WCM: Alex, tell me about your company’s background.
Alex: Gardiner Pole Systems was formed in 2005 as an offshoot of the family window cleaning business which had been in existence since 1980. My father had first established this and then was joined by myself in 1985 and then my sister, Kirsty (current MD of Gardiner Pole Systems Ltd) joined in 1987.
Our window cleaning firm first started using basic water fed pole equipment on some of our contracts in 2000, with a full switch to WFP in 2001. We were one of the first window cleaning firms in the South West of England to use this equipment and within a year or so we regularly had other window cleaners ringing us for advice and guidance on the systems.
WCM: Since this was the early days for WFP systems, what made you introduce it into your business? The WFP method was not easily accepted by the window cleaning community in the beginning?
Alex: It was mainly to be able to safely service my larger commercial contracts that had started to become dominant in my cleaning portfolio. At this time I was buying longer and longer ladders and working at greater heights which I knew was not ideal. At this time I recalled the use of WFP from a visit I had made a few years before to the US where an acquaintance used this in his large window cleaning firm. At the time I did not pay much attention, but I had not forgotten all about it. Introducing this to my business gave me a massive leap forward in the contracts I could take on and gave me an instant business advantage – one that at first I was not too keen to share with others!
WCM: How did you start supplying other window cleaners with WFP parts?
Alex: By 2004 I had started having ‘micro bore’, hose made for our window cleaning firm and installing flow valves on the poles – simple things, but in those days not available from suppliers. In early 2005 we had started casually supplying hose and fittings to other window cleaners locally and I was dealing with between 5-10 phone calls a week helping others with systems etc.
WCM: That must have kept you very busy!
Alex: Yes. This was not something that I could continue long-term due to the time it was taking up. Kirsty (who was now a computer consultant for the local Council) said that she would be prepared to give it a go to turn things into a proper supply company.
In 2005 we set up Gardiner Pole Systems and invested into a container load of fibre glass poles from abroad.
WCM: What were the ideas driving your newly formed company?
Alex: Our philosophy was to be able to supply good quality products at affordable prices for the average window cleaner. Within the firm we had a large amount of experience in the internet and computing and decided that from day one the firm would be an internet based business – Phone line support was later added as the firm grew in size. The company has grown steadily from these simply beginnings gradually employing more staff as needed.
WCM: How many staff help you run the operation currently?
Alex: We now have 13 (just agreed another one this morning!) working for the company, but still remain very much a small family firm.
WCM: Why did you start producing your own poles and brushes?
Alex: Having spent many years using equipment that was starting to put a strain on my body and my farther having a bad car accident which affected his ability to use heavy poles, I decided that we needed to look at our own pole development. The main poles that I used at the time were – 1. 45ft 6 sections CF Universal pole with alloy head, this weighed about 9kg and had to be walked up buildings to use and 2. a 30ft 6 sections Universal GF pole which weighed about 4-5kg – both were back-breakers. Fundamentally I like to work with minimum strain and effort, so was not happy with the current equipment.
We started development on our own carbon fibre poles in 2006, with a first prototype that would be later released (in 2007) as the first SLX pole.
Around this time we also looked into light weight modular poles based on fishing pole technology – these started to be used by some DIY pole makers on the internet forums. I tried one out and then following a deal with one of the UK’s premier fishing pole suppliers we released the original Super-Lite.
Super-Lite was basic but a very useable high level pole.
WCM: So how did the launch of that go?
Alex: This pole was not profitable, but did kick start a new chapter in high level useable poles for our firm. A year later we then released our own engineered modular pole which was stronger and more reliable under the Super-Lite 2 name. This pole continues today, with incremental improvements being added over the years.
The prototype SLX pole (short for Super-Lite eXtendable) which we had been using in our own cleaning business was then released for retail sales in 2007. This pole took the UK market by storm and in our opinion revolutionised the working day for a lot of clients.
It was only available in 25ft size as this was the size pole I had needed developed for a lot of my domestic window cleaning at the time. This quickly became our best selling pole and led to further sizes being developed.
In March 2009 we released a complete new range of SLX poles featuring our new design lateral clamps – the world’s first in clamp design for water fed poles.
WCM: How did your clamps differ?
Alex: Up until this time all water-fed poles either used a twist-grip clamp or a longitudinal clamp. The lateral clamp design allowed for a much more compact clamp body which allowed the pole to be more compact when closed. Another key advantage is that the direct action of the lever mechanism in a lateral clamp also allows for far greater clamping force to be applied with less effort and less strain on the cam. These clamps also allow for finger-tip adjustment of the clamp if needed – no need for a special tool or Allen key.
WCM: What other developments have been made with your product range since then?
Alex: These clamps have then allowed to grow the pole range with the introduction of the CLX range in May 2010 – this was introduced to enable more clients to get the benefit of carbon fibre, but at a more affordable price point. We also introduced our Super-Lite range of brushes in 2007 which have quickly become the brush of choice for window cleaners who want ease of use coupled with quality cleaning. We also have recently released the new Xtreme range which pushes the boundaries of pole technology using new Patented construction and design – still using our lateral clamps.
Our design philosophy has always been to make life easy for the window cleaner – basically because I am still a window cleaner. I work every week with our equipment and I always have prototypes on hand to trial. I will only work the lightest and best performing products on the market – this is why we constantly look at our range to find ways to improve.
WCM: Is there any plans to break the 80ft plus barrier and what do you think about poles that reach this high?
Alex: The Xtreme already has an actual length of 78.5ft when used with 6x high-Strength extensions. All it would take is to fit another (7th) extension and you would have a 83.5ft length pole. I just need the right building to try it on!
WCM: What does the future hold for Gardiner Pole Systems?
Alex: We are working on many projects at this time, all of which have the aim of making life simpler and easier for window cleaners around the world!