GGP Hot Seat: John Crittenden

John Crittenden answers GGP Magazine's Hot Seat questions

How did you get into the industry?

As with most things in life, by accident… During my degree at the University of Wolverhampton I undertook my placement year in the marketing department at Yale locks. After that, I was recommended by a colleague for a position at W J Goodwin, a metal fabricator who were looking to begin manufacturing window and door hardware in the UK. In fact, they were the first UK stockists of Roto hardware, the agreement was transferred to Birmingham based Smith Wallis, which later became part of the Newman Tonks empire. I quickly followed suit and we went on to be one of the first UK manufacturers of window handles and espagnolettes for the emerging uPVC market, the company was well placed as they were already world leaders producing hardware for steel windows.

In 1989, I joined Carl F Petersen as Managing Director and have since overseen the company through various changes in group structure, including managing the European hardware business for Carl F International and D Line. Most recently in 2010, we managed the transition to create the current company, Carl F Groupco. The rest, as they say, is history!

If you could have chosen a different career, what would it have been?

A life in business was always on the cards for me, I was lucky that I studied in a part of the world which is synonymous with hardware manufacture. This gave me the opportunity to be a part of the uPVC revolution in the 1980’s. Developing hardware for an entirely new market provided me with the groundwork and knowledge to get to where I am today.

What innovations are you looking forward to within the industry?

For hardware, the biggest innovation that we have seen in recent years is a move towards electronic locking and access control for the domestic market. We launched SmartSecure, a dedicated brand focussed on these products in 2016 and we have seen significant growth since.

It’s important that we continue to add value to the products we supply, whether it’s increased hardware functionality, strength or security, or being more environmentally friendly in our production techniques. The last decade has seen a lot of enhancements and I look forward to what’s next.

What would you change about the industry? Has it changed for better or worse during your career?

One of the major changes that I have noticed is that we are now being looked at far more professionally than ever before. The stigma of ‘cheap’ uPVC windows is dropping while innovations such as SmartSecure, sound insulation and energy efficiencies are being held in higher regard. The growth of the Grand Designs culture, particularly the classic story of the bi-fold door phenomenon, windows and doors are being viewed as an investment rather than a necessity to fill a hole in the wall.

Would I change anything about the industry? Other than bringing down the cost of raw materials and sorting out distribution channels… no, I don’t think so. We are on a good track providing we continue to put value on our products, services and installations, and communicate that to the end customer. The race to the bottom on price seems to be waning, and that is good for securing everyone’s businesses moving forward.

What are your predictions for the industry?

Who could have predicted where we are today? We were planning for Brexit but then a global pandemic took over and somehow most of our businesses are thriving, albeit with an exceptional set of challenges… and none of them to do with exchange rates, for a change!

For Carl F Groupco, we are in a strong position, being independently owned has enabled us to flex the business quickly and adapt. Strengthening our position, we’ve dramatically increased stock levels and we are committed to increasing them. We place orders earlier to overcome short term issues, and even throughout the Covid lockdowns we didn’t reduce stock levels, despite the business environment being so uncertain.

What achievement are you most proud of, personally as well as professionally?

The last year. My team have always been the most important part of my professional career and being part of a board who unanimously agreed that every member of our team would receive full pay throughout furlough is what I am most proud of. We built a business that is financially secure enough to support our team, and we built a team who are strong enough to weather the storm and come back better than ever.

Personally… the fact the Wolves have stayed in the Premier League since 2018!

Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?

Hopefully, on the beach in the Caribbean… If anyone has their calculators out, they will realise I am nearing the age of retirement. In the next 5-10 years I hope to keep the business strong and have the team prepared for my departure. But I’m not going anywhere yet.

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