Weatherite Group – Adaptable and Persistent

For nearly fifty years the Weatherite Group has supported a range of construction projects, but today it is overcoming some very modern challenges.

The Weatherite Group came into existence 49 years ago, in 1972. It was the product of the mind of John Whitehouse and his then business partner, and the early days of the business were carried out from a sun lounger.

“Considering where we are now that’s quite a journey,” Whitehouse tells us.

Weatherite initially saw very steady growth through the 70s, then really picked up steam in the 1980s. In 1986 Whitehouse tells us the company was “grabbed by the collar and taken aboard the Tesco and Marks & Spencer express train”.

“We saw a considerable amount of growth as they were both developing their sales floor areas and needed air conditioning, and we were well set to expand into that market,” Whitehouse recalls. “That continued into the 90s, and the company grew quite considerably. We moved premises at least four times in that period.”

Today the business turns over £34 million as a group, primarily through Weatherite Air Conditioning, which represents the major portion of that turnover with about £25 million.

In all of that nearly half a century, however, the company has never encountered obstacles such as the ones it is facing today.

“We’ve now survived the effects of the pandemic, which I consider to be far more arduous than anything I’ve experienced in 49 years running the business,” Whitehouse admits. “We’ve survived in pretty good shape, and in the course of this year, we decided to invest quite a reasonable amount of money in factory extensions. One of the small factories needed extending, which has cost a fair bit, and we’ve also invested in new machinery. I felt confident enough this year to invest what I consider to be a reasonable lot of money in machinery. We’re looking forward to an interesting market in very interesting times.”

A Bespoke Provider

Through its decades of business in the air conditioning sector, Weatherite has built a name for itself through its capacity to design bespoke products.

As Whitehouse points out, “Most manufacturers work from a range of pre-designed products, and while a fair majority of what we sell is pre-designed, we have an abnormally large section of engineers capable of responding to sections of the market that require something different and something new.”

These capabilities are increasingly in demand as the pressures on building construction increase.

“With the movement of technology in a number of directions, particularly in reducing the amount of energy used, we can respond very quickly,” says Whitehouse. “It doesn’t take us two years to design a new product, it can take as little as two months. It’s a real strength in an ever-changing market.”

As well as being able to meet the specific needs of individual customers, Weatherite has also built a reputation through persistence in the face of difficult challenges.

“We never walk away from a problem. If we’ve got a problem, we solve it satisfactorily,” Whitehouse says.

This, Whitehouse tells us, is a big part of the company’s history of encouraging the continuation of business relations.

It is also an invaluable skill set to have access to in the face of the unprecedented business challenges 2021 has to offer.

A Question of Supply Chain

While Covid-19 has been a major thorn in the side of businesses around the world and across all industries, it is not the only challenge facing the industry.

“I think the majority of businesses right now are suffering from the supply chain of components,” Whitehouse admits. “The construction industry has major problems in acquiring component parts, and we’re no different in that. We import components from all countries, the EU predominantly but not exclusively. But the supply chain from the EU is not constant at the moment. This week we’ve placed an order with a German company with a 70-week delivery time for a reasonable quantity of specialized fans. A 70-week delivery depicts the state of parts of the supply chain.”

As well as the challenges brought on by Brexit, Whitehouse also points to another supplier who was unable to meet delivery because flooding shut down their factory. As difficulties like these become more common, Whitehouse argues manufacturers need to change their attitude to the supply chain.

“Acquiring parts is a major issue. That’s one of the reasons we’re extending one of our factories,” he says. “We’re now having to stock a considerably greater volume of parts so that we can make the products that we need to make. The days of just-in-time manufacturing have long gone. It’s now a question of getting the parts when you can and stocking them. To do that you need to make sure you’ve got the space and cash.”

Parts are not the only resource industries are running low on, however. Whitehouse also points to growing challenges in recruitment.

“The other really critical problem, not just in our industry but in most commercial organisations, is the fact that we can’t get people,” Whitehouse says. “We’ve been trying to get half a dozen apprentices. We’ve gone to local education authorities, and we can’t get anyone interested. We’re advertising for apprentices.”

Weatherite is responding to this challenge by providing excellent training facilities and teaching programmes, but the Group has large, and specific skill requirements.

“We require a wide range of skills. We have electricians, refrigeration engineers, assemblers and machine operators and that’s just on the factory floor,” Whitehouse says. “We have engineers and draftspeople. We have a wide span of skills and skill requirements, and really to get those people nowadays, it’s getting worse. To get someone with any one of those skills is as rare as hens’ teeth. So, it’s a real problem right now. We have to provide a very attractive offer. Recruits don’t just need a good salary; they want good working conditions and a clearly defined career path.”

In the face of these challenges, the Weatherite Group’s qualities of adaptability and persistence are more important than ever. Data centres, for instance, are becoming a huge growth sector for air conditioning, and it is an area Weatherite has already moved into.

“We are light on our feet. We can react very quickly to any challenges or changes. We’re not a huge ship that can’t change course, we’re small enough to be able to react,” Whitehouse tells us. “We need to continually have our fingers on the pulse of the marketplace. If the heartbeat changes, we need to detect it and move with it. We are responding to challenges and developing other marketplaces in the air conditioning industry.”

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