unLTD heads through the looking glass to chat with the father and son team at the helm of Global Windows, a Sheffield-based double glazing company celebrating 30 years in business and a new window of opportunity…

In an industry that has, at one time or another, suffered from a shaky reputation, Global Windows has long stood out from the crowd thanks to their integrity and commitment to high-quality work.

Global’s brand longevity serves as a testament to this, and for 30 years they have provided windows, doors and conservatories to Sheffield and its surrounding areas, all while overseeing pioneering and sweeping changes to the business, helping them keep pace with an ever-changing market’s demands.

Global was founded by Russell Hulme in 1994; when the price of a pint might set you back a couple of quid and England was rubbish at football (some things never change!)

Today we sit down with Russell, and his son and Global Director, Liam, and start by discussing how he ended up moving to Sheffield and borrowing £180,000 from the bank to set up the business, something Russell believes, if you tried today, you would be ‘laughed out of the bank!’

Russell is actually a butcher by trade and, in his late teens, he also moonlighted as a barman to make ends meet in London. While working in the Northwest London pub, he got chatting to a group of window-fitting regulars and discovered a disconcerting fact.

“They were earning £500 a week back then,” says Russell. “I was working as a butcher and a barman, and wasn’t earning anything like that. I got to know the manager and the area manager, and they kept telling me to come and work for them and make double the money.

“I spoke to my dad, who’d supported me through college, and told him I was packing in at the deli I worked at. He wasn’t best pleased, but I went, and I earned twice as much and, in the end, money makes the world go round.”

Russell then found himself in Sheffield when he followed a partner to the Steel City and has remained here ever since. He initially found work, once again, in the glazing industry with another long-established South Yorkshire-based company, before moving on to Radiant Super Glaze in Barnsley.

When Radiant Super Glaze was bought out, after a very brief period in Norwich, he ended up working in sales back in Sheffield, which he really didn’t enjoy. It was then that he had a fateful meeting with Lawrence Hartley who owned Danum Windows Ltd in Doncaster at the time. “Lawrence is a brilliant bloke,” says Russell, “He was great at marketing and accounting, but he hadn’t got a clue about anything else. The two of us got on together straight away. With our combined know-how, we made a great team.

“In 1985, I started working for Lawrence as a manager and we were making 100 windows a week. By 1989, I’d become a director and we were manufacturing 2,500 windows a week. We went from having one depot in Doncaster to having depots in Nottingham, Birmingham, Luton, Portsmouth, Norwich and Sevenoaks, and I used to run them.

“In 1990 we were bought out by Storm Glaze, who subsequently went bust, so we didn’t get half of the money we’d been promised, and that’s when I decided to do it myself.”

With the help of Lawrence and the aforementioned bank loan, Russell got a contract with Sheffield City Council to supply 200 windows a week, and the loftily named Global brand was born. During that early period of the business, the work split was about 75% commercial to 25% residential, a statistic that has been flipped on its head over the years.

By owning the manufacturing factory in Sheffield, essentially making their own windows bespoke for every job, they were able to maintain and assure quality control, setting them apart from many of their competitors, and business boomed. It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, and in 2008, at the time of the financial crash, the business was faced with no option but to accept a buyout.

Russell stayed in post as he retained ownership of the manufacturing factory, and so thankfully, the brand continued, and two years later, Russell was fortunate enough to be able to acquire the business back.

Global Windows Father and son.

Since the 90s, Russell had always run the business on his own, and even at the outset of the 2010s, there was no succession plan in place for his son Liam to take over the business.

Not looking to following in his father’s footsteps, being a very handy (if modest) golfer, Liam held ambitions to make his living in the sport, but after doing his PGA training at a local golf course, he decided it wasn’t for him.

“I was working in the Pro Shop, which was part of the training,” says Liam, “stood on my feet all day for £4.50 an hour. I didn’t get on with the pro very well and I always thank him, because he showed me how not to treat people.

“I’d be expected to do things that hadn’t been communicated to me and I’d have people coming in all day moaning about the grass. The last thing I wanted to do when I’d finished was go and play golf; I just wanted to go home.

“I’ve always been around the business, so I asked my dad if I could come in and work for him for a bit, while I figured out what I wanted to do.”

