Behind the scenes with
Martin Shaw at Plain English

In our latest client interview, we catch up with Plain English’s Operations Director, Martin Shaw, who we’ve worked with for many years.

If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, Plain English has been handcrafting luxury bespoke kitchens for over 30 years, with its creations gracing the most beautiful homes in the UK and US.

Behind the scenes, Martin ensures everyone, from cabinet makers to senior managers, has everything they need to work efficiently. So, we thought we’d ask him a few questions about his background, responsibilities, achievements and experience working with us.

Martin, could you tell us about your background?

It’s going back some time now, but I started life as a mechanical engineer after gaining an HNC with endorsements in Fluid Mechanics and Production Control.

Before I started working with Plain English (some twenty years ago now), I ran a mechanical engineering company that produced electronic and aerospace components. So when I joined Plain English, initially as a consultant, I was ideally placed to help them explore how they could use technology to work smarter and scale their business.

What does your typical week involve?

My days are incredibly varied, but essentially everything I do focuses on ensuring Plain English operates efficiently. A big part of my job involves monitoring routine activities. I am always looking for ways to improve our communications and production processes, and technology is a key part of this.

How has Plain English changed over the last 12 years?

There have been a lot of changes to the business over the last decade or so. One of the most significant developments was the creation of our sister company, British Standard in 2012, which offers a range of simple, supply-only, standard-sized cupboards for clients who still want a high-quality kitchen, yet at a lower price point.

Another landmark was when we expanded our Plain English reach into the US in 2018, where we now have a Manhattan showroom, a Shop Kitchen in Los Angeles and a smaller manufacturing facility in Chicago. There’s a real appetite for our time-honoured, quality English kitchen designs.

What technical solutions have you put in place to support business growth?

There are far too many to list, but there are a couple of standout projects.

In the US, there are four different time zones. As you can imagine, this creates its own challenge when it comes to controlling delivery costs. So we introduced an algorithm-based software to identify and calculate the best delivery option.

For our British Standard brand, we are always looking at ways of enhancing the user experience (UX) of the online ordering process. A recent example of this is where we introduced enhanced graphics into our online web shop to enable clients to better visualise and purchase what they need.

At our Plain English workshop in Stowmarket, we have also introduced an internal web shop that effectively acts as a list of items to quicken the kitchen specification and pricing process.

How have Agile Technical Solutions helped you?

Nick and the team at Agile have been hugely helpful. I cannot stress just how valuable it is to have an IT partner who understands our business processes.

Agile shares the same ethos as Plain English, which is that there is always a better way to do things. That’s why we have regular discussions on how technology is changing, what those changes mean for our software licensing dynamic, and how we could improve the user experience for our clients and employees.

It’s also important that we have visibility on technology developments, which is something I could not do without Agile’s help. This is particularly beneficial when it comes to IT Security.

As a business, we cannot risk a data breach. We have non-disclosure agreements with many of our clients and so it is essential that our security is not compromised. Agile plays a pivotal role in this and has introduced an end-to-end threat management system to fully protect all our systems and data.

Agile is also helping us to migrate away from on-premise to a cloud-based solution, which we are rolling out in stages. They’ve already introduced a Hyper-V solution with a replicated server at their data centre in Colchester to make sure that our data is backed up securely, with full fail-over. The next step is to migrate all our files to the cloud.

Martin, what do you most value about Agile?

As with all the long-term suppliers we use, the most important quality, above being technically capable, is the relationship we have.

Agile is not just our IT Support company. They are our strategic IT partner. They help make sure that we introduce the right technology into the right environment and are always transparent about their decision process.

They also value the importance of monitoring and testing the solutions we have in place to identify further efficiencies.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I like a challenge. I enjoy identifying a solution that I can see will make something better, making the business case internally, seeing those results materialise and surpassing expectations.

You have a very busy role. What do you do outside of work to relax?

I like to keep fit and active. I find long-distance cycling a great way to unwind and challenge myself and I go hiking in the Lake District with friends two or three times a year.

I also enjoy long-distance sailing. I have sailed around the world with another Plain English colleague. I’ve also been shipwrecked on a remote island in the Seychelles, where I once spent six months living with local people before being rescued. So I’ve got quite a few stories I could share!