An Interview with Andrew Halsall Managing Director of Origin

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Nick Dardalis

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Origin, the British manufacturer of bi-fold doors, windows and blinds, has become the only company in the fenestration industry to be listed in The Sunday Times Profit Track 100, which details the top 100 private companies with the fastest-growing profits over the last three years.

Previous well-known companies to be named in this prestigious and highly regarded listing, published annually in The Sunday Times, include Carphone Warehouse, Dyson, Travelex and many others.

Origin continues to buck the trend for the home improvement industry.

The criteria for being nominated is for UK registered companies, profits in the latest year of at least £3m and with a profit increase in the most recent year. This is a terrific achievement on behalf of the company, and anyone involved in the door and window industry will understand why.

The UK home improvement market is currently healthy, but profits and margins are often tight. Suppliers of raw materials, such as aluminium extrusions, accessories or glass, often increase their prices on an annual basis, but it’s rare for window companies to follow suit by raising their prices to the end user, because of the competitive nature of the market at the consumer level.

Therefore, Origin has to be congratulated for its streamlined, slick and highly efficient manufacturing operation. Factors such as excellent marketing, fantastic dealer support and of course, a great product that sells, have all contributed to the company’s astounding financial performance.

Aluminium Trade Supply interviews Origin Doors and Windows.

andrew halsall, origin managing director gives an insight into origin and how they work.
Andrew Halsall, Origin Managing Director gives an insight into Origin and how they work.

We put some questions to Andrew Halsall, Managing Director of Origin, to get a further insight into the business and what makes Origin so successful.

Andrew, our congratulations on Origin being at No.34 in the Sunday Times Profit Track 100. Aside from great financial results, how have you found the last 12 months of trading?

Thank you. We were absolutely thrilled to be part of The Sunday Times Profit 100 list. It is a reflection of how hard the whole company has been working. This success is down to each individual as much as Origin as an organisation.

As you say, the financial results over the last 12 months have been fantastic, but we have experienced a successful year regarding growth and innovation too. We have added Oliver Ginger to our Board of Directors, we launched Sale Safe – our new ordering and quotation system, and experienced our best ever FIT Show, with more trade agents than ever wanting to join the Origin family.

What would you say has been the key factor at Origin for these great results and profitability?

I think that our consistent profit and growth is down to the product quality and unbeatable service that we provide, as well as the unrivalled lead times on our systems. That being said, family is, and always has been, right at the heart of our business, and we have kept this ethos for excellence across all of our employees and trade customers.

When Origin started, they didn’t have the competition in bi-folding doors that there is today. Many systems companies have brought out great bi-folding doors and others are rebranding existing systems. Lead times have also come down by others. Are you facing increasing competition because of this?

Yes and no. There are certainly more players in the market, but I think it drives us on to stay ahead of everyone. We have an in-house R&D team to ensure that we excel in engineering innovation at every level, allowing us to continue pioneering the market. We will continue to invest in our product, looking to fine tune and optimise every aspect, ensuring we stay one step ahead. Plus, we are unique in offering a 20-year guarantee on our products, which showcases just how confident we are in our products; and concerning lead times, we offer a unique and industry-leading ‘Your Lead Time, Not Ours’ promise on our bi-fold door.

Your Lead Time, Not Ours transformed the way the market views delivery times, and I don’t think anyone is near us regarding this. If you stand still in this industry, you start to move backwards, which is why our Origin Window is now available on an industry-first one-week lead time in eleven popular colours, and a three week lead time for the further 150 shades. We must lead from the front to stay ahead.

Nevertheless, a product is a product at the end of the day, and there are some great manufacturing companies out there, so best-in-class customer service is the one thing that will keep you head and shoulders above the rest. We are continuously looking at ways to improving our customer relations with our trade agents, to help increase their customer service levels and ultimately, their profitability.

origin have invested massively in the very latest manufacturing and procurement to ensure the fastest lead times in the window and door industry.
Origin has invested massively in the very latest manufacturing and procurement to ensure the fastest lead times in the window and door industry.
As an organisation gets larger, there is always a risk for the ‘institution’ to dampen the ‘inspiration’. How does Origin grow yet stay focused on its core values?

