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Question Time - Rol-lite Blinds

Established in 1973, Rol-lite has established itself as a manufacturer of high quality products from its recently upgraded Stalybridge factory and offices

Gary Millican, sales director, Rol-lite Blinds answers Blinds & Shutters’ questions. Pricing, in his view, is again the stand out threat to the industry: ‘Good quality, sensibly priced components and fabrics are being used to produce made to measure blinds that are in turn sold for next to nothing.’   

What got you started in this industry?
A chance meeting with the person named in my answer to question 2. Having spent the early years of my working life training to become a mechanical engineer only to be made redundant and left feeling thoroughly disheartened with state of engineering in Britain; I decided to try my hand at another profession, that of Salesmanship. Cutting a long story short, the first products I sold were engineering based; oils, lubricants, bearings etc. A short time later I had the good fortune to meet the person mentioned below, who saw fit to recommend me as a potential candidate to his colleagues for the position of northern area sales representative. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
There are a number of people who have played a measureable part in influencing my career so far but if I had to pick one person in particular it would have to be Steve Birtles at Louvolite. His apparently tireless enthusiasm for our industry and willingness to listen and advise makes him one of very few I would give the title of mentor. The day I joined Louvolite he told me that all I had to do was do the calls and don’t ‘B.S’ the customers. On leaving he told me to be seen to act and when you put your foot on the throttle, don’t take it off. He’s yet to be proved wrong.

What are your customers looking for from Rol-lite?
These days to say your business is successful because you offer what you believe to be great quality and service is something of a cliché and not really the whole story. The words quality and service are of course a mindset for any thriving business but it doesn’t guarantee success. Let’s face it, speak to anybody in business and they will all probably claim to have these vital components at the heart their mission statement. Winning business is one thing, keeping it is another. The real secret is preventing your customers from ever thinking that you don’t care about them anymore. Now we don’t claim for one minute to get everything right but there’s no question about how important our customers are to us.

What do you feel was the company’s big breakthrough?
There have been a number of improvements in the way we run our business during the last two or three years but I would say that the investments we have made in technology and in particular, information technology that have generated the most significant improvements to our operations.

What do you feel is the greatest threat to the industry today?
Being blunt about it, good quality, sensibly priced components and fabrics are being used to produce made to measure blinds that are in turn sold for next to nothing. This would suggest that for some companies in our industry there is a yawning gap in their understanding of the basic principles of profit and loss. This isn’t necessarily their fault and anyway who am I to dictate what price companies sell their blinds for? Without patronising anyone, perhaps the blind industry should offer fact sheets explaining the need to allow for all of the costs involved in running a small blind business before they take anything out for themselves. This is the least that can be done if the trade is content to supply people that arguably shouldn’t be making blinds anyway. For what it’s worth, I also believe that discounts and often significant discounts are given only too freely in a way that is unstructured and undeserved.

Where does your company draw inspiration from for its products?
We make time to visit exhibitions which don’t necessarily major on window coverings. Unlike the curtain and wallpaper industries, the blind industry has traditionally moved quite slowly when following trends in interior design. It’s not unusual for fabric collections to last a couple of years although it’s fair to say this is changing.

What advice would you give someone entering the industry today? 
Think twice and don’t even consider making your own blinds. There are more than enough people out there who will be only too happy to supply them to you. Just don’t forget the saying, you get what you pay for.

How has the industry changed over the years?
Most noticeably the choice and perception of blinds. Fortunately blinds are no longer seen as something you would only expect to see over your Dentists shoulder. The fact that blinds are both functional and decorative has been fundamental in the huge increase in their popularity.  

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? 
I think it’s tragic that vertical blinds, which are still one of the best light control products around, should be sold so cheaply. It’s not that there are inexpensive blinds available to the public, it is the effect that price conditioning has on those that are buying them. Let’s not forget that what we sell are made to measure products.

How do you unwind away from work?
My family and I love to walk so most weekends we take some time out and either visit the local countryside or spend time at the beach. Besides this I have a passion for cooking and gardening although I don’t see myself opening an organic restaurant just yet.

Who do you most admire in business? 
I’m fascinated by the sheer variety of personalities that have found success in business but If I have to pick one individual it would be the late Sir John Harvey Jones. If ever there was a man that talked common sense when discussing business matters, it was he.

What is the best thing about your job?
To be involved at Rol-lite with such a great team of people in formulating plans, executing them and then watch them bear fruit is a truly satisfying experience.

What is your favourite pastime? 
Participating in my 6 year-old son’s upbringing. I can’t imagine anything being more fulfilling.

What do you think will be the future big changes for the industry?
I have travelled extensively whilst working within the window blind industry and It amazes me that, considering how many blinds are sold in the U.K how far behind we are in the use of motorisation by comparison with other countries. I think that the motorisation of interior blinds and a greater uptake of exterior products are likely to occur as the current global financial situation turns full circle.

What has been your worst business decision?
I can’t honestly say that I have experienced anything that would qualify for the title of worst business decision. Perhaps that’s because we never act in haste and the decisions I make personally are based on ideas and beliefs that have been thoroughly sounded out amongst my colleagues beforehand.

What has been your best business decision? 
 I think the decision to implement a company-wide replacement of the information technology being used by the company 12 months earlier than we had planned, ranks very highly where good business decisions are concerned.

‘Live to work’ or ‘work to live’?
I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from what I do during my working week but I would be lying if I didn’t say I work to live. The world’s a big place and life is short, there’s a lot I want to see and do before I slip off my mortal coil.

Is there still room for innovation in terms of product offering?
Of course there is. Our creativeness and initiative are what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. You only have to look at the opportunities generated by global warming and our increasing need to save energy to visualise where our industry will eventually have to go.



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