Back in 1971 a man in a van had a vision and launched Mobile Windscreens. That man was George Douglas and today, as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary, he remains in the driving seat pushing for expansion while witnessing a major shake-up in the automotive glass repair and replacement industry.
Today as chairman he presides over the UKs largest independent supplier of automotive replacement glass employing just over 400 people, a fleet of 280 fitting vehicles and a network of 36 branches across the South and the Midlands.
And, as the largest member of the 15-company UK-wide National Windscreens consortium, which has 114 branches and a fleet of 720 mobile units, Mr Douglas anticipates major changes in the sector and significant growth for the business he founded.
National Mobile Windscreens has experienced a significant increase in business in 2011 and the collapse of Auto Windscreens, the UKs second largest automotive glass company, has further increased business levels
Now, with eyes on winning an increasing share of the UK fleet, leasing and insurance business, the company is also focused on Europe with National Windscreens being the UK partner of Automotive Glass Professionals - an alliance of national automotive glass repair and replacement companies across Europe.
Mr Douglas said: We have supply agreements with all the major UK fleets and leasing companies and are winning an increasing volume of business from them as well as insurance companies.
At the heart of the success of National Mobile Windscreens is its company ethos, which, according to Mr Douglas, remains unchanged from the day he launched the company.
The aim is simple. To keep customers on the road by offering a fast, efficient, competitively priced service combined with very high standards of workmanship. Safety and customer care rank high on the list of priorities thereby giving total peace of mind, he explained.
However, that philosophy can only be carried out if the right people are employed. For Mr Douglas it is the employees that he is most proud of in the business he launched, which is why he was delighted that the companys reputation was recognised first with a National Training Award in 2009 and then with the 2010 Customer Service Award from industry publication Fleet News.
We are in a people business and a company is nothing without staff. We have some wonderful people, he reflected. When customers tell me about the excellent service they have received, I always make a point of telling the staff and saying thank-you to them.
When the company won the Fleet News Award he took the trophy around all the branches to show employees. We won the Award because of them and I wanted to thank them. Achievements like that are motivational and it makes employees even more passionate about the business and that leads to future success, he said.
Todays sophisticated vehicle glazing world of laminated glass, bonded fitting methods and fast curing times has moved on a long way from 40 years ago when a piece of string to aid the exact fitting of a windscreen was an essential part of Mr Douglass tool kit as he set about replacing toughened glass that had shattered into thousands of pieces on impact.
The company ethos remains unchanged but the industry is very different due to the introduction of technology. Automotive glass repair and replacement is now extraordinarily hi-tech, said Mr Douglas.
He launched the business to earn enough money to fund his hobby of racing motorbikes. His turnover in his first 12 months was 12,000 and he succeeded in doubling turnover in each of the next four years.
From starting out as a one-man business fulfilling the jobs of fitter, storeman, accounts clerk and buyer, Mr Douglas began recruiting staff and the companys network expanded across its south west base.
In 1981 fleet and insurance company demand meant Mr Douglas needed to deliver a national service. Alliances were therefore formed with other independent regional automotive glass repair and replacement businesses and the National Windscreens consortium was created offering a 24-hour service, 365 days a year.
1993 saw National Mobile Windscreens open its Specialist Glazing Division supplying glass for all types of plant vehicles, buses and coaches. In 2000 National Mobile Windscreens trebled the size of its operation with relocation to a 2.7-acre purpose-built site accommodating a head office, distribution centre, call centre handling 15,000 calls a month, fleet workshop, bus, coach and plant division and the Bristol branch operation.
In October last year Mr Douglas stood down as managing director, handing over day-to-day responsibility to Phil Lomas, who had joined National Mobile Windscreens in 1979. Mr Douglas now focuses on development and long-term strategy for the company.
Mr Douglas now leads the UKs second largest automotive glass company and he has a warning for other business chiefs who think they can walk into organisations and transform them: Bring in new technology and new ideas, but dont forget the firms roots. Talk to the employees with experience in the industry and look after them because they have the knowledge and expertise. Ive had a great journey and enjoyed every minute of itbut there is more to do.
Things you didnt know about National Mobile Windscreens and vehicle glass fitting
1. Before the advent of specialist automotive glass repairs it was fitters whose main job was the fitting of large panes of household and shop front glass who would undertake vehicle glass replacement.
2. National Mobile Windscreens has fitted a pane of glass to a clock on a Bath church tower and small pieces of glass to portholes in the side of a ship.
3. George Douglas was instrumental in developing the windscreen for the Quasar semi-enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle in the 1970s .
4. Phil Lomas was instrumental in developing the glass for the Noble M600 225 mph supercar, which costs 200,000.
5. George Douglas continues to race cars - a Ginetta G16 historic classic car in the UK and Europe.
6. National Mobile Windscreens can have glass manufactured from a pattern for specialist vehicles - stretch limousines, sports cars such as Ginettas and the Bristol Fighter as well as for a variety of custom cars.
7. National Mobile Windscreens employs expert glass cutters who can cut a bespoke windscreen out of an off the shelf model thereby supplying glass for a vehicle when a standard product is not available.