The most efficient management practices aren’t incidental, they are tied directly to your company’s values, and everyone knows, Origin prides itself on being a family-run organisation, from top to bottom. This helps us stay focused on what is important to our staff, and helps steer us away from becoming an ‘institution’.

As a result, we recognise our staff is our greatest asset, and we consistently drive for everyone to be happy, engaged and rewarded. Sounds cliché but we are one big happy family, working together to achieve excellence. As a company, we embrace change and opportunity with enthusiasm, which encourages the team to be more creative and innovative with new ideas for the business. Each employee feels supported and has personal goals to achieve, which improves performance while helping each employee to grow and develop. When your employees can’t wait to start work in the morning, that enthusiasm will show in their work, and your business will thrive; but this positive cycle only begins by investing in your staff – and of course having fun along the way.

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Origin right now?

At the moment, I would have to say that traversing the cross-country legislation is our greatest challenge. Some people might not be aware, but we have expanded into the North American and UAE markets, which is incredibly exciting for the company. Expansion has presented itself with new challenges – new legislation, new processes, new markets and product requirements. This is all part and parcel of growth and the long term aspirations of the company, and once we can provide a solid offering internationally, it could potentially help the way we view and operate in the UK.

What are the factors in our industry that you’d say impact growth?

It can vary depending on a whole host of factors within the market, but if I had to settle on one, I think lead times are critical. Having short lead times not only benefits the organisation in question but its trade agents and the end users. I think if you are not able to offer the product quickly, your growth will plateau and then get stuck. Because of the way we manufacture and schedule jobs, we have the distinct advantage of being able to react quickly to situations and rectify any problems as soon as possible, being as flexible as we can for our trade partners to ensure their customer levels remain at their highest.

Additionally, when we created the ‘Your Lead Time, Not Ours’ promise, it meant that we offered something different in a somewhat stagnant marketplace at that time, but also that we were providing something beneficial to our trade agents. Because of our promise, they don’t have to wait to get paid. It means they can take on more work, knowing the first job is going to be fulfilled in plenty of time, increasing their profitability and brand awareness.

Once you are known for having poor quality products, or slow lead times, it is very hard to shake the reputation off.

It’s fair to say a company is nothing without great staff. How do you assist a new employee to understand the culture of Origin?

I think it is fair to say that. Obviously, we are very lucky to have first-rate products and a known brand name behind us, but our staff are imperative to the cause. Without our dedicated team, we would not be able to produce our quality products on time, innovate at every level of the manufacturing process or have the customer base we have created.

When we recruit, we have a clear mind of the type of candidate we are looking for. Not only must they fit the relevant and necessary criteria, but they have to fit in with our ethos and culture. Occasionally, fitting in with the team is more important than having the right degrees, certificates or qualifications. We therefore don’t find the ‘new candidate’ takes long to fit in with the company culture and principles. You can teach someone the necessary skills, but you can’t make them fit in with the rest of the team.

Can you give us any insights on new product developments from Origin? Are you going to focus/on your existing products or are you looking at new products?

We recently launched ‘Sale Safe’ (OSS) – our revolutionary online quoting and ordering system designed for our customers. OSS is the first system of its kind, and will help our trade partners to quote and order from the Origin Home range with ease and accuracy. It was developed and built in house, with the idea to improve the efficiency and speed of ordering, as well as minimising the risk of mistakes. Simplifying the quotation process allows our trade partners to save time on admin, turning around orders in record time and increasing overall productivity.

Late 2015, we also launched an upgrade to our Origin Window, which now features an industry-first internal and external flush casement. Plus, it is also the only window in the UK to offer Aerogel, which boosts the window’s thermal efficiency to achieve an outstanding A++ energy rating and 0.9 U-Value.

This year, we also launched and expanded on our blinds ranges, improving the motor for the Lutron system, which offers a near silent operation, as well as improving the choice for our customers to ensure there’s a style to suit every home.

