Broadening horizons

How does the original composite door importer realign its offering for today’s demands? Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited Distinction Doors’ recently upgraded site near Barnsley to find out.

Twenty years ago, Drew Wright imported the first container of composite door slabs into the UK, forming Distinction Doors four years later. The current seven-strong board of directors, led by Andrew Fowlds as Group CEO, took full control in 2015.

Distinction Doors remains a wholly subsidiary of Distinction Group and is headed up by managing director Gareth Williams. However, the company’s focus has shifted away from being solely a warehouse company to a responsive supplier of prepped door slabs – providing a value-added service that door installers in the UK have become to expect.

More recently, this realignment in customer demands saw an appropriate investment of £850,000 that included the installation of CNC machines, edgebanders, saws and painting equipment. £300K was spent on the extraction system alone.

“Distinction Doors’ original business model was built on supplying the social housing market,” Gareth said. “With large orders of very similar products, our way of working met the demands of the market perfectly.

“However, over the last 15 years, we’ve seen demand shift away from the social housing sector to the private home improvement sector, which has brought a whole new set of challenges, not least the very individual needs of our customers.

“Therefore, while we started out as a container business, and moved to a warehouse operation, we have now ramped up our offering of prepped doors – all the while staying one step ahead of our customers’ needs.”

Distinction Doors’ site in Tankersley, near Barnsley, now spans 86,000ft2, employs 150 people, and will eventually house 10 CNC machines alongside a well-established warehousing operation. The company has another 40,000ft2 warehouse a short distance away.

Gareth explained while capacity is much higher, the company expects to produce over 100,000 prepped doors in 2019, which is about a 45% uplift on 2018.

While talking to Glass Times, Gareth was both assertive about the future, while remaining humble about the weight of customer expectation against the practicalities of working with a Taiwanese supplier (Nan Ya).

As he showed Glass Times around the impressive warehouse, he said: “We currently have 70,000 door slabs on site, which means that we won’t have any supply issues this winter.

“A major driver for us since the MBO and the subsequent shift to prepped doors has been our customer service and otif levels. If we can’t improve on either, or our actions negatively affect them, then we rethink our course of action.”

Furthermore, the company has the numbers to back up its confident stance: within only 18 months the company has gone from a warehouse operation (with a small prepping service) to prepping 1,700 doors and selling 6,000 doors a week in total. 400 doors a week go through the company’s painting service, with the sale of glazing cassettes also growing fast. It is believed that 25% of all composite entrance doors installed annually are supplied by Distinction.

Distinction Doors is also meeting customers’ expectations in other areas, such as marketing and technical support.

“We’ve got to remember that we are a relationship-based industry, which has a significant impact on the way suppliers have to operate,” Gareth said. “Take our customer services team for example. We tried a method of working that put all customer service enquiries into a pool, which would be dealt with on a first-come first-served basis, but it didn’t work.

“By far the best model for us is for each member of the team to have their own customers, and this has been reflected on the positive feedback we have received.”

Looking to the future, Gareth is bullish.

“The most recent investment will ensure that a margin is always maintained beyond our sales targets, to ensure continuity in peak periods and also with Brexit in mind,” he said. “Our production capability and stock levels are now such that we can anticipate market surges as well as any reasonable disruption caused by Brexit.”