Founders Diaries: Origin co-founder Victoria Brocklesby on delivering on promises on time every time
26 min read
18 June 2018
"I actually think the next 12 months are going to be the most exciting time in Origin’s 20-year history," says co-founder and COO Victoria Brocklesby. Here's why.
Founder: Victoria Brocklesby, co-founder and COO
Turnover: £28 million per annum
In one sentence
Origin is a leading British home brand that manufactures bespoke aluminium doors and windows, by combining high grade aluminium with precision engineering, creating functional and elegant products that are designed to last.
What is your company’s impact on UK and global market?
As a business, we have heavily disrupted the fenestration and manufacturing industries. We took a previously archaic form of working and innovated it. By thinking about our customers and developing our customer service, and the culture of working for customers in a better way, we have changed, and continue to change, the way in which people view manufacturers.
An example of this disruption was when we first introduced our ‘Your Lead Time, Not Ours’ promise into the market.
This promise allows our partners and homeowners to receive their bespoke doors and windows on a day and time that suits them, which can be in as little as 24-hours from the point of ordering. In an industry where the standard lead time for any bespoke product is as much as 6-8 weeks, this was revolutionary.
We are always looking to develop and improve the offering we provide to our partners, and the appetite from them increases year on year.
Currently, we try to introduce at least three new, bespoke products and systems into the market every 12 months, allowing our partners to offer more choice and increase their own profitability.
Whilst we have dramatically increased our footing in both Dubai and the US, there is still a long way to go, and more market share on a global scale is up for grabs. That being said, the impact we have already had, especially in the UK market, has been huge.
Your business legacy
I hope that Origin is remembered for shaking up the manufacturing industry, changing the way it looks at lead times, and the way customers and consumers perceive manufacturers. We also want to stand out above the rest for our gold standard of customer service, our innovative and flexible approach to product design and delivery, and being a trailblazer within UK business.
One thing I have noticed when I watch programmes like Grand Designs, is it is always the doors and windows that cause the delays or hold the projects up.
This shouldn’t be happening, and it makes me cross that some people within the industry are giving the rest of us a bad name.
People should be excited about picking and choosing their doors and windows, and I hope that everyone out there with Origin products is still enjoying their choice.
Your business model
At Origin, we want to offer high quality home products, with an unprecedented level of customer service.
As a family run business, our culture is really important to us, and we hope that it comes across in the products we design and make, and the way we support our partners.
We pride ourselves on forging strong relationships with everyone we are involved with, working as one team to deliver the very best products and services we can.
How do you measure success?
That is a great question. The honest answer is that I measure success in a number of ways. Firstly, are we delivering a top-quality product on time, every time? This is a key element for me. If standards slip, even a little bit, you run the risk of losing the consumer’s trust, which we can’t let happen. So, delivering on our promises, on time and in full is imperative.
Secondly, organisational culture is really important to me and something I rank as a huge part of being a successful business.
My hope and want is that every member of the Origin family enjoys working for the company.
We do take steps to facilitate an enjoyable working environment – we have an open-door policy, so the leadership team are always available to talk and we run 360-degree feedback sessions, allowing people to speak freely about their roles and the business itself. We also host round table discussions with different people from different departments to ensure that the business is not only running as smoothly as we expect it to, but that everyone within each department is happy and well.
Finally, I would say that customer feedback is really important. It not only gives us even more reasons to speak to our partners, but it also gives us practical insight too – can we be better in certain areas or is there a particular need in the market that we ought to meet?
By ensuring we have the right culture and interaction with our partners, it allows us to all pull in the same direction, creating a more successful business in the process.
Just like any successful business, we are always looking to grow. I actually think the next 12 months are going to be the most exciting time in Origin’s 20-year history. We will be introducing two more products to our Origin Home Range, a value engineered sliding door system and a window system, allowing us to expand our reach even further. This will be a game changer for us, as it allows us to speak to a mass market that we previously haven’t had a huge amount of interaction with to date.
We are also looking to expand our operations quite considerably in the US, looking to capitalise on the incredibly strong start we have had there, and disrupt the marketplace as successfully as we have done in the UK.
How did you fund your business?
My cousin Neil Ginger (Origin’s CEO) and I went to the bank and asked for a loan. We were granted £100,000, which was a huge sum of money to us.
