Developing new windows of opportunity

    With over 26 years’ experience, leading UK manufacturer Thomas Sanderson has helped many thousands of customers to restyle, shade and change their homes with hand-crafted, made-to-measure window blinds and shutters, writes John Burbedge.

    This spotlight is on a company that expertly handles the shade, but sustains a bright performance that doesn’t deserve to be kept in the dark. Enough of the puns. Thomas Sanderson is a traditional manufacturing company going through a technology-driven business transition with the objective of satisfying increasingly aware and discerning consumers.

    “Our data is fast-showing us that what got us where we are today, isn’t going to take us to where we need to be tomorrow,” explained MD Nigel Campkin.

    In truth, Thomas Sanderson is already further along this transitional journey than many, but Campkin and HR director Derek Bradbury are under no illusions that their company’s future fortunes rely on operational and cultural change – being agile enough to grasp market opportunities, with a talented workforce able to overcome commercial challenges.

    Today, Thomas Sanderson is successfully morphing from a conservatory blinds business into a ‘one-stop’ window-styling company.

    “Nowadays, it’s all about sales-marketing, service and contract management. We actually do manufacturing and installations ourselves to ensure that we maintain control of the customer contract. We promise big and deliver bigger – an overall customer experience that is second to none. Our objective is to get to the right people within a fragmented marketplace at the right cost,” says Campkin.

    Thomas Sanderson’s ‘right people’ are mid-upper market, a ‘John Lewis-like’ demographic customerbase, seeking prime quality products and services. “We are premium in our positioning, product and price.” The ‘right cost’ is not just market pricing, but cost-effective internal efficiency of the company’s resources and systems.

    Thomas Sanderson: No 25

    Location: Waterlooville, HQ and UK customer service centre. Manufacturing in Hampshire and Warwickshire (97% of products are UK-made).

    Turnover: £44.47 million

    Staff: 310 (supported by 330 design and installation contractors).

    Trading: B2C, UK specialists in conservatory blinds, window shutters and window blinds. Part of worldwide Hunter Douglas Group.


    Embracing new technology

    The company is currently investing in data technology to target and hone its sales performance, aligned to employee engagement and workplace cultural change programmes.

    “Understanding our data is helping us ‘onion-peel’ our business and we are finding a different business underneath than what we thought we were,” said Campkin.

    “Some behaviours and policies that we follow are actually counter-intuitive in today’s fast-changing market, where consumers now choose to engage differently with commercial suppliers.” 

    Modern data analytics is now reshaping the company’s operations, notably within its sales and marketing functions and “areas that can unlock the true potential of this business”. Technology is also assisting internal comms and improving customer visualisation of products.

    This transformation from the traditional direct-sales model can create ambiguity within a workforce, notes Bradbury. Operational and cultural change needs harmony, understanding, and astute leadership.

    A ‘Making the Difference’ programme, complete with retraining, coaching and mentoring, plus role-model staff acting as ‘change agents’, has been running successfully for 18 months. The aim is internal self-motivated performance and customer recognition of a tangible quality service differential. (Thomas Sanderson has a +76 Net Promoter Score).

    ‘Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’

    Thomas Sanderson has stopped chasing every sales lead – a high-cost marketing process – and now focuses on “serious contender” quality rather than potential customer quantity.

    The objective is a better bottom-line performance, from better-targeted cost-effective activity, says Bradbury.


    “It’s all about differentiation,” states Campkin. “Typically, we will be more expensive, but by virtue of our product quality, excellent customer support and shorter UK-manufactured lead times, we can demonstrate the beneficial differences of our offering.”

    Future challenges?

    ‘Brexit’ is an obvious concern and materials costs have already increased by 10%. New FCA consumer credit and GDPR data-handling regulations are on the horizon. But Thomas Sanderson has a heritage of surviving challenges and even major recessions by adapting – and it is again forging its own destiny.

    Nigel Campkin & Derek Bradbury