2018 could be a bit of a tough year in comparison to previous ones. With UK GDP growth slowing to a predicted 1.5% and the window industry forecast to actually contract, you could be forgiven for thinking fate has already been decided this year.
Well I disagree. There are always opportunities out there if you look hard enough and are prepared to work for it. The window and door industry is no different. Our sector always has more to give, and in this post I will explore five products or product areas that will continue to provide such opportunities, including a few honourable mentions too.
This is in no particular order either.
In the last Insight Data industry report, it concluded that the number of installers selling vertical sliding sash windows had risen from 6396 in 2011 to 7896 in 2017. This renewed vigour in what is a very traditional products has been driven by home owner demand for something more authentic in their homes, rather than ill-designed products that yes might be cheaper, but do nothing for their home.
I don’t see that trend changing at all in 2018, despite the wider economic uncertainties. Too many traditional homes out there have been fitted with cheap, poorly designed and poorly thought out first generation PVCu windows that have only spoiled the appearance of those properties. Home owners are now able to choose from a very wide variety of suppliers and installers who are able to provide them with something far more sympathetic to their home.
Helping boost demand is the wider trend for timber alternative PVCu windows. Even in a more modern home, clients are actively looking for the best bits of timber and PVCu combined, without the maintenance issues and keeping as much valuable heat in as possible. This is where vertical sliders come into their own. They tick all the boxes.
The key for both installers and fabricators during 2018 is to make sure the right types of clients are targeted. For companies who take the right steps to market their vertical sliding solutions to the right people, they will find that sales of this product should rise significantly. One of the perks of vertical sliders is that they often command better profit margins. This is a crucial point as the industry tried to get to grips with rising costs and overheads.
Sliding patio doors
Although bi-fold doors remain popular, and that part of the market is forecast to grow consistently for the next few years, sliding patio doors are most definitely back on the rise too. And in 2018, I think we will see this renaissance continue strongly.
It’s worth remembering that the market for bi-fold doors in this country isn’t exactly a perfect fit. We don’t have the climate that logic would dictate would be ideal for bi-folding doors. A lot of homes aren’t suitable geographically either. If you have a view worth of a lot of glass you’re lucky. And then there’s the cost. The cost of homes and general living is high in this country. A high-end product like bi-folds wouldn’t seem to be the natural fit.
Yet, despite all of this, bi-fold doors have grown to become one of the biggest products in the door market. Demand seemingly driven by that aspirational need to have something spectacular to open as part of the fabric of the building.
Logic is stepping back in however. Sliding patio doors, of both the PVCu and aluminium variety, saw a marked increase in sales in 2017. And the reasons are easy to understand. They’re a more cost effective option than their folding counterparts. Energy efficiency levels are just as good. But the crucial USP here is the max glazed areas you can achieve with them. If you do have a nice view at the back of your home to take advantage of, would you really want that view interrupted by a number of uprights all the way across it? That’s what a bi-fold does. If you have a 5m wide opening to fill, you would have to have a six section bi-fold if it was in PVCu or a five section in aluminium. That is a lot of interruption by vertical frame sections. With a sliding patio door, if you pick the right product, you could have that 5m section split up just once, or more likely, a triple track with two uprights instead. That way, you get much more glazed area and you can get the most of that view. That is what home owners are tuning back into I believe, and I think that in 2018 sliders are going to keep roaring back. Especially in the aluminium realm.
Hear me out. I know that composite doors aren’t exactly new to the industry, and that they’re in no danger of slipping into contraction any time soon. But, the external economic factors might be the key for composite doors and some potentially massive growth this year.
The reason I have included composite doors in this list is due to the economic uncertainties that will hit this year. When the economy starts to level out and people start to reign in their spending, their list of priorities changes. Big ticket items move further down the list as certain other items, often smaller in cost, move further up the list of priorities.
This could mean that at some point full house window replacements move further down that list. But, in response, priority could be given more to entrance doors. Overall they cost far less than a house full of windows or a glazed extension, and a door is a product that is always used, day in and day out. If a home owner does have some amount of spare cash to burn and there is a front door that badly needs replacing, then a door purchase will still remain high up on that list. And there is no other door in the industry that home owners have tapped into so completely over the past decade than composite doors.
