How to open a trade counter during a pandemic

In November 2020, Europlas opened its latest window and door trade counter in Caerphilly, south Wales. Managing director Simon Lomax and national operations manager Gavin Burton discuss the new facility.

Opening a new branch typically involves more than simply stocking the products you want to sell and throwing open the doors to customers; there’s a range of tradespeople who typically help to retrofit premises to get them ready.

However, because of Covid and social distancing guidelines, the set-up for the Caerphilly branch was different from the norm.

“When we get ready to open a new branch, we have everyone from decorators and electricians to joiners in to sort everything out,” Simon said. “Additionally, we usually have team members from other Europlas locations volunteer to help out, but in Caerphilly, this was simply not able to happen.

“It was important for the safety of everyone involved for us to adhere to the Covid guidelines. To ensure that we kept everyone safe, we did the majority of the work, including joinery, ourselves. The Caerphilly team consisted of three core members, while Gavin and I stepped in where possible.”

Once the building was ready, stocking the branch with products was also different from the usual plan.

“In normal circumstances, we’d order all the stock we’d like to have for our opening well ahead of time, but because of the uncertainty of the nation during numerous lockdowns and economic instability we scaled back our orders to manage risk,” Gavin said.

“Instead of stocking the new trade counter full to bursting, we’ve slowly increased the stock each month. The proximity of two other nearby Europlas trade counters allows us to ‘trunk’ between these locations when Caerphilly doesn’t have a specific product a customer wants.

“This allows us to be flexible with stock while providing the highest customer service, something we’ve always been known for.”

Simon explained why Europlas chose Caerphilly for its newest trade counter instead of the more highly populated Cardiff.

“While some companies choose to be located in big cities like Cardiff, that just isn’t the Europlas way,” he said. “We prefer dealing with smaller customers to the large accounts; the face-to-face personal touch is what we’re known for. This strategy allows us to build long-lasting relationships with our repeat customers and reinforces our reputation throughout the industry with the types of customers we want in our branches.

“Historically, we’ve always been strategic with our branch locations, and Caerphilly was no different. We didn’t want to be located within the capital, but Caerphilly’s close proximity still allows customers working in Cardiff to access one of our branches. This trade counter’s placement allows us to reach the customers we’re aiming for, without competing with the national trade counters, or paying the overheads for a capital location.

“Additionally, Caerphilly completes a triangle of branches around our R&V Manufacturing Group Tredegar factory. The proximity of these trade counters allows us to interchange stock (trunking) between branches, fulfilling customer orders without keeping lots of stock in all locations.

“Like all our branches, Caerphilly stocks Liniar’s building and outdoor product ranges and sells the same brands as the rest of our trade counters. So far, in terms of forecasting, Caerphilly has beaten targets each month.

“This performance has allowed us to increase the products we’re stocking each month. In April, we added the Liniar roof range and we’ll continue to add products within the Caerphilly trade counter as uncertainty dissipates.”

Europlas has been a Liniar customer since 2015, as part of the Rooms and Views Manufacturing Group. The systems company has become ingrained in the very fabric of Europlas, with logos across all its branches and literature, and Europlas continues to add more of Liniar’s product range.

“It was an easy choice to stock Liniar’s high-quality building products to complement the range of windows and doors,” Gavin said. “And since then, it’s become a customer favourite.”