Danny Williams, MD of Pioneer Trading and regular GGP columnist, gives us his thoughts on the recent Glazing Summit, the current state of the Glass & Glazing Federation and the potential of timber.
Although I didn’t attend I am told that the ‘Glazing Summit’ that took place towards the end of May attracted around 350 of the great and good of our industry, which is not a bad turnout for a first event. The ‘village’ that is the glass and glazing industry of these Isles loves its networking events and will take any excuse to get out and about amongst its peers. Which is just as well for the Summit as reports are that it missed an opportunity to deliver, for the first time in many years, an industry talking shop that had substance.
Instead, as a couple of the trade press editors themselves observed, it was little more than a talking version of their magazines, peppered as it was with an assembly of press releases spoken by the proponents of the event. With a couple of exceptions it was all about ‘puff’ with any of the serious issues that this industry faces being avoided at all costs. Issues such as why our trade body can’t seem to hold on to senior staff for example.
I cannot remember a time when I was ever a fan of the Glass & Glazing Federation although I guess that like so many others I assumed that every industry needs some sort of formal representation, to talk to the government about standards and regulations and the like. But following a couple of conversations with people that seem to take an interest in what the GGF is up to, it seems that they are experiencing something of an ‘HR’ issue – that is, they keep sacking their top people, or ‘losing’ them for all sorts of unexplained reasons. Two of them – the much heralded ‘Group Chief Executive’ Phil Pluck; and the popular and respected Shaun McAllister who spent just a few weeks in the role of Managing Director of the GGF – have departed within the first five months of this year. I believe that something like eight directors and executives of the organisation and its various spin-offs have disappeared off into the night, in the past three years alone.
That I bother to discuss this at all came after some soul searching, simply because my view and that of many others, is that the GGF has long ceased to be relevant to the vast majority of us out there in the Big Wide Glazing World, if it ever was in the first place. I have been in this industry for thirty years, selling, making and installing windows and doors across retail and commercial markets and no one has yet been able to tell me why I should become a member, or in any other way take an interest.
So whilst clearly there is something quite seriously broken at GGF Towers, the most worrying and significant question for those trying to prop the place up is: ‘Who cares?’
Living in a Material World…
With aluminium making a spectacular come-back into the domestic home improvement sector in the past couple of years, I wonder if there might also be a reversal of the fortunes of timber windows in the home improvement sector. There is now a significant number of people that were just too young to know how the ‘double glazing’ industry was, in effect, founded. Forty years ago, with the keys to new homes being handed over with softwood windows already rotting, it was inevitable that ‘maintenance-free’ PVC-U would appeal to homeowners faced with rotting wood, cold aluminium and icy steel windows and the consequential condensation puddles on internal cills.
PVC-U has had an extraordinary run but now, almost overnight, homeowners are responding to the ‘Grand Designs’ effect and are seeking out the cool, sharp profiles and ‘architectural’ colours of aluminium windows and doors. In fact such is the demand that I am told as many as 40% of the exhibitors at last year’s FIT Show were carrying aluminium and related products.
We have been manufacturing aluminium windows and doors for years with a growing interest in commercial installations of aluminium. And the factory is producing increasing numbers of domestic door and window frames for our installer customers although if I am honest, the charge seems to have slowed down lately after months of full on growth.
We are also enjoying decent sales of our flush windows using Deceuninck and R9, both of whom are also now producing some nice flush door sashes, with the desire for flush windows and their premium price points also paving the way for the inevitably costlier aluminium frames.
I wonder now therefore if the time might be right for timber to make a foray into home improvements…
Why not? We spend a fortune on paint and foils to make plastic windows look like timber and, from what I have seen recently better quality timber frames can genuinely offer low maintenance. With PVC-U windows being manufactured to emulate aluminium frames the irony is immense. But if it gives the market a boost because homeowners are excited by the huge choice they are faced with, bring it on! However, I don’t see our near neighbours Crittal making a steel window comeback any time soon…
Many Happy Returns…
… to my pals at Emplas on their 40th Anniversary. Now run on a day-to-day basis by Ryan Johnson, son of founder Kevin, who is aided and abetted by Kush Patel, these boys are doing a great job. They are playing their part in helping to build an industry, not just a company, that is widely respected as being innovative, creative and dynamic. Crucially, with Ryan and Kush still in testicles when the firm was founded in a garage in the late ‘Seventies, the lads are combining the pioneering entrepreneurialism by which it was created in the first place, with a sharp eye for detail and progressive attitude towards efficiency and quality. Here’s to the next 40 lads!
I see that my friend Roger Hartshorne has decided to leave Liniar and its related companies, which are part of a long line of impressive businesses he has set up and led in the past 30 years or so. I always wondered how long it would be before Roger moved on after selling Flamstead Holdings Group to US building products giant Quanex in 2015. He stayed on longer than I guessed but now is looking around at ‘other opportunities’. What I do know is that it will be something that will at the very least make us all think ‘why didn’t I think of that’, or ‘surely he can’t be serious’. Either way, with Roger behind it, it will work. I wish him good luck, though that’s the last ingredient he will need.