We’ve survived the recession
It’s been a tough time for small businesses of late – we find out how one family-run firm has got through it. Clement Windows has been going for 150 years. Here, chairman Peter Clement tells at home magazine how he has weathered the recent economic downturn and about his plans to crack the American market.
Q: Small businesses have been struggling to stay afloat recently – how has Clement Windows weathered the storm?
A: I won’t say it hasn’t been difficult and we’ve had to make quite savage cuts through reorganisation but we are still functioning, making and fitting windows. We’ve not come through unscathed and have undertaken a great deal of change, but we are now looking forward to a bright and better future. We are noticing that levels of business are up with increasing numbers of enquiries, particularly from people buying older properties, who rather than ripping everything out and modernising – which is what used to happen in the 70s and 80s – plan to restore and conserve and keep the original features of the property. That’s where we come in and it has become quite a thing for us in recent years, forming the majority of our customer base.
Q: Have you been doing anything differently to attract business since the recession?
A: We have been focusing on private houses for the main core of our business. This is because working for contractors can be slippery – they have experienced many problems because of the downturn, and the knock-on effect has been that we haven’t had nearly so much work through them.
Q: What would your advice be to other small businesses that may be struggling?
A: We have had to accept drastic changes that would have been inconceivable three or four years ago when everything was ticking along. We now do things we would not have dreamed of back then just to get through these bad times. For small businesses, raising funds has become extraordinarily difficult and banks are still not lending, well that’s been our experience. It is the cash flow that’s the most important factor – people not paying on time or paying at all makes it so difficult for small businesses. If you can keep the cash flow running then you may just get through it.
Q: What are the future plans for Clement Windows now?
A: We are going to slowly expand the business. Something we learned from the recession was that we were travelling too fast and we had to come down to earth with a bump. We are now looking to develop new products and establish ourselves as the leading steel windows company in the UK. We also want to increase our export business, particularly in the USA. For us, the future is very positive.
Q: You’ve been going for 150 years. How did the company start?
A: My great, great grandfather began working with steel and glass during the mid-half of the 1800s, he was an apprentice on the Crystal Palace and ever since then there have been steel window companies run by the Clement family. Steel windows are definitely in our DNA. We’ve had ups and downs, of course, and the current recession has regrettably resulted in some redundancies. But our factories have never stopped making steel windows and doors.
Q: What makes Clement Windows different to the various other window companies?
A: A real passion exists within the family for steel windows and I think this is what appeals to our customers and makes us unique. We have an interesting portfolio of work because most of the windows we make are, in effect, historical replicas. Our main business is replacing original metal windows in country houses, all of these are made entirely from recycled steel. They’re a popular choice for both private clients and architects as they look the same as the original metal windows but have modern features and comply with Building Regulations.
Q: You have some famous clients including at home’s Sarah Beeny. Has the celebrity contact helped business?
A: Definitely, especially if they are sufficiently pleased to recommend the company. It’s exciting working for celebrity clients. We’ve done several jobs for Sarah. Here’s what she said about one of them: ‘Clement makes the prettiest bespoke steel-framed windows. The steel is thin, so frames can be made into loads of different shapes and they can cleverly replicate original windows. I’ve got a few of these in my home. What’s more, it’s a family-run business so you get a great personal service.’
Q: What sort of buildings do you work on?
A: Mainly Victorian properties. In the company’s long history we have supplied windows for thousands of listed buildings and those in conservation areas. We’ve recently been working in New York on several Art Deco buildings and a number of larger projects are in the pipeline there. We made the windows for the headquarters of world-renowned architect Richard Rogers in Fulham, London and then put the windows into the River Café in London for his wife Ruth and her business partner, the late Rose Gray. Another popular restaurant with our windows is The Ivy, central London. An extraordinary job was The Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End – we installed the bespoke octagonal window in the first floor bar. Just before Freddie Mercury passed away, we fitted a spectacular feature window for his house in Chelsea, London. And a big extension for Eton College, Windsor, completed in 2008, has Clement steel windows.
Clement Windows timeline
1851: Thomas Edward Clement works on Crystal Palace as an apprentice glazier. Victorian era: The Clement family continue to work in the steel window and glazing industry. Post World War I: Brothers Jack, Gerry, Tom and Rob Clement all served their country in the First World War before returning to develop the business.
1935: Original company, Clement Brothers set up in Haslemere, Surrey.
1997: Factory in Poland is bought and continues to manufacture Clement windows.
2010: Plans to expand into the US market as well as to continue building up reputation as leading steel window organisation in the UK.