Northern Light: How major investment at PWS is driving growth
"With the investments we’ve made, we expect to be punching through turnover of £100 million plus in three years’ time” says CEO, Mark Stevenson
In the last two years, we have invested about £10.2million in the business,” reveals Mark Stephenson, CEO of kitchen components distributor PWS.
“It’s all about future-proofing the business and trying to give ourselves a competitive edge.” It’s also done, he says, to consolidate the firm’s market leading position. “I believe we have the biggest choice of product for kitchen components in the UK,” he adds.
Investment has been made across the business, which has annual sales of close to £70million and operates from a 500,000 sq ft site in County Durham. About £4.6million of the sum has been spent on a paint-to-order facility, a service now available across a large part of the portfolio of doors. High volume colours are held in stock, and 37 additional colours are available on a 15-day lead time.
“We did it to continue to offer the independent sector a choice and to help them sell to their consumers by offering them something that is not widely available through the multiple chains,” explains Stephenson, 57, who has run the family-owned group for 14 years.
Who are we? Mark Stephenson, CEO, and Aidan Jackson, group marketing director
What do we do? Design and supply kitchen components and work surfaces to manufacturers, retailers and installers
Business history Originally founded as an ironmonger in Darlington in 1909 by Percy Winspear Stephenson, the company’s name is drawn from his initials. PWS remains owned by the Stephenson family today.
Today PWS sells components for about 40,000-50,000 kitchens per year, with about 3,000 customers across the UK. Components are mostly sourced in Europe, mainly Italy and Germany.
Sales stats “2018 turnover was £69.8million,” says Mark Stephenson
The company is currently shifting from PU (polyurethane) paint to more environmentally-friendly water-based paint, with significantly reduced VOCs. Stephenson admits the change process over the summer “didn’t go as smoothly as we would have liked”, but results, he says, have improved. “We are pretty much there, and our offer moving forward will be broadly based on water-based paint,” he says.
Meanwhile, the Alchemy and Biography brands have been rolled into the Second Nature portfolio to simplify the offer, and the 1909 premium classic in-frame collection is now available as a complete kitchen offer, as well as in component form. New to the Second Nature portfolio are the Clarendon narrow in-frame and Hunton sleek Shaker ranges, with bespoke options available.
With the investments that we’ve made and the way we’re going, we expect to be punching through turnover of £100million plus in three years’ time
“Our retailers and trade customers like to have bespoke options, because it means they can better personalise their kitchen designs,” says Stephenson.
The bedroom collection, Kindred, has been expanded and now has its own brochure. “Kindred for bedrooms will be what Second Nature does for kitchens,” he says.
Money has also been spent on a new capability in flat panel manufacturing, an improved TradeZone portal for digital ordering via the website, launching in early 2020, and “stepped-up” marketing across all areas, including social media, particularly Instagram. About 100 new staff have been taken on over the last two years (“We’re one of the biggest employers in this area,” says Stephenson), and the showroom has been completely refurbished with new displays.
“The investment in our business is pretty much to make it better in every aspect,” he says. When former MD John Lennon left in mid-2018, Stephenson announced he would be taking more of a hands-on role. Does that remain the case? “Yes, absolutely, and I have a very capable group of people who help me do it,” he says. “With the investments that we’ve made and the way we’re going, we expect to be punching through turnover of £100 million plus in three years’ time.”
Your greatest challenge? “Continuing to develop the business and keep it as a market leader in a sector that is considered not overly sexy – how do we attract good people to come and join it?”
Your greatest opportunity? “We are taking market share by investing in our business – and offering the customer better product, better quality, better service, better marketing material”
Strange but true “I bought 14 Belted Galloways this year – I’m a hobby farmer on the side”