As a business, we were fortunate enough to only make a small loss in year one and then a profit in year two, so we actually didn’t have to touch the loan, but it was a weight off our shoulders knowing we had it there, if and when we needed it.
Since then, we have always funded projects, innovations, R&D and refurbishments in-house, without any external backing. We like the way this allows us to be self-reliant and it has worked for us so far.
What technology does your business absolutely rely on and why?
Technology has revolutionised the way in which everything works. For us, it connects all of our equipment, allows orders placed by partners to be delivered directly to the factory floor and means that we are able to introduce new systems to facilitate partner growth.
That being said, if I had to pick one, our Sage X3 enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is proving to be invaluable. I don’t think we could grow at our current rate without it. It helps with scalable efficiency, optimising processes across the business, and future-proofs operations. It basically helps to run everything, from lead generation, purchasing and delivery, through to manufacturing, transport and after sales.
The data we have gained already and will continue to gain from it will be fundamental in growing and hitting our 3 to 4-year goals.
One technology that I am excited about is robotics. We already have a factory floor that could not run without these machines, but we are seeing new pieces of kit being designed and created all the time.
Not only will we be looking to increase the volume of these, but we will also be looking towards new tech too.
One example I am excited about is a camera that can scan the back of a van and it will know if everything that is supposed to be on board, is. Incredible!
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
With Brexit just around the corner, it is harder than ever to predict the future. All I know for sure, is we are going to stick to what we do best, introducing a steady stream of new products, while continuing to improve the standard of service we offer to our clients and maintaining the quality of the products we manufacture.
We obviously hope to have a greater market share in both the UK and US at this stage in five years, with new products really pushing the business forward.
Where do you see your industry in 5 years?
We are pioneers within the fenestration and manufacturing industries, trailblazing a new route for people to follow. We anticipate that people will start to catch up with us. It is the nature of business, if someone is doing well, people will fall in line and follow suit.
I do think that the way the manufacturing industry works will be a very different picture in five years, and organisations, including us, need to be on top of their game to make sure they stay ahead. If I had to guestimate, I would say that consumers will do the majority of their ‘shopping’ online. This means, even for someone buying a new front door, they will do the research online, view images, read reviews and then make a final decision, all without actually seeing the product in person.
People are already feeling more confident, putting their faith in online processes and I think this will continue.
With this ‘Amazon style’ mindset becoming increasingly common, we are launching a direct to consumer service to capitalise on this growth area.
Consumers will be able to see and purchase all Origin products without setting foot in a showroom. They buy online and then our trusted partners will play their pivotal part in the surveying, installation and customer experience. Alternatively, we can offer a supply only option, in which case, the consumer will still need to collect the products from their local partner, as they are always part of our chain.
In all honesty, we plan for the future and hope that we are ready for any eventuality. For us, the future brings opportunity and excitement and I can’t wait.
Your highest point
Most of my answers tend to have two aspects – one looking internally and one externally. My answer here follows the same path.
Internally, my highest point as an entrepreneur is hiring the right people. At Origin, we have some amazing people within our team, and I can say with 100 percent certainty, we would not be where we are today without the team supporting and advising us at every stage. In fact, when you have the right people in the right places, it not only helps the business grow, but it lightens the load on you as a leader.
I have confidence in my team and therefore I don’t need to think (too much) about that particular aspect of the business.
The second-high point, looking more outwardly, is the business model that Neil and I established regarding the lead times. We came up with something that revolutionised the way a whole industry worked, and trailblazed a new industry normal. That is something I am very proud of.
Your lowest point
There have been a few. Starting out in business is not easy and you come up against some incredibly difficult challenges on the way, but tests help you become the leader you need to be and helps build a stronger organisation in the long run.
In terms of an actual example, we thought that our business model, that had worked so well for our door and window offerings, would work for all ‘house related’ products. We tried to venture into blinds, which from the outside looked like a perfect fit for a door and window manufacturer, but it just didn’t work as we expected. We ended up having less control of the manufacturing process than we wanted, our expertise was not in this area and it was starting to become an issue amongst our partners. In fact, it was taking longer to deliver on our blinds orders that it was on the whole door and window systems.
