Building confidence in supply

Aluk’s new 350,000ft2 headquarters in Chepstow is a massive statement of intent, as Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell discovered when he was recently shown around the site.

Describing something’s size is not easy, which is why people tend to use football fields as a standard measure; in which case, five and a half football pitches can fit inside Aluk’s new headquarters in Chepstow. Or ten medium-to-large window factories could fill the same space.

What makes the warehouse seem even bigger, is that the building was originally designed for the manufacture of wind turbine towers, which demanded considerable height to house the necessary cranes.

This was perfect for Aluk when it bought the site, because it needed that space to build its state-of-the-art painting facility – and even then, a deep pit had to be excavated to house the massive structure.

The headquarters also houses a new design studio, the Aluk Academy, and its research and development facility.

While the company is clearly enjoying the luxury of movement, the obvious message that Glass Times took away from the site visit was that Aluk is a company geared for growth.

The company now has the capacity to produce 12,000 tonnes of aluminium profile per annum at Chepstow. With more thermal break assembly lines, more stockholding, and the new polyester powder coat vertical line paint line – the first of its kind anywhere in the world, to include an online pre-anodising system (yet to be commissioned) – Aluk is ready to meet the needs of the modern aluminium market head on, despite overall market concerns.

“We’d be stupid not to feel anxious about current conditions,” MD Russell Yates said. “But we are bullish about the potential of aluminium; even though the whole market is down, we see market growth for aluminium.”

Russell’s driving ambition is to meet the needs of his customers without being complicit in the continuing trend of driving down the value of aluminium products.

“We are not interested in opening up hundreds of fabricators,” Russell said. “We want to stay loyal to fewer key customers and develop a strategic offering.”

Russell pointed out that Aluk’s success so far can be partly attributed to its customers, which he calls ‘partners’.

“Some of our strategic partners started off small, but we supported them in their growth, and they’ve pushed us in our development,” he said.

The general thinking at Aluk was that this model should be encouraged because elsewhere in the industry the price point for aluminium products is being driven down (especially for bifold doors) as the market becomes saturated – even though homeowners still see aluminium windows and doors as premium products.

“The market for aluminium is only 7% of the whole window and door market,” Russell said, “but the drive and potential for growth is huge, so Aluk needs to work with customers to grow with that market.”

On the one hand you have new products, where the company isn’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to design parameters – for example Infinium, large sliding doors with flush thresholds and 21mm sightlines at the central interlock, and sizes that extend to 3m wide by 3.5m high.

While some new products extend existing ranges, others open up new markets, such as the Luminia Veranda, which broadens the scope of installers to offer something other than a conservatory.

There are some new products, according to sales director Nigel Headford, which will only be offered to a select number of customers – such as the F82 bifold door – in a bid to maintain that exclusivity and to promote the value of aluminium products.

In the last 12-18 months, the price of raw material has gone up by 33%, while the value of the pound has fallen. Meanwhile, market forces are pushing down the price of aluminium products.

“There is a lot of pressure,” Nigel said. “We can’t pass price increases down to the fabricator, if he can’t pass them on to his customers. Therefore, we need to work together.”

This view is supported by Sioned Webb, Aluk’s marketing director, who said customer support is becoming increasingly important.

“Commercial aluminium suppliers were historically not very user friendly,” she said. “Which is why we want to change the relationship between supplier and customer. Therefore, the Academy is very important to Aluk.”

Aluk’s new training Academy provides a range of design, installation and software courses for customers and specifiers. Fully equipped with the latest aluminium machinery from Emmegi (UK), the Academy enables customers to get practical training on every aspect of fabrication as well as product installation.

Aluk has also invested in its second UK Design Studio at Chepstow. This 300m² space showcases its complete range of products, with many full-size installations in place, and provides a venue for presentations and events. It follows the company’s first Design Studio in London’s Worship Street last year, which has proved to be popular with customers.

“The market for aluminium has changed considerably in recent years,” Russell said. “Historically market growth was stunted by the systems companies that weren’t meeting the demands from fabricators.

“Confidence in supply is important, which has been central to our plans, and this investment will help Aluk work with our customers so that we can grow together.”