Dave Cooke

Former Maintenance Director

You can imagine going to a board meeting today and asking for permission to start up a business based on a gut instinct…it would be a very short meeting. But in 1988 things were different. I was working as a technical services manager for Mila Hardware, and my experiences out on site and my instincts were telling me that any industry selling ‘no maintenance’ products was storing up trouble for itself.

Starting a business based on a gut instinct isn’t the norm – but it was 1988 and it seemed like a plan.

You can imagine going to a board meeting today and asking for permission to start up a business based on a gut instinct…it would be a very short meeting. But in 1988 things were different. I was working as a technical services manager for Mila Hardware, and my experiences out on site and my instincts were telling me that any industry selling ‘no maintenance’ products was storing up trouble for itself.

Even at this early stage the largely German and Belgium PVCu systems houses were making great inroads into the market through their rapidly expanding networks of fabricators – few of whom had formal processes in place to monitor the quality of survey, fabrication or installation.

Common sense tells you that products cannot be ‘no maintenance’….

It was a new market – the processes they needed hadn’t even been developed, what it told me was that there was an opportunity ahead. Common sense tells you that products cannot be ‘no maintenance’, even if it was a clean that was needed, or new gaskets where the originals had shrunk or hardened. Add into the mix the number of hardware systems flooding the market at the same time and it was clear that something was going to fail.

At that time any complaints that came into Mila Hardware blamed the hardware for the failure of the windows and doors, but we knew instinctively that it was most likely manufacturing or installation errors that were causing poor performance and product failure.

In Bradford City Council we found an ally who recognised exactly this. Long before they started manufacturing their own windows they had become an early adopter of PVCu windows and doors for their 30,000 plus housing stock. Specifications were not really developed at that time and within a very short space of time they had over 25 PVCu systems, fabricators and installers all working on their estates.

We started a rectification programme that lasted over 10 years….

We got the call to look at the Mila Hardware products which were ‘failing’ and quickly established that the problems were in fact caused by fabrication and installation short comings. We started a rectification programme and spent the better part of 10 years working with the council to repair the products they had just bought, and to upgrade them for security.

At this point, while we were carrying out maintenance, we hadn’t formally established it as a business stream in its own right, that came later. But the number of calls was starting to increase, and we found ourselves responding to requests for support the length and breadth of the country. The logistics were a nightmare, but we quickly found a way of working, set up supply chain relationships with other hardware companies and PVCu systems suppliers and found ourselves with a business model – albeit one without a real plan or strategy. I was fortunate that my boss at the time Ray Gyde saw the same picture developing as I did, and we managed to convince the remainder of the senior team that we should split away
from the hardware division and trade independently.

Light-bulb moments in Sunderland and Greenwich….

The real light-bulb moments for us as a fledgling business came in Sunderland and Greenwich. In both cases we were asked to look at windows in high-rise living accommodation which were failing – water ingress was a massive problem, draughts and hardware issues made the windows difficult to operate.

We realised that the windows which had been installed in both instances were not fit for purpose and we came up with our first innovative solution, trialling and proving a conversion process for the existing windows which allowed the outer frames to remain installed but with their functionality being changed to a Tilt and Turn operation.

The cost savings to the authorities were enormous, we didn’t have to rip out the windows they had only recently installed, instead we were able to convert them to provide a weather tight, user friendly window for their residents. It was an enormous moment for our business and something we have done so many times since. Many of the team at Mila Maintenance and Installation point to a scheme for Ongo Homes in Scunthorpe where we converted three tower blocks on a similar basis, knowing that the start of this offering came all those years ago.

Between the schemes in Sunderland and Scunthorpe we provided support and innovative solutions to major housing providers such as London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham where we installed bespoke restrictors in 42 high rise blocks, Trafford, Salford and many others, learning as went but always ensuring our focus was on the residents – especially their safety and their comfort. Care for residents is one of the core values which still underpins the company’s business ethos today and has made us many friends over the years.

Mila Maintenance, the go to company for window and door maintenance…

I’m not sure at what point during this journey we realised that we had become very much the go to company for social housing providers needing help with their window and door installations, but that is what we were and what we remain today. Over 1.2 million repairs later, the gut feel in 1988 that there was a business model there somewhere has proven to be correct, and I still believe the market is coming towards us as the big replacement window programmes end and more and more housing stock reaches the point of needing maintenance for the first time.

The future for the team looks really good, and I am delighted to have been a part of the company from the outset. Despite my retirement 3 years ago, I still take a passionate interest in how the company is doing, and I know it is in safe hands with the excellent management team in place today.

Mila Maintenance
& Installation Services