You often hear MDs of successful companies say, “My door is always open”. For the team at Tudors Building Supplies, that is literally true because the office door is propped, permanently, open and a warm welcome awaits you when you say hello to Darren. In fact, when I visited the builders’ merchant on Burcott Road in Hereford, no fewer than four people had already said hello to me and offered help whilst I was just getting from my car to his office! For me, it sums up Tudors perfectly – these people run a large, complex business on family friendly principles, and they really do know all their customers inside out.
The business has grown from the original timber business in 1993, complete with sawmill, when there were 8 people working there. Today they supply ‘bricks and blocks’, roofing, kitchens and bathrooms with a staff of 48 across three sites in Hereford. It’s managed by the ‘gang of four’ (Darren, David Wilkins, Paul Hann and John Davies) all local to the Hereford area, who went through a management buy of out of business in 2008. It was during the buy out that they first worked with Mark Smith at Lloyds Bank and they have valued his advice and support ever since.
The directors, who are all very modest about their business success, attribute it to being a trusted, local Herefordian supplier. They know literally hundreds of their customers, most of them are small and medium sized family builders, always dealing with them on first name terms. A customers’ personal phone call to a director will result in a short conversation to agree the best specification of product followed by a confirmation to ship it to ‘the usual address’ at an agreed time. Despite trading with several thousand customers, a director will have an in-depth knowledge of every one. “It’s not possible for us to be the cheapest supplier for every product, every time” says Darren “so we always offer a fair deal plus great customer service – something you cannot always get from buying online – and we’ll always get something for a customer if it isn’t in stock. We’re also reasonable about putting things right if necessary, although this is very rarely required “. The team are happy to do a local site visit to help a customer solve particular building challenges and they have expertise in dealing with repairs to many of the heritage buildings around the county. By building long term, trusted advisor status in the trade, the staff have established Tudors at the heart centre of the local Herefordshire community.
I asked what happens if they don’t all agree about a business decision, since the shares in the business are equal, with no-one holding a majority interest. “Real honesty is important” was the answer from Darren “and we usually have a chat over a pint and resolve the issue”. In fact, the only issue that keeps him awake at night is the future for their staff should there be an unexpected downturn in the housing market. As ‘family’, people are the most important factor in running this business.
The business has changed over the years, adding more products and retail showrooms for garden landscaping, kitchens and bathrooms, which means they are also open to the public, but their customer knowledge and great service has remained a constant. Behind the scenes there has been investment in new facilities such as showrooms and improving the layout of the yard, and a state-of-the-art stock and finance IT system has recently been installed. This helps Tudors remain competitive on prices in a very competitive marketplace.
It’s not possible to maintain outstanding customer service without the right staff in place and, over the years, Tudors have recruited and retained the best staff at the core of their business. Their management style and training opportunities result in staff staying with the business and gradually assuming greater responsibility and new roles. People that joined as drivers or apprentices are now managers in the sales office or running some of the retail showrooms. Staff stay because of the friendly workplace atmosphere and the approachability of their managers, making the workplace feel like one big family. That real open-door policy means staff can talk to a director, at any time in the working day, simply by popping their head around the door and asking for a few minutes of their time. “In the past we’ve been able to help and support members of the team when they hit a personal issue, whether this is due to physical or mental health, or a family matter” explains Darren “so we think we’re pretty approachable”.
Community is very important to Tudors; they are very generous donating both their time and money to local charities. Darren is a big supporter of St Michael’s Hospice and Tudor sponsor their quarterly magazine. Tudors regularly send teams to support many charity golf days or quizzes and there will be a competitive team presence at the Marks Mental Health Hereford quiz night. Often, it’s practical help that’s required rather than donations and the Tudor team are happy to do their bit for a local school fete by donating something for the raffle. These guys are really part of the fabric of Hereford, not simply another large national company.
So, whether you are a trade or DIY customer, you can be sure of getting friendly advice from the guys at Tudors when they ask you “How can I help?”