Having worked within the fenestration market and the wider building products market for many years, Collingwood's Head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, jumped at the opportunity to sit down with Rachel Attwood, former Managing Director of Carlisle Brass, previously of Window Ware and Mila. Forthright in her views, the two found a lot of topics they agreed on when they discussed the market.
Mark: You haven’t had the classic route into an MD’s role within building products Rachel. What qualities from your marketing background do you feel you bring as a leader to a manufacturer than a more conventional MD would potentially miss?
Rachel: Being really clear on who the target audience is and how best to serve and delight them; great communication skills (I can’t believe how many CEO’s can’t present well or articulate their thoughts clearly) and an understanding that the brand goes beyond what the logo looks like to how employees behave.
Mark: This marketing focus has certainly helped formulate a plan and a broader appreciation as to where the market is heading. What do you consider to be the areas manufacturers can and should focus on over the coming three or so years [old age / e.g. York Centre, architects away from London etc]?
Rachel: The booming areas I think are housing for the aging population and new build for private rental. The over 65 age group, the baby boomer generation, are sitting on over £1.3tn of housing equity as they don’t have anywhere to move to that meets their aspirations. They want roomier accommodation that allows them to live an independent life for longer and its our job to design products that help this and that, crucially, don’t look like they belong in an old folk’s home.
The Terrys Chocolate Factory development in York is an example of residential, nursing and dementia care community living that integrates coffee shops and gyms with giving some day to day support or full care packages. The aim being to bring a quality of life to this very wealthy generation. The good news is the generation behind it who are 55-65 years old are even wealthier.
And building student accommodation and apartments for private rental provide the younger generations with their own city-based living another answer to staying at home with mum & dad for longer. The cities we should be focussing on in selling to architects and developers is Birmingham and Manchester rather than London as they are less-developed and there are more opportunities for the built environment.
Mark: An obvious strength of yours is continuous improvement from the infrastructure perspective. What areas for improvement and consistent failings do you see SME’s falling into once their businesses mature [over reliance on people, lack of systems / ERP etc)?
Rachel: I’m constantly surprised at how large a business can get without clear processes and a robust IT infrastructure. Instead they rely on people in critical roles to get the job done through personality or perseverance. And that hinders growth as the business can’t replicate its success and those key people sometimes don’t like giving up their ‘power’ and fit the direction of the business.
Three key things a business needs is an ERP system with a Business Information tool that gives regular financial insights and information for the team to run the business. Plugs ins such as Warehouse Management or CRM can come later to lessen transactional costs.
A simple and robust sales and operations planning process that is led from the top and that includes a purchase order process however draconian it might seem.
And finally making sure the management team are aligned around the core purpose of the organisation and have the skills to deliver the strategic plan. And yes, the business does need a strategic plan.
Mark: Through our conversation you have mentioned developing individuals. A major thorn in the side of the building products industry for many years has been attracting talent and succession planning. When inheriting a team what key areas do you look for in people and how do you put development plans in place?
Rachel: Firstly, I like to get to know the person and their story. It’s important to build trust to get a team working at its optimum. And then you need to create alignment around the core purpose of the team or the organisation.
Sometimes at this point, people ‘get off the bus’ themselves or it’s apparent their skills and talent aren’t what the business needs at that time and you need to give them that feedback.
In creating development plans I take it in four steps; first know yourself, then improve your communication with others moving onto being able to manage a team and then finally to leading an organisation. The development comes in many different forms from skills injection, to observation, reading and attending learning events and coaching. I’m a great believer in coaching and love seeing your coachee’s grow.
I’ve implemented this recently within a building products group with eight of the nine members being promoted in the year following the 2 year programme. It was a really effective way of building the talent bench across the Group.
Mark: I have recruited a number of Marketing Directors within the industry. Getting talented people to move who already within the industry can be tough and there is a slight stigma attached to building products being an antiquated sector for marketers to work within. What’s your opinion on this and who within the market do you feel “get” marketing?
Rachel: The sector has certainly seen an influx of Supply Chain gurus from the grocery and FMCG market and I think it’s becoming far more attractive for marketing people too. There is so much opportunity to set yourselves apart from competitors by taking hold of the space that more traditional brand leaders vacate; I don’t know if it’s complacency or a lack of ideas but new entrants will disrupt the market. Door-Stop, the composite door manufacturers, demonstrated this some years ago and Screwfix has certainly shaken up the traditional trade counter with its unapologetic ‘in your face’ approach.
More recently I was introduced to Brick Hunter who’ve made brick-matching a consumer-friendly experience. They get that most people don’t feel comfortable navigating a builder’s merchants web site or would even think of visiting a branch. It’s a great offering.
And Porcelanosa showrooms never disappoint; they bring a European design-led, put tiles anywhere, confidence to the British consumer who’s used to the ‘pile it high’ merchandising approach we’re more used to seeing.
FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR OF CARLISLE BRASS