I can also reveal that we are set to launch at least one new product later in the summer, but I have been sworn to secrecy other than that I am afraid, so stay tuned.

the origin aluminium window remains unique in the market for design, lead times and innovation.
The Origin aluminium window remains unique in the market for design, lead times and innovation.
In 2012, you spoke to me about possibly bringing out an aluminium window, and I thought you were mad to design your own, suggesting you tie in with a systems company instead. What you’ve created in the Origin Window is innovative, unique and completely unexpected by way of design. You’ve also managed to smash lead times on window manufacturing where even the largest and established manufacturers can’t compete. Is the window as important to Origin as the bi-folding door and why?

That is very kind of you to say. We never settle at Origin. We always want to push the boundaries of what is possible and the Origin Window is one of our big success stories. I would never say that our doors are more important than our blinds and windows, or vice versThey are all integral to the ‘Origin Home range’. In each of our products, we continuously strive to push the limits of style, security and thermal products, and the Origin Window is no exception.

It’s the first of its kind to offer the space age technology, Aerogel, as an optional upgrade for added insulation. It is also the only window available to feature a stunning internal and external flush casement, resulting in a clean appearance on the inside and out. We are the only manufacturers in the UK with these USP’s, and it’s really starting to pay dividends as our customers and trade agents seem to love it.

Originally developed after significant demand from the fenestration industry, the Origin Window was the answer to the cry for a window that matched the quality, aesthetics and performance of the renowned Origin Bi-fold Door.

Adding it to our portfolio means that we can offer a total solution for homeowners. There is now no need for someone who wants the famous Origin Bi-fold Doors to go out and find windows to match. It’s now almost a one stop shop with a product and service that our customers can rely on with assurance. This then ties in with OSS for an incredibly efficient means of operating.

You’ve branched out to the Middle East, Europe and the US.  What’s the difference in how people buy bi-folding doors abroad compared to the UK?

It’s all about having the infrastructure, flexibility and resource to adapt the likes of distribution, localization of the product, offering and service while maintaining the Origin ethos and values at the core. There is no one size fits all in international operations. Instead, it’s about tailoring your overall offering to the market. The routes to market are different, the marketing has to be refocused as to what is relevant to that market and customer, and the product has to be tweaked according to local building requirements.

For example, in the US, we had to localise the product by ensuring it passes Florida’s stringent HVHZ regulation, making us proud to say that our doors are hurricane rated. With this, it means it gives us a huge competitive advantage when it comes to design pressures in the impact zone areas. In those areas, the air and water infiltration is also key to push. Even things such as the popular colours differ from the UK according to different tastes and requirements.

We work with many of your dealers and they all love working with Origin as a company. But they also sell other bi-folding doors. Does this concern you or do you welcome competition and customer choice and why?

As I said earlier, competition pushes the industry forward, but we are very comfortable with where we are and with what we offer. Origin’s Sale Safe is going to revolutionise the way our trade agents can work, which in turn, sets us ahead of any potential competition. We expect these latest additions to our products and services to attract more trade agents in the Origin family yet.

As a result of these publicised profit figures, some would use this as ammunition for better prices. Are you being asked by your dealers to bring prices down in the face of increased competition from other cheaper systems such as Smarts or AluK? Are you missing out on sales from those customers that just desire a bi-folding door but can’t afford an Origin door?

We don’t think that we are missing out on possible sales due to our prices. We offer the best package on the market, which has benefits to both agents and final customers. Our prices offer our trade customers large margins. As one customer said: ‘We would rather make 10 per cent of £1,000, rather than 10 percent of £100. We also offer top of the range marketing, which helps both in store and to target the end user. We offer ‘Fitter Fitter’ training courses, supportive sales staff and our new OSS. We are also easy to get to and easy to visit. I bet there are not many companies out there who could match that.

Regarding the homeowner, they get a top quality product, excellent service and unbeatable lead times for their money. They also get an industry leading 20 year guarantee, reaffirming the quality doors and windows we produce. You get what you pay for, and we firmly feel that this, along with our overall offering provides excellent value for money for trade and homeowners alike.

Finally, it is really easy for a company to come into the market and offer products at ‘unbeatable’ prices, but it is a different thing to be able actually to deliver on these promises year-on-year. There have been numerous startups who have tried to break the market promising the world, and where are they now? They have gone because they continually failed to deliver. We have been leading the industry forward for 14 years, and we are still here, at the top. That is real value for money.