I N THE HOT S EAT
Innovation and reinvention
We talk to Sternfenster’s managing director, Mike Parczuk, who reflects on
change within the window and door industry, its recent handling of COVID-
and use of social media during lockdown.
GGP: How did you get into the industry?
Mike Parczuk (MP): Sternfenster is a family
business. The window industry is part of my DNA.
I’ve worked in sales, installation – the factory floor.
GGP: What changes have you seen good or bad,
aside from the current situation?
MP: The changes that we’re currently seeing are
pretty difficult to ignore! If we’re talking the longerterm
trends that I’ve seen in that time, at a headline
level it’s that business has become more challenging
– often not helped by government and red tape.
Also, that the work ethic has been eroded.
If we’re being industry specific, it’s about
innovation and reinvention. or years ago it
was very easy to sell windows – the ‘White Gold’ era.
That’s long since gone but the industry has been very
effective in reinventing itself and its offer.
Take the growth that we’ve seen in colour in
PVC-U in the last couple of years, or aluminium, the
enhanced security options that we can now provide
to the homeowner. Smart technology in my view
isn’t quite there yet, but I do believe it will have a big
influence on the industry going forward.
The other thing that has been a game changer for
us, has been the Graf seamless weld. We brought it
in early and it’s given Sternfenster and our customers
a very strong selling point, particularly alongside
growth in flush casements. We offer R but the
Deceuninck flush has been the real winner for us – I
have it in my own home!
We’ve also changed the way that we run our
business. Our digital presence – and the digital
support that we can offer has, for example, been
important in driving customer acquisition and in
turn, their growth. It was also something recognised
in our G Award win last year.
GGP: What is your outlook for the industry in
the next 6-8 months – boom or bust?
MP: Short term – and from the demand that we’re
already seeing from our customers – it appears
ok. They’re seeing leads and working through preexisting
orders. There may even be a small bounce.
Government support and the furlough scheme has
also, up until now, kept a lid on unemployment.
In the medium to longer term I think that that’s
going to change. We saw figures come out this
month May which showed the biggest jump in
people claiming unemployment on record – and
that’s going to probably set the course for the next
few months as furlough comes to an end.
We’re heading into a downturn and that’s going
to hit everyone medium term with some form of
consolidation inevitable. For example, we’re seeing
speculation in the national press about Everest
already and there is also industry speculation about
a number of fabricators already.
The positive is that the companies who get to the
other side will see opportunities. Fabricators and
installers who push down prices in the race to the
bottom, who don’t pay their bills – if they go and we
see a re-set, something good may come out of this.
We’re not, however, counting on that and will be
looking at everything we do, trimming the fat where
we need to and making our processes leaner and
smarter. A lot of manufacturers have under-invested
since the last downturn. They’ve not brought
new machinery online and sweated tired assets.
We have invested. We brought our ,ft2
dedicated aluminium factory into operation in ,
representing a £.6m spend.
We have a FOM LMT6 machining and cutting
centre; we have an industrial powder coating line
and with our own IGU facility – we own and control
supply from start to finish. If we get it wrong, you
could argue we don’t have anyone else to blame –
but our set up and the control it gives us means that
we don’t get it wrong very often.
Machinery gives us the right starting base, but
we’ve also invested in our people and our team. I’m
sure in every article like this people always say that
– but we have. We have a shared focus on product
quality but also service. People buy from people and
that underpins what we do.
GGP: On a more personal note – what do you
enjoy doing away from work? How did you keep
busy during lockdown for instance, and what
are you most looking forward to as restrictions
MP: I didn’t actually stop working during lockdown
because we didn’t have to and I’m frustrated by
the positioning that was released from sectors of
the industry (with one or two exceptions), during
it. It was misleading, it confused the market and
it damaged business – particularly the comments
posted on social media.
The last thing I want on my conscience is anything
to happen to anyone in the window and door supply
chain, employee, supplier, customer, because of a
decision that I have made. Why would I? We’re a
family business who have been trading for more than
And that’s why the decision to open again was so
difficult. You have to, however, listen to government
guidance and that was that we should work – if we
could work safely. That’s what we worked towards
collectively and responsibly with our staff, our
customers and suppliers.
What would I like to do in the future? I would
love to sit down in a pub (assuming they reopen
one day!) with some of those people who were very
critical of us, and of other fabricators who were
opening up, and compare notes and understand
why they thought we were wrong and they were
right. We need to stop listening to what people think
they know on social media and start listening to the
“What would I like to do in the future? I
would love to sit down in a pub (assuming
they reopen one day!) with some of those
people who were very critical of us, and of
other fabricators who were opening up, and
compare notes and understand why they
thought we were wrong and they were right”