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Question Time - SPUK

Duncan Chapman has been managing director of SPUK since it was established in 2008. He tells Blinds & Shutters how he got started in the business

What first got you interested in the sunshading industry?
We have another business that operates in the leisure sector and through that we got involved in the sunshading market originally as a customer. We saw how the market was developing for domestic and commercial applications but also recognised that there was a gap in the market for a business such as SPUK which could offer more than just product supply.

How would you define the SPUK brand?
Our brand proposition is to be the UK’s terrace cover specialists. But we are more than this. We have a wide range of high quality products to suit all applications and we back this with a great retailer support package which includes high levels of customer service, training and expertise. We have focused on creating a strong brand across the whole of the marketing mix which gives both retailers and their customers
confidence in SPUK products and our ability to deliver.

Do you cater mainly for the commercial or domestic market?
Our research showed us that whilst the commercial market was well established, the domestic market was an important and developing area. However, it was clear that the reasons for purchase and consumer drivers were very different and we have therefore reflected this by providing our retailers with dedicated sales literature and products to suit each market.

Have motorised awnings become the norm now, or do you still sell as many manually operated awnings?
Commercially the norm is definitely motorised awnings. However, in the domestic marketplace, where price is more of an issue and the awning is not being used every day, there is still a requirement for manual operation.

What have you learned from this recession?
That you only get one chance. The marketplace is tough but this really focuses the mind on getting absolutely the right customer offering in terms of product and customer service. In this competitive environment you only get one opportunity so you need to make sure that it is not wasted!

It has been said that the smoking ban gave a boost to the awnings industry. Would you agree?
There is evidence that the smoking ban acted as a catalyst for the whole of the alfresco culture. Consumers are demanding a more outdoor lifestyle both at home and when out socialising. This has had a knock-on effect on the sunshade marketplace and has definitely been good for business.

What do you feel is the greatest threat to the industry currently?
Definitely the economy. In the UK we have had a double hit because many of our suppliers are based in Europe so we have had to fight the euro. At the same time there is little disposable income around and both these factors have made trading very challenging. We feel we have combated this by having a strong brand and providing a real point of difference.

What is the best thing about your job?
I know it sounds boring but it’s seeing the result of some of the great installations that our retailers have done. This is especially so when we have worked closely together to find the perfect solution for a difficult application. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction.

What advice would you give someone entering the industry today?
The industry is very competitive, full of suppliers with the same offering. When we founded SPUK we spotted a gap in the market for a terrace cover specialist which could provide not only a great range of products but good technical advice as well. My advice to anyone new would be to try and find a niche or a point of difference.

Who do you most admire in business and why?
When I was starting out we had a non-executive director who taught me that listening, communicating and above all involving people was the key to success in business. I have tried to apply this in my day-to-day business.

What has been your best business decision?
Before entering the marketplace we undertook extensive market research, both with consumers and retailers. This taught us a lot, not only about retailers’ needs but also, more importantly, what their customers needed. This ensured that we developed the right customer offering and product mix.

And the worst??
I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘worst decision’.  All decisions made have a varying degree of success. The worst thing you can do is to not make a decision at all.

Do you live to work or work to live?
The key is getting the right balance. I enjoy my time at work but equally playing with the kids at home. The secret is to make the most of whatever you do.

Can we look forward to a less turbulent 2012?
Less turbulent, yes, but rapid improvement, no. There is no doubt that we are through the worst; however, rebuilding consumer confidence will take time – but it will happen.

What can we expect from SPUK in the future?
Since our launch in 2008 we have built a strong customer base by providing innovative solutions and service. We have future plans to continue to build and strengthen our market share in the UK – so watch this space!




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