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Question Time - Eclipse Blinds

Eclipse occupies a 14 acre site at Inchinnan near Glasgow and specialises in the supply of quality fabrics, slat and systems to the UK window blinds industry


Robert Ward, Eclipse’s director sales & marketing answers the questions from Blinds & Shutters. As he explains:  “I think we have to change the consumer perception that blinds are generally a functional low priced product and we should all promote the technical innovation and style”

What got you started in this industry?
My parents worked for Hunter Douglas and they recommended me for a summer job that had become available. This was supposed to be for just four months and I am pleased to say it’s been for slightly longer than planned!

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
There have been many people over the years that have helped me during my career. My brother in law, John Haynes, first convinced me to move into sales by creating this wonderful vision of a new car, smart suits, travelling to exotic places. He didn’t mention the bleak November evening when you are sitting in a 12 mile traffic jam on the M6. Typical salesman! Without his guidance I wouldn’t be doing this job today.

What are your customers looking for from Eclipse?
Having had this discussion with our customers on many occasions the answers are always based on the three main criteria of quality, service, and price and because we are Eclipse the expectation is that we always provide the very best in each category.

What do you feel was the company’s big breakthrough?
There have been many milestones when you look back through the history of Eclipse. Great innovative products such as INTU, the fact that we are still able to produce over 90 per cent of all of our fabric ranges within the UK. But when you think of a fundamental ‘breakthough’ it has to be next day delivery. This revolutionised the industry and set an incredible trend in the pursuit of excellent service.

What do you feel is the greatest threat to the industry today?
If we choose as an industry to develop business by eliminating innovation, failing to inspire the consumer and providing poor customer satisfaction in an attempt to get to the cheapest price, we will drive the business into the gutter.

Where does your company draw inspiration from for its products?
From many areas such as clothing, wall coverings, flooring, furniture design. In recent years the focus has been on the intuitive design of our products making them extremely user friendly. We always aim to create great function with a strong aesthetic appeal.

What advice would you give someone entering the industry today?
Choose a financially solid company that has very good quality products and an established brand name. You can never have enough product knowledge.

How has the industry changed over the years?
You could write a book on this! Fragmentation of the market during the 80s and 90s opened up the blind trade and gave almost anyone the chance to join the industry. The current recession will, to a degree, reverse this change and I am sure we will see more consolidation with fewer suppliers. However, history does have a habit of repeating itself.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I think we have to change the consumer perception that blinds are generally a functional low priced product and we should all promote the technical innovation and style that many of the industry’s products have. We need to sell the real benefits of our products rather than the lowest price.

Is the consumer more knowledgeable when it comes to shading?
There is far more information available now if you look through the Internet for information on blinds and in the wide variety of collection books, so yes you would assume so. However, the highly emotive issue of child safety is the most important message that we all have a responsibility to drive through to the consumer.

How do you unwind away from work?
My Wife, Karen, and I have three wonderful children who keep us occupied in our spare time. We really love getting out to the beaches on the west of Scotland. I enjoy listening to all types of music and eventually I may even get to set up my precious drum kit which I haven’t played in years!

Who do you most admire in business?
Richard Branson for his passion in delivering excellent customer service regardless of the product he offers. It seems that he has a knack of knowing what makes consumers tick.

What is the best thing about your job?
The people I work with. Many of them have become good friends over the years and they happily provide me with the challenges that make my job so varied and interesting.

What do you think will be the future big changes for the industry?
I hope we will see less reliance on poor quality imported products and a move back to good quality UK or European supply routes. Our customers deserve better.

What has been your worst business decision?
I worked away from home for four nights a week for almost two years. It was a good career move but it put an enormous pressure on my family. It’s important to find the correct balance between your professional and personal life.

What has been your best business decision?
Building a career with Turnils and the Hunter Douglas Group. I think it has been mutually beneficial. It’s good to know that you work with a company that has such solid foundations and dedication to this industry.

‘Live to work’ or ‘work to live’?
‘Love to work’. We don’t do it just for the money! How many times do we hear that this industry is hard to understand but once you get what it’s about it’s hard to escape.

Is there still room for innovation in terms of product offering?
Innovation will keep this industry alive. Without it we will never keep the consumer interested. Just imagine where we would be without innovative brands such as Microsoft, Dyson or Apple.

Can the market look forward to a less turbulent 2010?
I expect it to be more predictable you never know forecasts might start to be worthwhile again. I feel certain there will be shockwaves from the current recession for the coming two or three years. You can be certain that everyone will be far more cautious as the economy grows again and businesses that have survived will be in much better shape.

What can we expect from Eclipse in the future?
An extension of the Target 09 initiative, which was put in place to help our customers through the difficult trading conditions brought about by the recession. By working together with innovative new products and concepts, we will provide them with the edge to win and stay ahead of their competitors.



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