Glass News catches up with Steve Duddridge, Managing Director of Fortress Windows and Conservatories, who says that consumer appetite for higher value products is increasing and how Sternfenster’s EasyAdmin and Sternfenster Plus systems have proved vital in managing high levels of demand.
Q: Tell us a bit more about Fortress Windows:
Steve Duddridge: Myself and my dad, who are both joiners by trade, set up Fortress about 26 years ago. To start with we had a relatively small shop as a showroom, with a storeroom out the back – I remember painting the shop sign by hand!
We’ve grown considerably since then. In addition to a separate conservatory showroom, we now have a 5,000ft2 premises, split equally between offices and a showroom and a store and we also have room to expand.
Q: How are you managing current levels of high demand?
SD: It’s certainly very challenging at the moment, there’s a lot of pressure to keep up with demand, but we enjoy some outstanding support from our supplier, Sternfenster.
That comes from the customer service and technical support teams, but also through systems such as Sternfenster Plus and EasyAdmin.
I use Sternfenster Plus for everything – I’d go as far to say that it’s become almost a necessity to the day to day running of the business. I can see everything I need to see at the push of a button,
I wish every supplier had a system like it!
The news feed is very useful, it’s a great tool to have. It lets me know if there’s an issue with materials or a problem in the factory that might effect delivery times, and that helps me to plan and to manage my customer’s expectations.
The same goes for the capacity planner. I can see exactly how much capacity there is in the factory, for any of the products in Sternfenster’s range, from the moment I place an order. To be able to communicate that to my customers is invaluable.
EasyAdmin is also fantastic, it’s clear that Sternfenster has put a lot of effort into it. For me, the quoting system is the most useful element. If we’re sat down with homeowners, we can produce a professional looking quote very quickly. That creates a strong impression, it means there’s a much greater chance of closing on those quotes, it’s a definite advantage.
We’ve also recently invested in a new website and we have signed up for the new Proposal Builder system from Sternfenster. That’s going to give us the ability to follow up enquires that come through to the site with a digital quotation pack and for homeowners to place a deposit or book a survey online. It all links with EasyAdmin and will integrate with our existing digital order processing.
Q: Have you noticed an increase in homeowner demand for higher value products?
SD: Flush sash is a massive seller for us. Sternfenster’s StyleLine flush casement range, which comes with seamless welds, mechanically jointed mullions and transoms and dummy sashes, is one of the best on the market. We find that if our customers can afford it, then they will have it.
We’re also doing a lot more orders with foils, around 50% of our flush sash sales are optioned with a colour. Anthracite grey has been very popular, but my prediction is that black will be the next big colour.
We’re also pushing aluminium, and we’ve seen an increase in demand for conservatories and extensions with solid roofs. There’s been a big shift away from the standard white PVC box, people are prepared to pay much more for a space that’s useable all year round.
Q: Do you think demand will continue?
SD: Unspent holiday money has been the biggest driver for the home improvement boom. I think a lot of people will remain cautious about travel for some time and we’ve also had feedback from customers we have said they plan to take less holidays, because they’ve realised how much money they can save.
Working from home is also contributing to demand. We ran a successful ‘work from home’ campaign through Facebook under lockdown, and I think the requirement for more home office space will continue.
We have some big, high end residential projects in the pipeline and we are booking jobs now [September] for early 2022.
We could do with some more fitters – it sems young people looking for a trade are more interested in being a plumber or electrician – but we have the capacity to grow and with the service and support we enjoy from Sternfenster, we are confident for the future.