Bridge when it was raised to let a boat pass.
It took a while to get back and it was well after midday when we returned thinking we’d missed the food, but there was this fabulous buffet laid on and we got stuck in. When the others arrived there were just a few sandwiches left. In fact we had misunderstood and what we had been told was there was a lunch for 12 people and not a lunch at 12pm!”
Taylor, a regional representative of the industry trade body the Glass and Glazing Federation, has taken the business in new directions since he took over the reins at Warmseal.
It recently established a new aluminium window production line and now also provides timber windows from its base at the Westway Industrial Park in Throckley.
He said: “We are a technical company and there is a great service ethos throughout the whole company. Everyone is under margin pressure, especially in a business like ours which has many oil-based products.
“Over 60% of our business is through recommendation. Unlike many double-glazing agents, we have been very careful not to go down the route of hard selling and I think our customers appreciate this. We have also established numerous partnerships with local authorities, housing associations and builders for the supply and fit of windows, doors and roofing.”
Warmseal now carries out 60% of its work in the public sector, while 40% is with private residents.
Last year the firm worked with business improvement specialists Peter Rowley Limited which saw it undertake a Lean Manufacturing programme.
The company is also expanding its reach geographically, recently securing orders in Barnsley and Preston.
Taylor’s wife Lesley, who has a background in PA and admin work, also works at Warmseal as operations manager joining shortly after the MBO.
“It was a big decision for us to work together, but we had invested a lot of our money into the company and we decided that if we were to make a go of it, we were going to make a go of it together. It has brought us closer together as a family.”
Taylor is a devoted family man and there is little doubt that the greatest joys in his life are his wife and their two children – Chloe, aged 15 and Luke aged 10, who were both born on December 9, five years apart.
His chest puffs out when he recalls with pride how his daughter was recently made headgirl at school and his son named footballer of the year in his age group team at Cramlington Juniors.
Taylor sponsors three of the juniors teams and every year he and Lesley help organise the fundraising evening which raises thousands of pounds.
Taylor cites Robin Hood and William Wallace – taking from the rich to give to the poor – as the historical figures he most admires.
But he is self-aware enough to realise that may raise eyebrows amongst his workers and those who know him.
“I do not want any gratitude for what I do. I like to give back to the community, some people will knock that, but I will never forget where I have come from and I have drummed that into my children. With me what you see is what you get. I am a very straightforward man
“My children want for nothing but they do not get it for nothing. We are a very close family but we do have a fairly short fuse.”
On the journey from Cramlington to Throckley Kevin and Lesley are often joined by their 10 stone bull mastiff Monty, who has his own pen in the work’s compound.
“Despite his size and bulk he is the most placid of the lot of us,” chuckles Taylor.
What car do you drive? Toyota Hilux Invincible
What’s your favourite restaurant? Vujons, Queen Street, Newcastle
Who or what makes you laugh? My children - they come out with some strange but funny one-liners
What’s your favourite book? Quest for Adventure by Chris Bonington
What’s your favourite film? The Star Wars Trilogy (takes me back to my youth)!
What was the last album you bought? U2 – Greatest Hits
What’s your ideal job, other than your current one? Rally driver
If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you’d teach it to say? "Be quiet kids"
What’s your greatest fear? My wife, she is the only person who can control me
What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received? There’s two - "Never forget where you have come from" and "Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity"
Worst business advice? Can’t remember having any
What’s your poison? Jack Daniels, straight no ice
What newspaper do you read, other than The Journal? I don’t read any others
How much was your first pay packet and what was it for? I was a fabricator and was paid £45 per week
How do you keep fit? Running around after my children and walking my 10st bull mastiff, Monty
What’s your most irritating habit? I am a control freak
What’s your biggest extravagance? Home and family
Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with/admire? William Wallace and Robin Hood
And which four famous people would you most like to dine with? Gordon Ramsay, Tommy Lee Jones, Honor Blackman, Kelly Brook
How would you like to be remembered? For being firm but fair.