“We are an installer serving Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire selling exclusively PVC-U domestic windows, connies and entrance doors. We have resisted aluminium believing that it would be a flash in the pan but I am now wondering if we should get involved after all. Have we missed the boat and will it last?” KB, Notts
I could probably give you my answer very simply by telling you that we have been manufacturing a range of aluminium windows and doors for around five years now. Our installer customers can’t get enough of them for their customers throughout the south and east of England; and whilst business is still a little bit up and down because of the political uncertainty, sales are good for all products, in PVC-U and ali.
However, rather than me possessing extraordinary powers that allow me to predict the future, my entry into ali was prompted by commercial supply and installation contract customers, for whom we began replacing aluminium windows and entrances. In fact committing to manufacturing and installing aluminium has allowed us to develop our commercial operations very substantially, with that now accounting for around half of our Group turnover. Offering aluminium has created opportunities for us that would never have come our way, including a lot of serious work for the NHS.
I was tempted to go and get loads of stats to throw at you but to be honest I think that would be a waste of time because any such research will be playing catch up, such is the speed at which the market has changed. I believe that my experiences will be more valuable.
The fact is that commercial glazing and entrances have always been the stronghold of aluminium, and that was our how we got into the market. But since then our residential trade sales have been very lively, because the demand has been there for our installer customers, from their homeowner buyers. And I certainly do not believe it is a ‘flash in the pan,’ as you put it.
The current love affair with ali came about through the likes of Grand Designs and countless other homes programmes showing bi-folds and panoramic doors, usually on a far grander scale than possible for most homes and budgets. But the seeds were planted and British homeowners fell over themselves to fill ever-larger holes in their homes with glass. Then of course they noticed their windows looked a little shabby against the sleek surfaces and sharp angles of their new doors and that fed back to the ali extruders, who got to work and laid down tooling for residential window suites. This is something that hasn’t happened for 40 years since the ‘White Gold’ revolution of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties pretty much knocked ali off the map, and the period when I cut my teeth in the industry; happy days. You might be forgiven, therefore, for dragging your heels because a lot of people thought ali was well and truly dead.
Is it too late? Absolutely not. But don’t delay any further either because the market remains quite bubbly. And more importantly ali is here to stay. The products are generally well developed and manufactured and offer excellent margins, at least until the idiot discounters go out and spoil things by giving it away. And you have an excellent choice to pick from. My experience however is that the ali systems suppliers aren’t quite as switched on as most of the PVC-U systems people so you won’t get the same sort of freebie marketing support and order to delivery lead times can be shaky. But with ali generally flying off the shelves, you shouldn’t need too much more than a couple of glossy brochures coupled, of course, with your experience and professionalism. And by not overpromising, you will be able to manage the longer delivery times. Go for it!
*Danny Williams is managing director of Chelmsford based Pioneer Trading and has been involved with all aspects of the windows and doors industry for 30 years. His activities include manufacturing, retailing and commercial contracting.