• CDW manufactures balustrades, newel posts and handrails.
• It developed id modern stairparts in order to expand its customer base to include merchants.
• The range was shortlisted in this year’s TTJ Awards in the Market Development category.
• The company has also diversified into the production of complex, bespoke handrails.

Staircase manufacturers have had it pretty tough over the last couple of years. While window and door makers have been able to tap in to the refurbishment market to some degree as they wait for new construction to pick up, staircase manufacturers and their suppliers haven’t had the same room to manoeuvre – once a staircase is in, it tends to stay in.

So for stairparts manufacturer Clive Durose Woodturners Ltd (CDW), the challenge was to diversify, not just in terms of its product offering, but also in terms of its route to market. One by-product of its success in achieving this was that the company was a finalist in the Market Development Award category at this year’s TTJ Awards.

Established by Clive Durose in 1981 the business operates out of a 40,000ft² site in Stoke-on-Trent. It manufactures balustrades, newel posts and handrails and has traditionally supplied staircase manufacturers and joinery companies, which typically supply the national housebuilders.

Around 500 different items make up the product portfolio, the core of which – about 40% – are supplied on a three to five working day lead time. Many different species are used, including hemlock, American black walnut, ash and sapele, although the most popular are American white oak, which is often bought in as finished product from South-east Asia, and Scandinavian pine.

“A lot of our products end up in new build and in 2008 when the building industry seemed to come to a complete halt we saw a huge drop in our sales,” said Mr Durose.

Undaunted, he started to look for a gap in the market and, while CDW’s huge product range meant that many tastes were already catered for, he was sure that radical new designs were the way forward.

“We wanted to come up with some timber-based designs that would fill the gap between the plain square and stop chamfered spindles and the industrial-style steel and glass balustrading which may look contemporary but which can be a bit cold and clinical.

“And we also wanted to come up with a product with which we could target the merchant market for the first time,” he added.

New design talent

As part of the process he looked to Staffordshire University for some new design talent. “I felt it was essential to bring someone in who had the ability to take ideas through to the finished product,” he said. “So we made use of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme through Staffordshire University, and set a strategic objective to open up new markets for our business.

“Instead of me having to single-handedly manage the recruitment and subsequent monitoring of a designer, the KTP had a format for the whole process,” said Mr Durose. “It used the university network to find some good calibre candidates and organised and helped at the interviews.”

Two graduates were shortlisted and, although the company only had one vacancy at the time, such was their potential that both were taken on. Although it cost CDW the equivalent of their salaries, for the first two years they were technically employed by the University and the KTP scheme supported them with weekly and quarterly meetings to make sure they were on track and delivering on their targets. As part of the process, the graduates also studied for a Masters degree.

Both graduates, Ellie Moss and Kenny Macfarlane, have finished their KTPs and have been taken on in management positions. Mr Macfarlane is a business unit manager, working on the Precision Timber Handrails side of the business, while Ms Moss is product and market development manager.

KTP results

Ms Moss was tasked with coming up with some new spindle designs for the stairparts business.

“We wanted to create something that would appeal to a new generation of homeowners and that would enable them to make more of their stairs,” said Mr Durose. “We came up with something that is ideal for people who want to replace turned or square spindles with something more suited to today’s interiors. Unlike straight, square balusters, these new shapes are interesting from every angle and create an interesting and visually stunning effect.”

He added that, along with visual appeal, the ergonomics of the product have also been carefully considered. “This is reflected in the new handrail which has been designed to fit the hand perfectly.”

The results were so impressive and the feedback from prospective customers so positive that, rather than simply add the designs to the product range, the decision was made to establish a strong brand identity.

That identity is encapsulated in its name, “id modern stairparts”, and has been supported by a determined marketing and brand building effort.

Clear identity

The aim was to create such a clear identity through strikingly visual point of sale displays, posters and banners that it was user-friendly for merchants. A new approach to branded packaging was also part of the offering.

“Stairpart packaging was completely rethought to create attractive displays whilst improving the final quality of the products by protecting them and making logistics much easier,” said Mr Durose. “For example, the id spindles are retail packed in fours or fives in shrink-wrapping. This allows the customer to look at the product from all angles while still protecting the unfinished timber. Inside the shrink-wrapping are sleeves that encapsulate the id brand and offer consumers advice on stairparts and staircases.

“We wanted to make the branding and packaging so bold that you couldn’t miss it in the store so it almost looked after itself,” he said.

Although id modern stairparts is also available to CDW’s traditional stair manufacturer customers, the company’s commitment to merchants’ sales extends to the fact that the range has its own website ( separate from the main CDW site ( “We didn’t want the merchant thinking we were driving online enquiries to ourselves,” said Mr Durose. “The id modern stairparts website is there to support the merchants and as a resource for their customers.”

Online ordering

CDW’s main website offers an online ordering service which, it’s fair to say, Mr Durose is slightly ambivalent about. “It’s a sales channel that you can’t ignore these days, but there is a fine line between selling online and treading on the toes of our customers.

“It’s for that reason that we’ve made a commitment not to offer id modern stairparts online at discounted prices,” he said. “We want the merchants to benefit from sales of it.”

Those merchants currently benefiting from sales of id modern stairparts include the Howarth Timber Group, Alsford Timber and Elliott Brothers Ltd and there are more in the pipeline.

“Merchants and DIY stores only represent about 10% of our business at the moment but I’d like to see that increase to about 75%,” said Mr Durose. “If you’ve got 100 merchants’ outlets promoting a product, that product is more self-supporting.

“The staircase manufacturing sector can shift a lot of volume in one go but it’s a moving feast and one week you’re competitive and the next someone has undercut you by a penny. Both markets have their appeal but we see the merchant sector as the route to launch not only the id modern stairparts range but others as well.

“We’ve got other projects on the go at the moment, some of which are product design based and some of which are marketing based,” he said. “There’s always something new.”