Finding a niche: Strand Hardware celebrates its 30th birthday

When Strand Hardware celebrated its 25th birthday it threw a big party for its key customers, but as it turns to a more mature 30 it will honour the occasion by sending out a memento to its customer base of architectural ironmongers and select distributors. The firm offers window and door hardware, emergency exit and panic hardware, window control systems, Glass Central and D-fine – panic exit devices constructed entirely out of316 stainless steel.

Catherine Franks

Established in 1991 by Jonathan Franks, the Walsall firm is now run by his daughter Catherine, who took over at the helm in 2006. The company is the sole UK distributor for leading European manufacturers such as Athmer (finger protectors) and Antipanic (panic hardware). Its offer includes being able to add value to those products by customising them with different colours, sizes and finishes. The firm also offers technical guidance and advice, which it’s able to do as it puts its staff through GAI education programmes. 

“We are adding more products as time goes on,” says Catherine. “But our USP is offering niche products and guidance on them. “The key to our success is customer service – we take care of our customers and we protect our reputation for good service. 

“We invest in staff training – even though we’re not doing scheduling as we feel it’s important staff know the market and the products so they can offer advice when customers call with queries.” Strand boasts a loyal long-serving staff.

As well as putting staff through the GAI education programme Strand also supported the GAI Members’ Day in May this year and Catherine will once again sit on the judging panel for the GAI/RIBA Specification Awards taking place next year. 

A year of change

Changes this year include appointing a PR firm to reach out to potential new customers via trade press and social media and to raise the profile among end users because, as Catherine says, “we were one of the industry’s best kept secrets”. 

2021 has also seen Catherine embark on a new business venture as one of three founders of Strand Technologies. Set up with Paul Ryan and Simon Bowden, it’s a new company moving into a rapidly-growing market offering technology-based solutions for safety, security and control. The trio all run and manage businesses within the door hardware and automatic doors section and have previously partnered on other projects. Simon previously worked for GEZE, while Paul was founder of RTR. At Strand Technologies Simon takes the role of commercial director, Paul will oversee strategic support and business development, while Catherine assumes the role of MD.

I was thinking about the business in detail, about having a plan for ‘what if it goes wrong’ and exploring different areas and technologies"

Catherine FRANKS

The idea came as a result of lockdown when many businesses were facing crises or having to ‘pivot’ to survive. “I was thinking about the business in detail, about having a plan for ‘what if it goes wrong’ and exploring different areas and technologies,” Catherine says. “But Covid also created a need for automatic door systems and foot traffic counting facilities.” 

Strand Technologies offers its iContact range which includes a Virtual Engineer and Virtual Usher products. The Virtual Engineer is a control and diagnostic product for entrance systems while the Virtual Usher provides occupancy and flow management with accompanying products such ‘traffic light’ entrance signals.

Data collection is one of the key applications Virtual Usher can offer; it’s possible for retailers for example or commercial settings to see the custom or foot fall through the door on say, a Tuesday between 11am and 12pm, which informs so much of decision-making in a business – from power saving to staffing levels.

And with facilities management becoming ever more important as product lifecycle rises up the agenda the Virtual Engineer is a boon. It monitors automatic doors for maintenance so if there’s an issue it will automatically alert the company that services it and then they can remotely reset it; the customer may not even be aware there was an issue. Or if it requires an engineer to go to site it can pinpoint where in the building that door is and what ironmongery is being used so the engineer can come equipped with the spares needed. In a site like a shopping centre this can save masses of time and money as in the past an engineer could spend hours trying to find the affected door. 

So Covid proved to have a silver lining. Has Brexit affected Strand? “It hasn’t been as bad as we anticipated,” says Catherine. “We have suppliers in Italy and Germany so we did have some logistics problems with products stuck at ports, and obviously we have to adapt to the UKCA, but things have settled down and we have not yet been affected by the materials shortage.”

The future looks bright for the established Stand Hardware and the new arrival, Strand Technologies. “It’s been exciting to get involved with something new,” says Catherine, adding, “when we talk to potential customers they can see wide applications and the huge amount of potential the products have.

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