Getting to know James and Sun-X:
SUN-X are the most prestigious suppliers and installers of window film and blinds in the UK with over 40 years’ experience. James Willson joined SUN-X in 1997 and is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of this prestigious company.
How did SUN-X come about and how long ago?
Back in the 1950’s the uncle of the current co-owner imported liquids from the USA to treat glass – he was so far ahead of his time – some 20 years before window film was even a glint in NASA’s eye!
Who forms part of your team?
Our contracts manager, James ‘P’, is my right-hand man, and we have Kay, Rachel & Sarah-Jane dealing with admin/accounts, Lee is our in-house blind manufacturer, and we have 5 fitters out on the road, including one lady (a rarity in the industry and which we’re very proud of!)
Who is your main customer type and which product do you sell the most of?
Historic buildings are our core business, the National Trust being our largest single customer. Our most common offering is a clear UV filter to the glass, coupled with either one or two roller blinds – a ‘sun’ blind and a blackout.
Has this changed since the company started out?
We added the blinds part to the business in the late 1980’s, and it now forms a pretty even split with the window film.
Do you work globally and, if so, how do you manage this?
We have done! Only Europe thus far, usually stately home owners with holiday ‘pads’, but we did carry out a large installation to the Statens Museum in Copenhagen some 15 years ago. In this instance, the fitters went off in their caravan & stayed until the job was finished!
What tools (software or physical) do you find indispensable in your day to day work?
Of course, a large & sturdy measuring tape to deal with the often, enormous windows that form a building’s structure rather than just a method of allowing light in. Laser measurers come in handy for the very large expanses…
Can you give us an example of a recent project where you received a brief from a designer, collaborated with them and achieved a successful result?
A good example is the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Shading the 300-year-old hand-painted surfaces from the sun, on very large arch-top windows (some being over 30 metres up in the air!), while making the (non-retractable) system robust to atmospheric conditions, ultra-durable (for 30+ years), but with a subtle appearance – that was a real challenge! It took a lot of design work, careful templating, and a head for heights, but the result is very pleasing. I would encourage anyone to visit; it’s a breath-taking space. If you do, walk in & look up to the top of the vestibule – I climbed to the top of a scaffold & fitted those blinds!
Have you had any “teething issues” over the years and how have you overcome them?
Always! We aim to keep at the forefront of technological breakthroughs and pioneer new systems, which can inevitably throw up a few surprises. By using reputable/trusted suppliers, trialing working models in our workshops, and having backup solutions ready just in case, we find we are able to overcome any ‘teething troubles’!
What was your lightbulb moment? OR What has been your most successful milestone to date?
Having initially not realised we might qualify, we applied for, and were granted, the Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen in 2004 and have successfully renewed every five years since. It is, of course, something of which we are extremely proud.
Would you have done anything differently if you knew 10 years ago, what you know now?
There are always trials and tribulations along the way in any business, so probably to always go into situations with your eyes open, questions in mind and a healthy touch of scepticism.
What is still your biggest challenge within your own business?
Recruitment – in such a niche industry, you are extremely unlikely to find people looking for work with relevant experience, so you have to use a lot of intuition to take on the kind of person you feel confident will be able to learn skills quickly, be reliable, and hold the company’s ethos in high regard.
What do you find are your clients’ biggest stumbling blocks and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?
Lack of product awareness, particularly new technologies. With our thermal insulating UV films, we can provide manufacturer’s reports showing energy saving calculations, but there is a certain amount of taking a leap of faith which can be hard to overcome.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
People do business with people. No amount of blanket email or cold-calling marketing can come close to striking up a face-to-face working relationship with a client.
Did you enjoy your guest speaker appearance at Metier Rendezvous recently? What did you bring away with you from that?
Very much so, and was taken aback how quickly the time went, and how engaged the audience were, bringing away a few enquiries then & there!
What are the key benefits for Interior Designers to be working with yourself and SUN-X?
Together we can bring a value-added service to customers, advising how to protect their interiors from sunlight, rather than having to replace/restore a few short years down the line, particularly if the fabrics are expensive and/or antique.
It sounds like SUN-X is going from strength to strength, so you, James must be incredibly busy. What is your trick to unwinding?
Just a bit! The working week is very full-on, so spare time is limited, but I do have a weekly game of badminton with friends; at weekends, the allotment does allow me to unwind, unless it’s just digging up weeds!
What is next for you? ….and SUN-X?
Onwards and upwards! We have taken on 3 new staff in the past 2 months, and plan to add one more to the team shortly.
Thank you so much to James for his time in speaking to the Brunch meeting. Whether your project requires safety and security, energy efficiency measures or simply to reduce any potential sun damage to design pieces, SUN-X have a solution. From contemporary commercial buildings to historic museums and galleries, from the stately home to the more modest home – no job is too small…or indeed too large for SUN-X. To learn more about SUN-X and their products and services, visit their website here.
If you would like to join us and have the opportunity to listen to some engaging speakers, like James, over a delightful brunch, then sign up for membership now.
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