Developing a connection

Residence Collection and Window Widgets were built on entrepreneurial flair, something that drives the business to this day, according to sales and marketing director Sarah Hitchings. Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited the joint headquarters in Gloucester to find out more.

Residence Collection and Window Widgets – now owned by the Masonite Group – have both arguably shaped their markets around them; Window Widgets occupies a space in the market like no other company, counting most major fabricators as customers, while Residence Collection redefined PVCU windows for the 21st century.

These are bold statements, but a brief look at how both companies have grown will show, despite changes of owners, they have “maintained an entrepreneurial flair”, according to sales and marketing director Sarah Hitchings.

While, in previous years, this flair has been focused on product design, this year the companies have targeted their efforts on marketing and technical support.

“We want to get the best out of our systems,” Sarah said. “That’s why we are going into accreditation, and using ongoing testing to continuously develop and improve our products.”

Sarah also argued that it was important for the firm to remain “informed and objective”, especially after recent high-profile discussions in the press about the differences between glass-bonded and non-glass-bonded windows, with some fabricators championing a new mechanical-style welded corner joint over what they claim is a glass-bonded alternative.

“The systems that make up the Residence Collection do not have large steel reinforcements because of the way the chambers are designed,” Sarah said. “Therefore, this isn’t about glass bonding per se, it’s about how big you can go before you need to glass-bond the window.

“The strength of the weld is not in question. The glass bond is to allow the design of large windows without steel reinforcement.”

However, while it maintains a neutral informed position on its customers’ own marketing, Residence Collection is forging ahead with a marketing strategy that reaches the places other marketing efforts don’t.

Primarily, Residence Collection offers a system that engages with the homeowner. Furthermore, this is being appreciated by an increasing number of fabricators, such as Window Tech in Romford, which only fabricates windows using Residence Collection systems because the market for standard white casement windows doesn’t offer a satisfying margin, especially at low volumes – a trend that is reported by many smaller fabricators.

Systems such as the recently relaunched R2 – which boasts square detailing to rival aluminium alternatives – helps in this regard.

“There is literally nothing else like R2 in the UK,” Sarah said. “Fabricators such as Stedek appreciate the opportunities it offers, and it has even been shortlisted for a national building award.”

The trick is now to drive demand from homeowners and, in doing so, Residence Collection needs to raise awareness of its new products without diluting the sales of other systems.

“With R7, we have managed to secure sales without watering down the R9 market,” Sarah said.

R7 was launched two-and-a-half years ago as a more accessible alternative to the original R9 window, which was launched eight years ago, and was the first product on the market to offer homeowners a PVCU flush sash window with detailing closer to a timber widow.

“R9, is a true high-end product,” Sarah said, “and because it is a 100mm system it requires an element of planning because it is different to what most installers are used to. In fact, we don’t compete with PVCU products with R9 windows.

“We expect the marker for R7 to grow quicker than R9 because it corresponds more closely to what installers are used to, it is easier for fabricators to run alongside existing products, and there’s not a massive cost implication when it comes to new equipment and tooling.”

For those fabricators who want to manufacture all three systems from Residence Collection – R9, R7 and R2 – then there is a lot of conformity, in that the sash remains the same across all three styles, reducing the amount of stockholding.

“However, where we really succeed is by developing a connection with the homeowner,” Sarah said. “We’ve got communities of followers on all the major social media platforms – including Facebook, Instagram and Houzz – and we are seeing a direct correlation between that and an increase in sales.

“The 55,000 ‘likes’ we have on Facebook, for example, has a huge impact on brand awareness. So too does the trend for homeowners to tag us on their Instagram posts – we can see the journey from choosing a product to having it installed.”

Furthermore, this isn’t a passive relationship. Sarah and her team dedicate a lot of time engaging with homeowners and other specifiers with the ultimate aim of generating leads through the website.

Sarah said installers have reported that leads that come through this channel are almost 100% converted.

“By the time they ring the number on the website, they have already been through everything they want to,” she said.

Interestingly, Residence Collection has learned from an old mistake where it forwarded leads on to installers who would then ultimately sell the homeowner different products.

“The numbers we put on the website are recorded and monitored, so we can trace the lead from enquiry to installation,” Sarah said. “If they don’t comply with our guidelines on customer engagement, then we will remove them from our list of preferred installers and give them extra training.”

For suppliers to reach out to the end user is not new. However, to do it so convincingly puts Residence Collection in a very small club. Its success in connecting with the homeowner also proves that an entrepreneurial flair can be just as easily applied to marketing as it can to product design.

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