It is rare that any product from our industry can have such a strong recognition with home owners. Yet, composite doors have, and home owners tend to know a lot of the main manufacturers of composite doors. During the course of 2018, if installers make a big push on entrance door replacement, especially in the composite door part of the market, I think there is still a lot of scope for growth in this corner of the market.
Flush windows…with mechanical joints
The window market is changing and changing quickly. I’m not saying casement windows are not long for this world. There will always be a part of the market who will settle for casements. But the rise of flush windows is strong, and in 2018 I think it will get exponentially stronger.
Flush windows have of course been around for a few windows now. But only in the last couple have I felt like the product has matured into something more solid. Build quality has improved, along with hardware suites and the range of colours and wood grains they are available in. The key factor for me though is when you add mechanical look joints to them. Many had very thin welds, which were fine, better than casement welds. But flush windows look so much better with straight lines in the corners. Just like traditional timber windows had.
In 2018, you can safely bet that flush windows are going to be a very good seller. As an indication, we carried out a huge showroom revamp last year, in which we laid out every single product we offered at our place. After the revamp, there was a noticeable rise in the number of people enquiring about flush windows and eventually going ahead with those sales. The flat face of the frames, coupled with mechanical joints, a choice of contemporary or traditional hardware and a wide range of colours and wood grains help make flush windows stand out from the rest. A while ago on DGB I asked where the window industry was going to go next. It’s here. Flush is the future, and the installers who get on board with that should find that the margins that go with it are higher than the regular window products they sell.
Whether you believe in them or not, hybrid window and door products are here to stay in the industry. When you think of hybrid ranges perhaps the one that stands out the most is WarmCore from Synseal. That mix of aluminium on the outside and bright orange PVCu inside, it has grown to become the most recognisable hybrid brand out there.
That being said, there are plenty of other high quality ranges out there. Opus by Prefix is a very high end mix of timber on the inside and Smarts aluminium externally. There are updates coming to that range which will look even more stunning than the first iteration.
Then you have products like Velfac and Lumi by Apeer. There is quite a wide range of hybrid options out there now if an installer is wanting to venture into that part of the market.
Hybrids are highly unlikely to become anything like mainstream in the coming years. However, I believe they could do very well in areas of the market like self-build, architects, high-end specifiers etc. The very custom, very expensive part of home improvements where home owners and clients are looking for a very unique window and door solution to their dream homes. Often these hybrid systems stand out massively from the rest, and their unique aesthetic appeal is where these systems will do well in the years to come.
Installers might only sell a few jobs a year with their hybrid products. But I would wager that the contracts they bring in will not be a few windows here, the odd door there. They will be in the tens of thousands of pounds, going into homes that will go into artisan lifestyle magazines.
There are of course more than just the above that will help drive sales this year. Here are some others that installers and fabricators need to be squeezing the most out of this year:
- anything aluminium – we’re talking windows, doors, french doors, sliders, triple track sliders and of course bi-fold doors. The aluminium resurgence isn’t stopping any time soon. Fabricators and syscos are ploughing money into developing new and better systems, and it’s home owners driving that. Installers cannot afford to ignore that.
- outdoor living products – things like Verandahs, pergolas and even composite decking. Home owners expect more from a window and door company these days, even if installers are struggling under that pressure. Pick high quality versions of outdoor living products and a reliable supplier and there is money to be made there.
- stand-out hardware – there is some damn fine window and door hardware out there now. Far gone are the days where a window handle was just a window handle. There are a number of very bespoke, high-end hardware suppliers that are revolutionising the hardware sector in windows and doors. In a world of choice, having the sexy hardware to transform the look of a window or door could help land that sale. Don’t pass on this now very important installation detail.
These are of course just my opinion and predictions for this year, and by the year end I could be completely wrong! So please let us know what products you’ll be looking out for a pushing this year via the comments section below.