"Ney started in 1982, in Marlow near High Wycombe. We initially supplied small, hot-air edgebanders using pre-glued edging and one has to imagine how the landscape of furniture-making looked in Britain at that time.
Chipboard had already been introduced a few years earlier and had become popular with larger manufacturers mostly eminating from East London and High Wycombe. MDF was hardly known. The first edgebanders appeared as well as angular beam saws and through-feed drilling machines – all for large batch sizes without any variation.
The market, however, changed and customers expressed the need for individual production techniques following the trends of the Continental market. The whole concept of inflexible production broke down. The capital structure, the culture of employees, the way of selling, everything was wrong and there was only one realistic exit: call in the receiver!
We had started to supply our hot air edgebanders together with preglued edging to a new category of customers. These people were often previously employed by the earlier-mentioned larger companies as fitters and kitchen salesmen. Now (exaggeratingly), they just needed to buy a sheet of chipboard, put it on a panel saw, edge it on their hot air edgebander, screw the panels together to produce a carcase, and they had started their own company.
The Eighties made it all possible and suddenly individually designed kitchens came on the market, albeit with some dubious aspects of quality.
Today, possibly we are more settled, but those days were robust and refreshingly down to earth, and our customers were really our friends as well. We supported them with our full heart, and often our heart was bigger than the size of our spanner. The customers could see it – but didn’t mind.
At the time I still spoke clear German, spiced with an anglicised mix of words in between. Friends assure me that my language skills have not worsened since and never has this been a disadvantage for me to meet people and to succeed – and this I appreciate very much. I don’t comprehend that British people are supposedly xenophobic. I can honestly say that of the several thousand people I have met, there could never have been a UKIP supporter amongst them, because if I sense something of this kind, I ask the question. Therefore I am confident I have never met one.
The very youthful aspect of the British kitchen-making industry has changed over the last 20 or 30 years. There was the crisis of the early Nineties and even more significant the crisis which started in 2008, and many companies folded: having said that many reopened, I have to add, with the substantial help of our own Prowood Finance.
But look at the production: it has reached a remarkable degree of refinement and uses software for design, purchase and production planning very shrewdly. Machines are now sometimes outdated, because of the long crisis, but good for the purpose to produce individualised kitchens and bedroom furniture. Also the quality has improved and today’s manufacturers have a good feeling how to improve further, but are currently holding back on investment.
Today we employ altogether nearly 100 people and have survived the devastating fire of our premises in 2012. If anybody would raise the question, what is the priority for us: turnover or quality, I would say without hesitation – quality! If we increase our turnover, we will lose it if the quality of our service doesn’t improve exponentially. If we increase the level of quality, the turnover follows automatically and is stable. It is as simple as that.
Less simple is to increase the level of service. It needs the close co-operation with international manufacturers of differing levels of professionalism, a computerised link for technical data and parts, training of our engineers and collaboration from the customer. Still, this is our highest and most important aim!
For the same reason we remain sceptical about national exhibitions. Machines today are mainly produced in Germany and Italy and these ‘National’ exhibitions one should visit if one feels the need to do so. Conversely, the internet and other means of information – like the Furniture Production magazine – make a British national exhibition without any British woodworking machinery manufacturers superfluous, and a bit of a paradox. We prefer to improve our organisation instead and launch our own in-house exhibition, (next to be held 9-12th October ) on 25,000ft2 with comprehensive demonstrations, presenting the latest production techniques and showcasing all our materials and components – all in a cordial relaxed setting with nice hospitality!"