“The first three window materials debate articles listened to the experiences and insights of some of the biggest names in the industry. Seven of the 10 big fabricators I spoke to expected aluminium to be a bigger part of their mix, and some were investing to accelerate this trend. Rob Morley of BSW for example is investing £6m in two new purpose built factories to fabricate aluminium. 

Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Research

“But what about the thousands of other fabricators and installers in the market? What have they been doing? To answer that WindowBASE and Tommy Trinder got together to produce a joint Window & Door Market Trends 2024 report. The WindowBASE data in the report is based on a 20 year trend analysis of its UK prospect database of fabricators and installers by region and window materials used. Tommy Trinders’s analysis is based on over 80,000 items quoted every month by 550 of the UK’s leading window installer companies. These are the playmakers who are spearheading the trends in the premium and middle to upper end of the market, says Mike Rigby CEO of MRA Research. “

“In this fourth article, I’ll be looking at what the report tells about the trends – and what is driving the trends.”

Mike’s first three BIG window materials debate articles got a lot of people talking and thinking. As the official debate partners, Glass News is hosting the debate, and as a key input to this debate, this useful new trendspotting report Window & Door Market Trends 2024 from WindowBASE and Tommy Trinder is being launched via Glass News. Download your free copy of the report here: https://windowbase.co.uk/window-door-market-trends-2024/

Some people treat trends like fashions; optional extras you can take or leave that make very little difference to the business. 

But, as many companies are discovering, finding your business on the wrong side of a trend or being among the last to wake up to it can be expensive. The longer it takes to respond, the harder it’s going to be to do something about it. Scanning for trends and responding to key trends early is what marks out successful businesses. 

In a downturn, most fabricators would like to sell more higher-margin products with higher average order values to installers who have a queue of customers with the money and the desire to buy what they want, when they want. Who wouldn’t? But if almost all their installer customers are currently selling to strapped-for-cash homeowners who buy to a budget then change is difficult. It’s a chicken and egg challenge. 

In its early days, the ride-hailing company Uber struggled with this classic chicken and egg challenge. It had trouble finding enough drivers to fulfil demand, which made it difficult for customers to secure a ride. Uber had to find a way to secure enough drivers, and it did, but it needed deep-pocketed investors and a lot of effort. The backing bought the time and means to build and balance its capacity and demand. 

Most installers are locked into their current customer base: people who know them or know people who recommend them and their work. If it doesn’t include homeowners who have the money and the desire for colour, stylish flush windows, big slim aluminium bifolds and sliding patio doors, or beautiful timber, and if they’re not riding a growing wave of demand then they’re going to have to take the longer, harder road and build their brand and reputation in their target market. That will take time, persistence, patience – and money because they’ll have to keep the cash flowing while they build. 

For a fabricator, that means investing in the capability and range before they have the new customers, until demand and supply are in balance. Even if its systems company is fully behind them, it’s a tall order if they came late to the party. 

THE STORY’S NOT OVER

The Window & Door Market Trends 2024 report tells the story of three window materials, and the story’s not over. In theory, steel is the fourth material, but it has too small a share to matter, and has shown little sign of bigger intent. 

In summary, Aluminium is the specifiers’ material of choice for commercial projects, facades and tall buildings but it lost housing to PVC-U in the 1980s and aluminium had just a toehold in retail. It’s currently on a roll, but the challenge for aluminium is to keep on improving energy efficiency, as regulations are ratcheted up, without adding disproportionately to the effort and cost of achieving the improvements. 

At the end of the 90s, timber was nobody’s choice. Its short life, high maintenance and poor performance made it easy for PVC-U. Few would have bet on its revival. But it reinvented itself with factory-finished, engineered-timber windows and doors that lasted far longer without maintenance in the first 10 years. Its challenge is that few people remember or perhaps have the stomach for the necessary maintenance over its 60-year expected lifetime. Even light maintenance of the outside and inside after the first 10 years will be very expensive (eye wateringly expensive if you’re not expecting it?). And without regular light maintenance, heavier and much more costly repair and restorative work will be required at some point. Will the owners, or new owners be prepared to put in the time and effort themselves, or pay a professional? I speak feelingly as an owner of timber windows nearing a successful end to their first 10 years! 

PVC-U was on a winning streak at the end of the 1990s, replacing what could be replaced of the housing stock at the rate of 3.5% a year. And starting in the mid-2000s, it rose to the challenge of designing for wants, to give homeowners good reasons to replace their lower performing, less attractive windows with something much better. But the turning point for PVC-U came a decade later, when the Haves fell first for Residence 9’s stylish flush casements and wide colour choice, and then fell for Deceuninck’s big-bet investment in colour on demand. 

TWO DIVERGING, CRITICALLY SIGNIFICANT TRENDS

In the last 20 years, each material has faced the challenges and opportunities of two diverging trends, two trends that have evolved into two very different markets: the Haves and the Have Nots. Much as governments and oppositions would have liked to ignore it, housing, and the consequences of not having enough of it in the right places has come to dominate not just our market, but political agendas and to-do lists. But the pressure’s still increasing, and it won’t resolve itself. 

Building too few homes while the population grows quickly creates strong latent demand which drives up house prices. It’s harder then for younger people to get on the housing ladder or stay there. But it’s also hard for the Have Nots, under 50s homeowners with mortgages and big outgoings on families, holidays, and a rising cost of living, to spend on improving their properties. 

The Have Nots may earn more than the older Haves, but with greater outgoings there is little to spare for home improvement. Money is tight, so when they need to replace their windows or doors, colour, style, and performance are secondary to price. Their installers’ supply chains are affected by this choice, and because price is a far higher priority for their end-customer there is significantly less value and margin passing up the supply chain. 

Meanwhile the Haves, generally over 50s homeowners who’ve paid off or nearly paid off their mortgages, have been benefitting hugely from 20 years of rising house prices and growing value of their properties. This accumulating housing wealth has transformed their outlook and spending. The Haves account for over 90% of UK savings and pensions, and the over 65s owned £2.2 trillion in mortgage-free housing wealth in 2023 (source Savills). The Haves are the Bank of Mum & Dad. Price is secondary because whatever they want they can afford, and whatever they invest in their property is rapidly paid down by rising house prices. Consequently, almost all innovations in the industry have focused on satisfying their wants. 

This group is the premium market, and in all home improvement categories the premium market is significantly bigger than it was. Twenty years ago premium markets accounted for between 10-20% of market volume depending on the market. But after 20 years that’s expanded to 20-33%. And, like Apple’s share of the smartphone market, its share of value is greater still. Much more money flows through the Haves’ supply chain, and in downturns the Haves are far less affected. 

FOLLOW THE MONEY; FOLLOW THE TRENDS!

In the last 20 years the total number of PVC-U fabricators has almost halved, as many small PVC-U fabricators gave up fabricating to focus on what they were best at: selling to homeowners. Organised and skilled, these top end installers have made the transition from single material PVC-U retailers to multi-material providers to the Haves of high-end compatible aluminium, timber and PVC-U windows and doors. They sell much more aluminium, timber, and top end PVC-U than installers who sell to the Have Nots. 

Three times as many installers sell aluminium now as in 2001. Many of these leading window companies were small PVC-U fabricators at one time, and an increasing number of large PVC-U fabricators now make aluminium too. 

Follow the money; follow the trends! It matters who you sell to, what you sell them, and what prices you sell at. These top-end installers with their own showroom and two or more fitting teams are the playmakers shaping today’s market and the products and materials we use. 

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