Delivering certainty for installers
By Russell Yates, managing director of AluFold Direct.
What installers want most is certainty. After so much disruption in the supply chain, they’re looking for fabricators who won’t let them down.
There can’t be a single fabricator in the UK that hasn’t had to apologise to customers at some point over the past year because of extended lead times or dips in service levels. Certainly, at AluFold Direct, we faced sudden shortages in the summer of both aluminium and polyamide, and we were acutely conscious of the impact that had on our customers.
It was a humbling experience for a business like ours to fall short in terms of customer service, even for a short time, and it is one which we are determined never to have to repeat.
However, the idea that fabricators just have to survive this period, wait for supply levels to be restored and then resume normal service afterwards is fundamentally wide of the mark. If they genuinely want to remain a supplier of choice for installers, then fabricators must be doing so much more than that.
At AluFold Direct, we’re nearing the end of a major investment in a new factory, new machinery, new software, and a new management team, all designed to ensure that we can massively increase capacity while maintaining outstanding quality levels and lead times. We’re determined to make buying and installing frames in aluminium as fast and accessible as buying in PVCU.
We spent the pandemic transforming our entire operation so that we now have an industrial-scale manufacturing facility, capable of delivering consistent, highly repeatable precision outputs in windows, doors and rooflights. There have been some growing pains of course, but we have a platform in place to build the certainty which installers demand.
Unlike most aluminium fabricators, who put multiple products down the same assembly lines and accept the limitations that puts on speed and volumes, we now have three dedicated high-speed lines, each with its own top-of-the-range cutting and machining centres and fully automated four-head crimpers. Each of these lines has huge capacity to grow as demand increases and our customers expand.
The new software we introduced into the business over the past year is already improving the flow of information right the way from order to despatch. It gives us full traceability through all the core business processes, and the new management team have all the insight they need.
And this new, expanded team has brought substantial new experience and expertise into AluFold Direct, ensuring that we have the essential skills right across the business to guarantee best practice processes are being implemented throughout. When you’re looking to grow at the scale we are, and to fundamentally improve the quality of customer experience, it’s not enough to rely on a small number of individuals – no matter how talented they might be.
The whole of the market is still, to a degree, constrained by limits on supply but we have acted more quickly and more effectively than most fabricators to reach agreements that have made our supply chain substantially more robust.
Over the summer, consultants McKinsey published an interesting report asking: “What’s next for consumers, workers and companies in the post-Covid recovery?”
One point was that it was mostly bigger businesses that took bold actions during the pandemic in the adoption of technology and in speeding up operational innovation. Unsurprisingly, these ‘superstar’ companies that invested most in R&D saw the gap between their profits and the rest of the market widen.
Interestingly, the report also pointed out that, if the actions of these ‘superstar’ companies spread widely among businesses of all sizes, then the disruption caused by the pandemic could actually offer a path to broad-based growth and higher productivity – potentially a 1% increase in annual productivity right up until 2024.
That’s as true for this industry as it is for any other. Those businesses that are best placed to move forward into the recovery are those that have prioritised growth rather than just survival.