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Question Time - Broadview Blinds

Ian Pratt, managing director of  Broadview Blinds, discusses how the company has grown and diversified in his 23 years in the business

We last caught up with you in 2007. In the meantime we’ve had global financial meltdown! How has Broadview fared throughout it all?
We had a tough beginning to 2008, mainly due to the exchange rate losing 30 per cent in six months. This hit us quite hard as we had committed to buy stock before the rate drop and we had to readjust, which took six to nine months. We had gone from 2007 our best year ever to one of our toughest years back to back. 2009 was much better and 2010 has also been.

When we spoke it was also just after the smoking ban, which has benefited the awnings industry perhaps more than any other. Would you agree?
It’s true we saw a huge boom leading up to the smoking ban and we were well prepared for it. I agree that awnings are now truly out there in the public domain and the ban has drawn much awareness to the potential use of outside space. Those who have invested have seen rewards.

What has been Broadview’s most significant development since then?
Our vehicle awning contracts have taken off, having supplied over 1200 units to the vehicle awning market over the last three years. We also set up a sign and print division last February and added a lot of extra space to head office for more in-house production.

Is there one thing you have learned from this recession?
Yes: focus on cash flow by operating stricter credit control, watch your overheads and productivity.

Would you still say the greatest threat to the industry could be cheap imports?
While the pound is weaker against foreign currencies it is less of a threat I think. However it is fact that Far Eastern countries are able to produce at a much lower cost than UK companies can and never underestimate anyone.

Would you say that Broadview, as a family-run business, is unusual in the industry?
Being a family-run business I guess we have the flexibility to handle large or small requests. We have in-house skills and the facilities to handle a lot of production if necessary, therefore we can compete at various levels with the big or small guys. We have a good management structure and a great work ethic across our team. Maybe that puts us into an in-between category of not small, not large but I don’t think we’re unusual, perhaps a bit unique!

In what sense did you hope to “eliminate seasonality”?
The awning market is seasonal and our goal was to produce awnings all year round. We have achieved this supplying awnings through our own signs division, marine and vehicle awnings contracts plus we have special fabrication and printing
facilities which bring in winter production. This keeps our factory pretty busy most of the year.

Is there still room for innovation in terms of product offering?
Yes certainly, and this is something we do well. We have some products being developed for specialist requirements as we speak, but I can’t say too much about those just yet.

Since your father established a mail order blinds company in 1969, Broadview has diversified hugely over the years. Has this been a gradual process and when were the first moves into other products made?
Mark and I have been in the business for about 23 years each now and it was about 18 years ago we saw other opportunities for the business. Our late father David was well respected – probably the hardest working person you could ever meet – and laid a good foundation for us to be able to move the business forward.

We would add extra products into our ranges that represented a good margin and dropped those that offered poor margins. It was simple: we asked our customers what they wanted and delivered the best margin one to them. It was an important part of our growth strategy and still is today.

And what’s next for Broadview?
A lot more of the same, hopefully. Every couple of years we have a directors’ strategy meeting. Usually we look forward and write a five-year plan, adjusting it as the market dictates. This time we are only looking ahead 12 months at a time as it is still crystal ball stuff to a certain degree because of the economy and would be unrealistic to go further than this. We want to grow over the coming years but remain healthy in the process. We will focus on what is good for the business.

Can the market as a whole look forward to a less turbulent 2011?
I believe that the awning market in 2011 will start off slow, however I think it will gain momentum from March/April forwards and could extend a bit longer as recovery continues into 2012.

 

 

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