This month Senior Architectural Systems celebrates its 30-year anniversary. Founded in 1991, Senior has grown to become the UK’s largest privately owned fenestration systems company with a turnover of £40 Million and over 150 employees. So, what’s the secret of the company’s success? We go behind the scenes to find out...
When Lennart Jonsson started the company in 1991, he had a clear vision for the future. And it’s that vision that has led to the company’s success over the last 30 years. Backed by David Senior – from whom the company gets its name – the duo set up the business in a small industrial unit in Bradford.
Thirty years on, Senior is now the UK’s largest privately owned fenestration systems company, with headquarters in Denaby, branches in Newport and Livingston, a state-of-the-art powder coating facility, and a large and innovative range of products which feature in buildings nationwide.
Managing Director Mark Wadsworth, puts the company’s success down to 6 main principles that are at the heart of Senior’s philosophy:
1. Put the Customer First
The reason that Lennart Johnson and David Senior started the company was because they had experienced such poor customer service from other fenestration systems companies in the past. They were determined to revolutionise the market by putting customer service centre stage. Senior’s motto is and always has been “Give customers what they want when they want it.”
In practice this means that Senior now offers some of the shortest lead times in the industry, provides a reliable and regular nationwide delivery service via its fleet of 5-star eco trucks, and guarantees a high-quality paint finish every time, thanks to its in-house state-of-the-art powder coating facility.
But it doesn’t stop there. Sales Director James Keeling-Heane, explains how Senior listens to customer feedback and acts on it to develop new and innovative products that give fabricators a competitive advantage: “We have a team of experienced and knowledgeable Technical Sales managers who understand our customers and relay their requests and suggestions to our technical department.“
“To help our customers win even more business, in 2015 we created a new nationwide specification team of architectural advisors to provide additional support to architects, local authorities, specifying bodies and contractors. This has resulted in Senior establishing supply chain agreements with some of the UK’s largest building contractors, allowing us to funnel new projects to our fabricators. Our Architectural Advisors provide valuable support to all involved from tender to hand over of the project, making sure that everything runs smoothly and promptly finding solutions to any issues that arise.”
The company’s growth owes much to Senior’s customer relationships as Customer Services Manager, Jonny Greenstreet explains “Customer Service is at the heart of every decision we make, not just in the customer-facing departments but in every department, in every branch. Over the last 30 years we have nurtured brilliant relationships with our customers, many of whom have grown with us to become £multi-million companies themselves.”
“We are always looking for the next product, project, report, or service to help and support our customers to win more business. In recent months we have done a huge amount of work on the reporting side of our business, increasing transparency to give customers even greater confidence in our services.”
“The next phase of this work is to make these reports instantly accessible to all our customers, via the customer portal of our website. But this doesn’t mean hiding behind facts and figures. Building and maintaining strong customer relationships remains our top priority and there will always be someone at the end of a phone or face-to-face (Covid rules permitting!) to answer customer queries and find practical solutions.”
2. Innovate to Stay Ahead
The fenestration industry is a very competitive market place. New products are being launched every day, so it’s vital to innovate to stay ahead. Senior has always invested heavily in Research & Development, to make sure that the product range constantly evolves to stay at the vanguard of market trends and ahead of building regulations.
Senior have developed an extensive range of products but the company’s biggest innovation came in 2015, when after 2 years of intense Research and Development, the patented PURe® aluminium system was launched. Using an innovative thermal barrier manufactured from expanded polyurethane, PURe® aluminium windows and doors give exceptional thermal performance, with U values that exceed the current building regulations and more than meet the proposed changes due to come into force in 2022.
Technical Director, Mark Wheatley oversees Senior’s product development and explains the company’s strategy: “Climate change has moved up the government’s agenda and the UK has set in law a target to bring its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Heating and powering buildings currently accounts for 40% of the UK’s total energy usage1, so thermal performance is becoming an increasingly important factor when specifying glazing packages.”
“That’s why much of our product development has focused on improving the energy efficiency of our windows, doors and curtain walling. The Government has just completed a consultation on proposed changes to Part L (conservation of fuel and power) of the Building Regulations for non-domestic buildings and dwellings. These are due to come into effect in 2022. They propose significantly lowering the minimum U values in new non-domestic buildings for example from 2.2 W/m²K to 1.6 W/m²K for windows.”
“Because of our forward thinking, our PURe® range of windows and doors already greatly exceed these requirements. Indeed, our PURe® windows offer U values as low as 0.71 W/m²K when calculated as a commercial CEN standard window. This means our products will more than satisfy UK Building Regulations for many years to come”
3. Train to Gain
People are Senior’s most important asset. Having a skilled workforce is vital for the smooth running of the company and enables them to make the most of any opportunities that arise.
