LM: What are your core products?
SD: We have three core products with a selection of models in each category. These are the Outdoor Living Pods, patio awnings and external blinds. All the products are designed for those who want to spend more time outdoors, and these products help to create a year-round outdoor living space. The benefits of the products range from giving you shade and shelter, protection from the weather and providing an effective solution to keeping buildings cool. They also look pretty stylish too!
LM: Is there anything you can do that sets you apart from other blind and shading manufacturers?
SD: Everything. From shorter lead times because we manufacture our products here, to having a solution for all applications because we design our own systems. As we are the only company in the UK focussed 100% on external shading, all our attention is focussed on our products, and therefore we are continually innovating to keep our products and company at the forefront of the industry.
LM: Are there any requests you haven’t been able to fulfil?
SD: We can always find a solution for every application; however, it ultimately depends on client budget and preference. Sometimes, due to property construction, access or fixing details, solutions need independent frameworks and bespoke elements that add to the cost, which might result in putting them outside their budgets. So yes, there are projects we haven’t fulfilled but not because we can’t find a solution, but because such a solution is outside of expected costs.
LM: How long do your products last after installation?
SD: Everything we do is designed and built to last a lifetime. Realistically it will last 25+ years under normal use and subject to the client maintaining their product before any issues should arise. We had a client last year who contacted us who had purchased one of our patio awnings circa 37 years ago before the company turned limited; their awning hardware and the fabric was fine, but the switch which operated the motor had failed, a component part for £5…we tried to discuss a new awning, now that technology and fabrics have significantly advanced but……!
LM: For the customer, how easy are the products to look after post-installation?
SD: No harder than looking after the windows in your house, meaning you simply need to clean both the hardware and fabric to keep them looking like new. There is no annual or model-specific servicing that needs doing. Everything is designed to be maintenance-free, with the exception of cleaning, although all our materials feature nanotechnology coatings that generate a self-clean effect, meaning that when it rains, the surface dirt and debris washes off our materials. ?
LM: What is the most interesting project you have been given?
SD: Jimmy Carr’s property without a doubt. Seventeen external shading systems across the entire rear façade, from patio awnings on the ground floor terrace to external blinds on the first floor bedrooms and staff quarters – yes that’s correct, staff quarters. The property was out of this world, as many of the properties we work on are, with some really cool gadgets installed (sorry I can’t share details).
What was so great was seeing the end result, all of our products dynamically positioning themselves based on the position of the sun to ensure that, with all the floor to ceiling panoramic windows, the property doesn’t overheat. And Jimmy Carr in person is just as funny as he is on tv!
LM: What was the most challenging project you have been given?
SD: Probably the Conduit Private Members Club in Mayfair, London. Our products, which in this application were our top of the range Outdoor Living Pods on their 4th floor private terrace, were part of a multi-million-pound renovation but logistically it was a nightmare. Access involved having a road (one side of it) closed in Central London, with cranes needed to get the product to the terrace, and traffic management.
It was challenging as we had to deal with multiple companies and people, from the main contractor to the end client and others all working in the same space as us. Added to this, we had to work to specific and constantly changing timeframes and on a balcony with a 12m fall requiring specialist access equipment etc. The end result was well worth it, though. Roll on the next most challenging project.
LM: Do you have a most memorable customer (good or bad!)?
SD: Dara O’Brien. I was invited to meet with an architect on a project to discuss the site specifics. I had no idea who the end client was, and it was only when I was on site that the architect advised the end client was visiting and may want to discuss the external shading.
I remember he walked into the room and I wanted to say “You’re that guy from The Apprentice – You’re Fired show” but of course I didn’t! He simply said to me “Right, you’ve got 5 minutes to tell me about your products.” Perfect – I love being put on the spot because I love what I do, so in 5 minutes I had told him everything he needed to know and his final remark was “You know your stuff.” And yes, we got the order, and he has since purchased further external shades from us.
LM: Who do you draw inspiration from?
SD: There are four people who genuinely inspire me:
My Parents: They taught me an incredibly valuable lesson that no matter how tough times get, you can get through it. They were living proof of this in 1998 when the business nearly folded as a result of their largest customer going into administration. However, they refused to give in and worked solidly for the next ten years to re-grow and re-build revenue. Watching this proved to me that dedication, commitment, and hard work enables you to achieve your goals, as long as you don’t give up.
Lord Sugar: I have always admired Lord Sugar’s straight-talking, no-nonsense approach and believe this to be important in the day to day running of a business.
Richard Branson: I have learnt so many valuable lessons from Richard Branson. Firstly, his ability to constantly disrupt and innovate inspires me to think outside the box and develop new ways to drive growth. Secondly, the Virgin brand model can be applied to almost anything and demonstrates the importance of developing a strong brand that enables you to diversify as a business.
LM: Finally, what is your ultimate ambition for Caribbean Blinds?
SD: To become a household name; the most desirable brand in external shading that people aspire to own.
Caribbean Blinds – Where and how?
To view the current range of Caribbean Blinds products and solutions and to contact Stuart Dantzic, visit cbsolarshading.co.uk.
Read more exclusive interviews in our dedicated section here.