We realised quickly that the model wasn’t working and passed all of the blinds orders onto a third-party company that we trusted to uphold the high standards we set.
Now any customer that requests blinds, they get put through to our trusted third-party and everyone is much happier.
I am always one for trying new things, but if it doesn’t work, find a solution quickly. We are proud of the good relationship we have with our partners and our new venture was running the risk of damaging that. We found a solution and have never looked back.
What would tell your younger self?
So many things, but with my business head on, I would say ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. Keep a level head, trust your team and definitely do not react rashly. Integrate yourself across all aspects of the business and let experience come with age and time spent on the job.
Your policy wish list
Honestly? Leave the egos at the door and do what is best for the country. Do people really need to get credit for their ideas, or should we all be working towards one vision and one long-term goal? I would love to see all political parties come together and work towards creating a better industry, better UK business and a safe navigation of Brexit.
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Your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs
Remember that it isn’t just you. When you first start out, you will be wearing ‘lots of different hats’, but as you take people on board, trust them. Try and get out of the habit of doing it all yourself. These people are probably better than you at that specific role, that is why you hired them, so let them get on with it.
Listen to your advisers, business partners, employees, media and anyone else offering advice. Some of it will prove to be invaluable.
I really enjoy keeping fit, watching sport and playing sport whenever time allows. I am particularly partial to a game of tennis and a visit to the gym. On the flip side, I also enjoy a nice glass of red wine too.
What would make you a better leader?
Although I just advised others to be good at listening, I actually think that I could be better at it too. It is perhaps no secret to the team at Origin that I like to talk. I think I would really benefit from taking more in. Our MD, Andy, is fantastic at taking things in, especially in a meeting environment. He gives everyone the time to talk, and then at the end, unveils his own thoughts, expertly taking on everyone else’s insights. It is an amazing skill and one that I am always looking to improve. I am actually booked in on a communication course to try and improve myself in this area.
I am fully of the belief that nobody’s knowledge and education is ever complete. We need to adapt and improve all the time to push the business forward. Hopefully, this is something I promote and lead by example on.
The one app you use the most
The app I use the most is actually out of necessity and that is WhatsApp. I have family groups, fellow mother’s groups and work groups, so I do find I am on it all time.
I have two other apps that I find the most useful and can highly recommend them to people. Firstly, Trello is crucial in helping me successfully manage my tasks. The second one is called Moments, which is a mindfulness app. I am a firm believer in ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ and this app is really good. It also lets you know how long you have been on your phone that day, which I warn you is sometimes shocking!
A day in your life
One thing I work very hard at is ensuring that I have a basic routine in place. Of course, it is flexible as and when I am needed, but the structure benefits me personally and on a business front. I am a mum of two boys, and being able to cook them breakfast, drop them at school and pick them up again is imperative in my life, so this is factored into my routine.
On a normal day, I am up at 06:00 ready for the gym. We get the kids up and dressed for school, feed the family breakfast and then jump in the car for the school run. I then exercise, which might be tennis, a run or a gym session and then head into work. The first job is to clear all my emails, make any phone calls I have scheduled in and then I walk the office, talking to anyone and everyone who needs me.
I have a period of time blocked off in the afternoon so that anyone who needs a word can catch me before I disappear in meetings again.
Because work-life balance is so important, I make sure we have family time with the kids after school, cooking supper and then bedtime. I can then settle down and have supper with my husband Ben (and perhaps a glass of red wine).
On your reading list right now
I read a lot, and actually the majority of them end up being business/ entrepreneurial style books. My recommendations for fellow business leaders is Black Box Thinking, which is all about learning from failure and not blaming people, but moving on and improving.
I will also throw in Compassionate Mind as a fantastic read. It is all about how being kind and compassionate in the workplace has huge benefits on a business and its staff. Often compassion is perceived as weak, but it isn’t.
On your watch list right now
Firstly, I love a good boxset. I think on a business front, there are two that stand out to me and both for the same reasons.
The Good Doctor, which is a series about a surgeon who has autism, and the political drama West Wing, both show what can be done when you have a collaborative team all working in the right roles, with the right support.
By allowing people to do what they are good at, you open up opportunities that might never have been there if you had stuck to the initial job description, or not given someone the freedom to express themselves. Plus, both are very watchable, and I highly recommend them!