In a seemingly perverse move, Russell put his son in the customer services department, dealing with complaints (that were probably a bit fruitier than the state of the grass on the 18th). Liam then worked his way through the entire business; from processing, to ordering, to the operational side of things before finally moving into a director role. Liam became a director in 2014, but it was during this earlier period of learning the business that he hit upon what would become a radical transformation for the business.

Global Windows had always fabricated their own window frames. It was how they differentiated themselves from other similar operations and how the sales team sold, but Liam realised that they were already buying in lots of other components of the jobs, like the glass, the bifold doors, or the roofs for conservatories; why were they still making the window frames?

When he asked the question, he was initially met with strong resistance, not least from his father Russell, who admits that he is from the ‘old school.’ It was just not something he had any desire to change, having been soured by a previous bad experience of outsourcing.

Eventually, after a couple of years of coaxing, Liam brought the business (and his dad) round to his way of thinking, and they were able to redeploy the former shop-floor workforce to their seven installation teams, as well as turn their 336-square-metre factory floor into warehousing and a shiny new indoor showroom that allows them to have everything on show when people visit, which customers have really responded too.

They also secured a local manufacturing partner through Russell’s connections, which they admit has, in hindsight, improved the quality of the output. Liam said: “You ask people now and they can’t imagine doing it any other way, but they all had reservations and thought I was crazy in the beginning. People are hesitant to change and were worried about their jobs. We didn’t let anyone go and the lads on the shop floor moved around and got the opportunity to learn new skills.

latches for windows

“It’s been hard at times, especially being the boss’s son, because that comes with a lot of stereotypes like, I don’t know what I’m talking about, etc. I’ve had to work hard to get everyone’s respect, but all I’ve ever wanted was what’s best for the business and everyone involved in it. I take pride in it. I can’t imagine doing anything else now.

“I enjoy the fine details, and a lot of people think I’m quite anal in that respect. I think I’ve realised I probably am somewhere on the spectrum because I do like things to be just right, and my dad is the same way.

“I knew we could do better, and I always thought, what’s the point in doing something if you don’t want to do it right or be the best at it?”
Russell added: “Liam brought a fresh pair of eyes. I’m incredibly proud of him. He sometimes doesn’t take the credit he should do because he’s changed the business beyond anything I could have thought.”

By quirk of timing, the manufacturing operations were brought to a halt in March 2020, right at the onset of the pandemic. It was a scary time for the business, but it actually allowed Liam to make some other updates to the business. “It was either genius or lucky timing,” explains Liam, “but it turned out to be a good opportunity to make the switch. In the beginning, we worried that it could be the end of us, but our industry came back pretty quickly because we were able to work outside safely.

“It gave us time to bring in new quoting software. We used to have a binder with a price matrix but now all the salespeople have tablets and the software allows you to create visualisations. Bringing that in during COVID meant that we had time to learn the software and we could still quote and get money in through deposits.

doors at global windows

Russell continued: “Sales actually went through the roof. It was more of a case of when we can actually do all this work. It was a trying time, but from the company’s point of view, it worked out really well. Our order book went from £600,000 to £1.5 million, and then when we did get back, we couldn’t fit it quick enough!”

Things have calmed down now, which has also allowed them to think more about environmental and sustainability issues, as well as becoming even more involved with local charities. They now run a Recycle and Reward scheme, partnering with a local private recycling company, who they sell their uPVC waste products to for responsible reuse. They’ve also invested in a new glass skip on site, allowing them to dispose of any glass waste and reduce their carbon footprint.

The money they’ve saved in skips is then put straight back into the local community, and they have recently given money to a nearby karate club, Sheffield Dragons, as well as local football teams. They are also supporters of Dan Walker’s Sheffield 1000 initiative as well as Bluebell Wood Hospice and local food banks.

Russell, while still involved and present in the business, has taken a step back and allowed Liam to shoulder more of the responsibility in recent times. Russell said: “I’m there in the background, but I don’t have as much to do with the day-to-day running. I’m in my 70s now so I’m semi-retired, but I ain’t ready to pack up just yet.

“I love the industry, and the business and the people in it. I’ve still got the same enthusiasm today that I did 30 years ago. I still love it and I care about everybody here. He [looks towards Liam] wants me to retire to spend more time with his mum, but I know if I was at home full time, I’d do her head in.”
Like Russell, the business shows no signs of slowing down.

To find out more, or get a quote for your next home improvement head to Global Window’s website: global-windows.co.uk

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