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The Profile: Tough times see a return to core business; IN ASSOCIATION WITH Rensburg Sheppards Alistair Houghton meets DENVER HEWLETT, head of Glen Dimplex Home Appliances.

Byline: Alistair Houghton

THE Union Jack cooker on his factory floor shows the pride Glen Dimplex Home Appliances boss Denver Hewlett has in his manufacturing plant.

The reason for that pride is set to grow as the Prescot-based firm, which turns out 350,000 cookers, ranges and ovens every year under the Stoves, Belling and New World brands, is about to become the sole remaining UK manufacturer of cookers.

As with any manufacturer or distributor of electrical appliances, times are tough for GDHA, as many consumers hit by the credit crunch shy away from buying "big ticket" items.

But GDHA - formed when Irish group Glen Dimplex bought Prescot's Stoves plc in 2001 - is planning to focus on strengthening its customer service to ensure it wins and retains customers through the hard times.

With the bulk of its sales in the UK and Ireland, GDHA's products are very much designed for the home market. That, says Hewlett, gives the company a strong selling point.

He said: "A lot of domestic appliance manufacturers have moved out of this country. At the end of this year, we'll be the only volume manufacturer of cookers in the UK.

"A lot of cookers are made in Europe, and we buy cookers from Europe as well.

"But the UK has got a specific and peculiar cooking style. On the Continent, people don't grill as much. We have double ovens, which the majority of Europe doesn't use.

"Places like Israel and Turkey have twin-cavities, but most of Europe is single-cavity.

"The economy is tough, but we've got some advantages and unique selling points in the market."

Hewlett says the company will have to increase the price of its products to cope with those rising costs, but insists it can thrive if it stays optimistic.

"It's tough," he said. "There's pressure coming everywhere - material prices in terms of steel, energy prices, and transport costs. Everything we sell has to be delivered by lorry.

"Consumer confidence is not great - that's an understatement.

"One new thing that is affecting us is the lower number of housing completions. When people move houses, they generally buy new appliances If they're not moving, they don't tend to buy.

"But lots of markets are talking themselves into doom and gloom.

"We've got to remember as a business that loads of appliances are being sold every day and people are still buying. It's up to businesses like us to get our fair share of those sales."

GDHA has a turnover of pounds 150m and employs 1,200 people in the UK. The Prescot plant, complete with huge enamelling ovens, robotic production lines making oven cavities and a customer call centre, employs 950 people.

Hewlett says the quality of GDHA's customer care team is recognised throughout the industry.

Insurer Domestic and General carries out an annual survey of customer care operations and GDHA's customer care team has come top in its category for three years in a row.

Hewlett is keen to expand the division to ensue GDHA can keep up that standard.

"The whole industry has raised its game," he said. "It's operating to a much higher level of customer care."

Hewlett also wants to develop GDHA's engineering and repair services. The company already has 150 engineers on the road, and Hewlett hopes to take on more.

In the UK, GDHA has also teamed up with the Women's Institute to launch a campaign to encourage more people to cook at home.

The company is also focusing on expanding its Glen Dimplex Professional Appliances arm, which was founded last May and sells to commercial clients.

The division includes Lec Medical, which supplies fridges to pharmacies, wards and laboratories, and catering specialist Burco. Its products include solar-powered fridges designed to store vaccines in Africa.

Despite the peculiarities of British cooking appliances, Hewlett is determined to increase the company's exports. The company sells to several countries, including Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, but is looking for other markets.

GDHA recently invested in a new plant so it can make its own polystyrene packaging onsite.

Hewlett said: "The transport costs of getting it here from our suppliers were fairly substantial, so we thought we'd get a reasonable payback from making the investment ourselves.

"Our products come in big boxes and they get moved around a number of times. By doing our own packaging, we reduce the cost of damaged products."

Once they leave the production lines, the appliances are shipped to GDHA's 450,000sqft National Distribution Centre in Stoke-on- Trent by a 12-strong dedicated lorry fleet. From there GDHA's products are shipped to retailers throughout the country.

Hewlett's career in the appliance trade started in his native Birmingham when he worked as a van loader.

His career developed in sales and marketing, including 10 years at Calor Gas before he joined the Glen Dimplex group 12 years ago. Before taking the helm at GDHA, he was chief executive at Stoves' rival Belling, which had been bought out of administration by Glen Dimplex in 1992.

Glen Dimplex itself was founded 35 years ago as Glen Electric. It bought Dimplex, the leading brand in the UK electrical heating market, in 1977, kicking off its rapid expansion.

Today, the privately-owned business employs 8,500 people worldwide and turns over pounds 1.2bn.

The group took over Stoves in 2001 when the cooker firm was struggling in the face of growing imports. Stoves was first renamed Glen Dimplex Cooking, but became GDHA ahead of its takeover of fridge brand Lec in 2005.

"When this business was acquired, it wasn't profitable," said Hewlett. "But we've invested heavily."

Glen Dimplex, says Hewlett, specialises in reviving and revitalising well-known brands that already have strong identities in the marketplace.

The businesses behind those brands can be transformed without the expense - and high failure rate - of trying to create new household names.

"You can't develop great brands in two or three months," he said. "Great brands take years to develop.

"Glen Dimplex has taken advantage of that. When it sees great brands in distress or trouble, it takes them on and creates a good business around them."

Hewlett says GDHA's stable and experienced workforce has helped see the company through the changes of recent years and will help it through the current tough market conditions.

"Fifty per cent of people here have 11 years or more service," he said. "I've been to leaving dos for people who have done 49 or 50 years. We've got a stable, wellestablished and experienced team."

While GDHA may have built itself up through acquisition, Hewlett says no more deals are being lined up in the short term.

Instead, he and his team are knuckling down to make sure the company pulls through the credit crunch unscathed.

"We're focusing on organic growth," he said. "At this moment, it's really a time to focus on your own business.

"At this time, I don't want a lot of distractions. We want to focus on making sure this business works well in these tough times." alistairhoughton@dailypost.co.uk

UK has got a specific and peculiar cooking style

Q&A

Age: 52

Family: Lives near Alsager, Cheshire, with wife and four children.

Highest educational qualification: O-Levels

Outside work: I go shooting in Cheshire - some pheasant, a bit of clay.

Proudest achievement: Doing what I do now. I love the variety.

Unfulfilled ambition: That would be a massive list - if I had to write them down, it would take as long as to do them.

Best advice received: Take a breath. Also, it's important to have a work-life balance, though my other half would say I don't know what that means.

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Denver Hewlett - at the helm of Glen Dimplex Home Appliances
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 23, 2008
Words:1286
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