As Mark Wadsworth, Managing Director explains “We invest in our people, providing ongoing training to give them a clear career progression and additional motivation to always give their best.”
“Increasing their skill levels also helps our customers. For example, we recently sponsored Mark Rossouw, our Architectural Advisor for London and the South East to study for an MSc in Façade Engineering. After completing this 3-year part time course and gaining a merit, Mark is now able to advise our customers with greater confidence and it also gives customers greater assurance in Mark’s recommendations.”
“In addition, we run training courses for our nationwide network of fabricators to make sure that our windows, doors and curtain walling systems are always manufactured to the highest standard. In fact, in early 2020 we opened a dedicated Training Academy at Denaby, offering a comprehensive training programme in the use, fabrication and installation of curtain walling supported by GQA Qualification. We have also developed and deliver RIBA approved CPD seminars for architects, as part of their ongoing education.”
Mark himself is the perfect example of how Senior nurture their staff. For his university placement year, Mark worked at Senior on the shop floor in the Newport warehouse. After completing his degree, he returned to Senior and gradually worked his way up to become Operations Director before replacing Lennart Jonsson at Managing Director in 2014.
4. Embrace Technology
Senior have never been afraid of technological change. In fact, they embrace it. Whether it’s the latest high tech paint line, innovative technology that led to the patented PURe® range of aluminium windows and doors, Social Media, BIM models or migration to the Cloud for real time management information, Senior take it all in their stride.
IT Manager, Andy Lister has been instrumental in harnessing the power that new technologies bring to enable the company to work smarter.
“Our aim is to make the customer journey as simple and straightforward as possible. To do this over the years we’ve gradually replaced paper-based systems with digital systems which make it much easier for customers to place their order and to track order progress through to delivery.”
“In 2014 we invested in a new multi-functional website that provides a single point of contact for both staff, customers, architects and main contractors. Via dedicated portals customers can download technical manuals, brochures and certificates, check prices and much more. It also provides Senior with real time management information, and is a valuable communication channel for all our stakeholders. We are constantly developing and improving the website to provide additional services and resources for both customers and staff.”
“Last year we moved all our systems and servers to the cloud and introduced dedicated Work in Progress (WIP) planning software to help smooth production We also use vehicle tracking software to help with deliveries and the latest industry leading design software – AutoCAD – to help our technical team design and develop our extensive range of innovative products.”
5. Invest for Growth
Financial Director Les Buxton keeps a tight hand on the reins, to make sure that the company remains financially sound at all times. But he recognises that investment is essential for growth and builds this into his financial plan:
“At Senior we have constantly invested in new plant and machinery, to make sure that our facilities grow as our business grows. From our initial small unit in Bradford, we have now expanded to a large factory and head office in Denaby, plus two additional branches with warehousing in Newport and Livingston.”
“We believe in buying the best to make sure our products are always top quality and that our production processes do not harm the environment. So, we have invested in state of the art vertical and horizontal paint lines, a polyamide line and alurola, and a new high pressure Polyurethane injection system for our PURe® production line.”
“In addition, we’ve bought the latest Mercedes Benz Actros trucks to improve delivery and reduce pollution, plus plug-in hybrid electric cars for our sales representatives to reduce fossil fuel consumption and we’ve installed charging points at all our branches.”
“Each year we spent a considerable proportion of our turnover on R&D. This makes sure we stay ahead of the competition and has resulted in an innovative and extensive product range. We are particularly proud of our patented PURe® aluminium range of windows and doors which has vastly accelerated our growth and which led to us winning the Manufacturing Innovation category at the 2020 Made in Yorkshire awards.”
6. Protect the Environment
Senior take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. MD Mark Wadsworth explains why:
“There has been so much in the media recently about Climate Change, that we are all more aware of the fragility of our environment. But at Senior protecting our environment has always been a key consideration in everything we do, from our production processes, waste management and energy usage to the development of more sustainable products. It’s not just about the global impact of doing business, but about the impact on our local community too. We want to be good neighbours and add value to our local area, helping to make it a safe and clean environment where people can thrive.”
Mark has been behind many of the environmental initiatives that the company has instigated, for example the installation of a Biomass Boiler which uses waste timber to heat the warehouse, the adoption of hybrid electric cars and 5-star eco delivery vehicles to reduce fuel usage and the purchase of a new waste-reducing paint line which reuses waste powder saving 22 tonnes of product from being sent to landfill annually.
But it goes much deeper than that. All Senior’s products have extended life spans, are low maintenance, with maximum recyclability and outstanding thermal efficiency to make the best use of the world’s finite resources. And in-house powder coating reduces transport miles making Senior’s systems some of the least travelled in the UK.”
All this means that Senior is extremely well placed to continue its success for the next 30 years and beyond.