The continuing rise of the trade counter


There appears an irresistible logic to the argument. In the face of economic pressure, installation business pulled work back from fitting teams. Those fitting teams went out and found their own work, buying in from trade counters.

Without the overheads and ‘baggage’ that accompanied installation businesses built around a traditional model – showrooms, lock-ups, offices – this demographic is now more competitive, increasing pressure on ‘old school’ installers.

And despite the recovery, in the face of this agile and flexible new competition, the traditional installation business model remains under continuing pressure. The outcome, so the so the theory goes, is that the retail sector is changed forever and continues to change.

“Retail just isn’t the same as it was five years ago”, says Paul Schofield, Director, 21st Century Trade Windows. He continues: “It’s very difficult for traditional retail businesses to remain competitive, when there are guys out there who don’t have the overheads and costs.

“The shift happened during the recession but it’s still happening now, the pressure on installers is immense and that has impact on the whole industry.”

21st Century Trade Windows was launched by trade fabricator, Affordable Window Systems in 2014. “We recognised that things were changing and that that had ramifications for not only installers but also fabrication. There were fewer large installers and a new tier within the industry of smaller businesses who wanted to buy locally”, continues Paul.

This puts the trade counter – or at least the incarnation of it defined by Schofield – firmly in the bracket of a ‘disruptor’ business. These are businesses which simultaneously drive innovation within a market at the same time as displacing more traditional segments of it

“As a fabricator Affordable recognised that it had to change to bring the market closer to its customers and to deliver a service which met the changing needs of its customers better”, added Paul. “They want a single source of supply, a more personalised service and they want marketing and lead generation support – we do all that.”

The 21st Century model also mobilises the buying power of its £30m plus turnover parent company to lever advantages across the board for its customers. Buying in bulk for its trade counters, the savings it makes on silicones, sealants, roofline and ancillaries are passed on to its customers.

21st Century also provides a skipping and recycling service, supporting installers in keeping their overheads low. “They finish a job, load up their van and then the next morning come to us, unload and recycle their waste, pick up their order, ancillaries and then head out and do the job.

“It’s another indication of how much things have changed. 10 years ago, it was hard or softwood frames that were coming out, now it’s first and even second generation PVC-U frames. Recycling product is now just part of doing business.

“We fulfil the role for our customers of not only their supplier but also their yard.”

This strategy is also evident in its decision to supply aluplast aluplast. “We supply aluplast because it sells well and because the aesthetics are strong, it’s an energy efficient and technically advanced system, its German engineered and it offers a little bit of differentiation.

“But it’s also all of those things at an incredibly competitive price point and that difference of a few quid here or there is key in a competitive sector.”

With triple-glazed options achieving a low U-Value with standard components, the system also achieves WERs A++ rating.

Paul continues: “Our model is about looking for those advantages for our customers and working in partnership with our supply chain to deliver them.”

This also rings true with industry analysis, Insight data, for example, reporting in the summer that there were now 816 window/door trade counter outlets across the UK, a rise of 44 depots in the last year, ranging from independent distributors to large national chains.

The research report, also suggested that this growth in trade counter networks was actually creating its own markets, fuelling the ‘Builder Installer’, with over 22,000 local builders now offering windows, doors, and conservatories.

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