Crittall Scoops Queen's Award

The last six years have been hectic for Britain's oldest manufacturer of steel-framed windows but the outcome has been well worth it. Crittall Windows has been awarded a Queen's Award for Enterprise in International Trade for successfully attacking overseas markets, particularly in the USA.

"This is in effect an award for excellence in how we have gone about our business." says Managing Director John Pyatt. Everything is taken into account - employment practices, environmental policy, and our work with the local community - as well as our export achievements."

These achievements are underlined by a significant increase in export earnings from the notoriously protective US market where Crittall Windows is now the second largest steel window company operating, despite not maintaining a permanent office in the States.

Established in Braintree, Essex in 1849 and trading as The Crittall Manufacturing Company from1924 until the mid 1970's, when it became Crittall Windows Ltd, the Essex-based company has undergone major changes since the year 2000. Crittall Windows underwent a management buy-out in 2004 led by John Pyatt. "We acquired the business from its American owners and the existing US distribution network disappeared overnight," he says.

"We have had to re-establish a whole distribution network in the US in order to get where we are today. Then, in 2007 we moved to a brand new factory." This involved shifting the machines, processes and some 200 employees from Braintree to Witham to recently-built industrial premises of which Crittall was the first occupant.

The pre-recession move gave the company a state-of-the-art facility from which to run its operations in both the UK and abroad. "We continue to be the number one steel window company in the UK across a very broad spectrum of markets "says John Pyatt, noting that the recovery in Britain is a very fragile one. By contrast, in the US the economy is beginning to pick up strongly. "Things were quiet there last year but now we are seeing a swift improvement," he says.

The sort of projects in which Crittall Windows are specified across the pond include high end luxury housing and apartment blocks such as 300 Central Park West in New York. Also in the Big Apple is the prestigious Crosby Street Hotel. Then there are the Ivy League universities of Princeton and Yale. There are, says John Pyatt, several opportunities now in other universities and public sector buildings.

The recovery in the US market and Crittall Windows' success in tapping into it is demonstrated by a significant increase in export sales in the first few months of this year.

Meanwhile in the UK the firm has remained strong in the heritage market plus the school and university sector through the Building Schools for the Future programme. "Clients and contractors are moving projects around to get best value. They are constantly reviewing technical specifications. Everyone has to win jobs on tighter margins," he says.

The principal difference between overseas markets and the UK is that in the UK Crittall fulfil the roles of designer, manufacturer, glazier and installer, whilst for overseas contracts Crittall acts as designer and supplies only the frames to the local glazier.

Recent prestige projects in the UK include the University of Sussex, Grade 2 listed Lichfield Court in Richmond upon Thames, and the restored and refurbished Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The citation for the Queen's Award for Enterprise in International Trade makes reference to the company's employment practices, its quality control, its health and safety record and its green credentials. John Pyatt pays tribute to his loyal and hard working employees, one in ten of whom has served the company for more than 40 years.

"We feel proud and honoured to be recognised by the Queen's Award for our work and success in the overseas market." he says. "America can be seen as one of the hardest markets to compete in and this accolade is the culmination of Crittall's long history showing how a professionally-managed private company with an excellent product, a strong brand and an enthusiastic workforce can take on the Americans at their own game."

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