Breaking down barriers

CRL, a company known for its strength in the glass consumables business, is developing relationships with window, door and conservatory installers. Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell met UK managing director Simon Boocock to find out how and why.

When Glass Times met CRL in March, the company was preparing for the FIT Show, having not long recovered from a spell in Germany with BAU. FIT is now the biggest show CRL attends in the UK, and this year it is occupying 88m2, which some may consider surprising after the company initially said that show did not reflect its market.

“After visiting the first show, and exhibiting at the second, we found that there were lots of opportunities for us,” CRL’s managing director Simon Boocock said. “We’re always impressed with what we’ve seen.”

Simon explained that changing relationships on site, coupled with fitter-friendly products and a welcoming philosophy by CRL, have contributed in new relationships, new products and new markets.

“Take a conservatory installer, for example,” Simon said. “If they are subsequently asked to install a glass balustrade on the same project, they are not going to say no. Furthermore, we have designed our products to be as fitter friendly as possible, so there is very little room for error.”

Glass balustrades is one area that Simon said has seen considerable growth over the last year, alongside canopies, office partitioning, and architectural shower hardware (particularly on hotel projects) – areas that are arguably accessible to fenestration installers looking to transfer their skills.

“We will have a good spread of products on our stand,” Simon said. “Sometimes all it takes is for a company to put products like these in front of visitors so they can get a proper feel for them, and to break down some of those invisible barriers.”

Learning about CRL’s business model, it becomes clear that CRL has no problem welcoming companies into its family, and not imposing any kind on minimum order restrictions on them.

“When I last looked, there are 4,000 companies that regularly buy from us, from a stock holding of 12,500 products,” Simon said. “Many of those only submit small orders, but they are often on a regular basis and they are just as important as the big orders.”

Simon explained that those same customers will win much larger jobs, which CRL will also supply.

“It all feeds into our philosophy that we provide easy-to-install products at a good price with a good service,” Simon said. “It helps us to maintain good relationships with our customers.”

Therefore, CRL will be using the FIT Show to press home the message that not every job it supplies to is a specialist job.

“At the last show we formed hundreds of new relationships, and from there have come new opportunities. Therefore, we will be exhibiting as many products as possible on our stand,” he said.

“People who visit the FIT Show are looking to expand their business, particularly into higher margin work – we can help them explore those opportunities.”

And it’s not just its customers that are interested in new opportunities – CRL is also keeping its options open. Simon explained that while the company didn’t want to stray too far from its core focus, there were new avenues emerging thanks to the acquisitive nature of its parent company.

In 2013 CRL Holdings bought the American company US Aluminum and redeployed staff and assets across the business.

“We manufacture products where it benefits the consumer,” Simon said, “not because we have an overarching desire to do so – in many cases, the manufacturing element is outsourced.”

However, the acquisition of US Aluminum has presented new opportunities regarding the building envelope, which is an interesting development given that CRL’s presence at the FIT Show is about presenting opportunities in glass to building envelope installers.

During a tour of CRL’s main European distribution hub in Rochdale, Glass Times did indeed see an aluminium bifolding door, together with a small production unit. Simon explained that the company could open a dedicated manufacturing facility should demand require it.

It is this balancing of not deviating from its core offering, while exploring complementing markets, that has helped CRL in the UK deliver an annual growth of between 10% and 20% since the company was bought in 2009, when it turned over £8.5 million. Last year the company achieved a turnover of £19 million.

In fact, this business philosophy helped the company comfortably weather the economic storm that followed the banking crisis in 2008, and it should help it tackle any uncertainty following the Brexit vote last summer.

“As a business, it would suit us better not to leave the EU because of the way we transfer stock between companies,” Simon said, explaining that Rochdale is also a central distribution hub for warehouses in Europe, such as Germany and Denmark.

“However, if things change, then we will simply change the way we order and deliver products. I don’t see it affecting the overall performance of the company – it’s just a matter of logistics.”

Interestingly, this viewpoint is a further indication of CRL’s shifting philosophy since the acquisition in 2009.

“Pre 2009, Ebor was very much about product and sales,” Simon said. “Since then, what I’ve learned most is to concentrate on product and service.

“Our emphasis should be on marketing – about letting people know what we’ve got. 25% of the sales is now online, so it is no longer productive to have outgoing cold calls.

“Our customer service department is now 14-strong and dedicated to processing orders and not generating sales. We don’t want to be annoying. For example, if people phone us then they should be answered on the first ring, and we don’t have an automated system.

“The service-led mentality from the US has been good for us. The experience for the customer is seamless and we’ve put the processes in place to make that work.”

Oil dynamic hinges for self-closing glass doors

CRL has launched its new range of oil dynamic hinges for self-closing glass doors.

The hinges have adjustable closing speed and offer a great alternative to floor closers and patch fittings with their ability to swing in and out a full 90º and stop at 0º, +90º and -90º.

CRL oil dynamic hinges are suitable for glass panels from 8mm to 13.52mm in thickness and can accommodate doors weighing up to 100kg. This extensive range of hinges is available in satin nickel, satin anodised and chrome finishes.

It also includes a no-hold open option and a high humidity resistance in damp environments.