“I’m old school” quips Jim Breslin, Cherwell Windows. “You know Kevin Johnson at Emplas”, he says rhetorically, “he and I were Profile 22 fabricators number one and number two. I’ve been in this industry a long time – and I know at points in my career, software has transformed my business – now is one of those.”
It seems counter-intuitive during an interview on the launch of his own cloud-based planning and CRM tool, Business Pilot, to immediately reference its main competitor – and most unusually in a positive context – but that is nonetheless where Jim takes us next. The long and short of it is, that fabrication wasn’t for me. I spent 15-years working very hard to tread water. So, we came out an went into installation buying-in product. At that time AdminBase was a revelation. It allowed us to raise a PO and send it to the supplier. It saved us time and changed how we did business. It showed me the impact that software could have on a retail business. This then begs the question, why go down the route – plus the commitment of time, never mind hundreds of thousands of pounds, to the development of your own solution?
It was about growth and a shift in our requirement. Ryan [Breslin] had come into the business and was looking at opportunities for growth and to do things differently. He came to me and said he wanted to add the Evolution window to our range. While I was hesitant – it cost about twice as much as any PVC-U window we had ever fitted before – it was very good for us and we saw a massive amount of growth. That growth exposed gaps in our process and systems. This prompted a trial of a series of out-of-the-box solutions, but none delivered the integration, flexibility and control of all aspects of its business from lead generation and sales, to scheduling, installs and aftercare – or the business oversight that Jim and Ryan needed in their business.
This visibility became more important to Cherwell as it moved into not only into higher value window installations, but also more technically challenging aluminium fits. We went through a learning curve. That included errors in our process.
“The bigger the installation the more those errors cost you”, Jim adds. We couldn’t get a solution that gave us the transparency and integration of processes across our business that we wanted.
Forming a partnership with business process integration consultant Elton Boocock, and joined after 18-months by Ryan Schofield, Thames Valley Windows, Cherwell embarked on its own solution, Business Pilot. Four years into its journey, Business Pilot has been a cornerstone of Cherwell Windows’. This has included a year-on-year increase in turnover since 2017 of more than a million pounds. It was designed for us and for Thames Valley – and ultimately for every other installation business, based on the practical realities of running a retail installation business. It features checks and controls to support your pricing, to pick up errors in ordering or costing, you can set parameters for certain jobs at whatever you want, say a price bracket within £100, to pick up mistakes outside it. The controls it puts in place would have made our learning curve simpler as our business evolved into new areas, as well as giving us a completely transparent view of all aspects of our business, including our profitability.
Business Pilot offers a comprehensive and fully integrated solution. Cloud-based, it means installers can access any of its functionality on their desktop, laptop or phone , anywhere in the world. I was in the South of France. I could pull-through a high-level overview of our how we were doing, what our profitability forecasts were and then drill down into profitability on each individual job”, Jim says. He adds: “You can track your business and pick out anything unusual while you’re sitting by a pool. You have control wherever you are. Fitters can access their schedules remotely. It’s a tool which links each and every element of your business regardless of where you are. He also highlights the value add delivered by the management information that Business Pilot provides. This includes not only profitability per job but the factors that have contributed to it, for example pricing, time on site or call backs.
That this functionality is firmly rooted in the real-world realities of running a retail business is evidenced in the origin of its schedule tool.
I used to have a big white board, which we’d write on, add t-cards to using magnets, add messages to using post its. I refined it over 25 years in retail – and in that time attempted to move to a digital format but ended up moving back because the software never delivered”, Jim continues.
That board is now gone from our offices because it’s there on Business Pilot, only with drag-and-drop functionality and with the ability to link documents, upload drawings, notes, with all of that information accessible to anyone within our team who needs to access it.
Business Pilot drives efficiency within your business and through improved process, fewer errors and increased transparency increases your profitability. We have a client who has reported £40K in increased margin in the first three-months of being on-board. He concludes: “It’s business as a production line. It manages the progression of each job from lead generation and sale to installation, aftercare, registration, checks – it’s a complete compliance system. It manages the transfer of information and in taking control of it, Business Pilot eliminates error and supports you in making a profit.
There’s no excuse in being too busy to be organised.