Looking forward to 2024

Martin Hitchin
Martin Hitchin

Glass Times talks to Martin Hitchin, CEO at Rehau UK, about the highlights of 2023 and the outlook for the year ahead.

Q: What have been the major successes of Rehau UK’s strategy in 2023?

Martin Hitchin (MH): One of the successes I was really proud of this year was how hard we’worked to establish Rehau UK as a whole solutions provider. Being able to bolster and promote our offering beyond profile alone is key to what we’re trying to do – becoming a one-stop-shop that provides ancillary products alongside polymer.

Now, customers know that when they receive their profile deliveries from Rehau, they can also take delivery of other items such as hardware, steels and trickle vents. Importantly, all our new product launches such as the Rio and Slinova door now come with their own, often tailor-made hardware solutions too. Being able to further emphasise our expanded service offering with each product launch will be crucial to keeping the market aware of just how much we can do.

Alongside this, our recent launch of cut-length steels has helped further improve efficiency and reduce waste. These benefits can really add up for fabricators, so being able to help like this as a systems provider is something we’re very pleased to do.

We will continue to strengthen our offering as a whole systems provider into 2024 with the ongoing rollout of the new Rehau webshop. It’s an exciting development for the company, and by simplifying the order process to a single source wherever possible, we’re confident we can continue to offer a market-leading service.

Q: What has Rehau UK done to improve the sustainability of its operations?

MH: Ever since the opening of our new polymer recycling plant, PVCR, back in 2019, we always wanted it to be a central cog in Rehau UK’s operations. The multi-million-pound investments made at PVCR are really bearing fruit now, which is very good to see.

For example, over 2023, there have been significant improvements in the plant’s ability to meet the quality and quantity demands of our extrusion plant in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. Under the leadership of plant director Gwyn Jones, the two facilities are working closer together than ever before, and Rehau has been able to increase the amount of finished goods made using recycled material to 50%.

To my mind, it’s excellent to see how close collaboration has resulted in tangible benefits – in this case, the same high-quality profile we’re known for, but with more previously waste material reused.

Speaking of reuse and recovery, our ongoing partnership with recycling specialist, CNC Recycling, has also really impacted the sustainability of our operations. Used frame recovery is something we’ve previously spoken about within the business at length, and I view it as a key cornerstone of our efforts to close the loop in the windows supply chain.

Overall, the aim must be this – one old frame out, one new frame in, and our efforts this year and next will revolve around getting this closer to reality. This will become especially important in commercial and social housing projects where local authorities are increasingly emphasising the sustainable reuse of old windows.

Q: How has the market received Rehau UK’s third-party partnerships?

MH: The launch of Window.ID, our new digital identification tag for windows, doors and accessories, has been warmly received by the market. It is helping our customers meet the need for increased product traceability throughout their lifetimes. As well as this, it is helping these companies generate repeat business and better manage frame maintenance and replacement regimes. Frankly, the more information on the supply chain we can get, the better. I feel being able to easily access that data and view it in a presentable way could help transform best practice around windows.

These sorts of benefits are always appreciated by the market, and I for one think it’s great that Window.ID has received such positive feedback. Close collaboration with both internal and third-party software specialists was required to turn Window.ID into a reality, and we see the product becoming particularly important to our commercial project business in 2024.

I’m pleased to say that our ongoing Yale-Rehau bespoke range of hardware and solutions has also been well-supported by the market. This partnership is a crucial part of our commitment as a whole system provider, and we have been pleased to see companies continue to respond to us on these terms. We will continue to work with Yale and others into 2024 on new product developments.

For example, I’m watching with great interest what our team is doing in the field of smart technology. The possibilities in this area are extremely intriguing, and I hope to be able to share more on this as 2024 progresses.

Q: What are your thoughts on Slionva and Artevo’s entry into the windows market, and how do you think the systems will perform in 2024?

MH: Our new patio door, Slinova has been met with great excitement by the market. It’s always good to see this sort of reaction – the first fabricators are now already producing the new sliding door and are benefitting from the multiple improvements it has over its predecessor, Agila.

This includes a more modern design, localised supply chain and continued sustainability improvements, all of which can be passed on to the customer and help them win new business.

We have high expectations for 2024 and feedback from fabricators tells us the door is much easier to fabricate and install leading to companies who have not previously bought patio doors from Rehau to express an interest. Hopefully we can keep making great strides in the door market, as the signs have been good so far.

Artevo is also appealing in a similar way across our customer base. Architects are appreciating its modern design aesthetic and achievable large spans, which has traditionally only been possible with aluminium. Fabricators are also enjoying the simplification of the program range and interchangeability of the components.

Finally, the new pre-inserted ‘low-e foil’ included in Artevo Max helps properties achieve the Passivhaus standard without the conventional foam thermal inserts traditionally required. Because of this, we are seeing great enthusiasm from installers looking to win new business, especially with sustainability having long moved from a preference to a priority on all projects.

Q: How has the Rehau UK team grown and what are the company’s workforce plans for 2024?

MH: We have strengthened our sales force by focusing our teams on specific market groups. For example, particular emphasis has been placed on pre-sales to architects and specifiers, helping to pull through project requirements to our fabricator customers. Similarly, we now have a dedicated trade sales team who work with our installer and trade counter networks, again pulling demands into our core fabricator base.

I feel that one of Rehau’s great strengths is that we’re always keen to bring new talent into the industry as well as promote from within. We are really happy for Hannah Smith and Trisha Naik, two of our area sales managers, who both picked up industry awards for their work in the last 12 months. As a CEO, seeing your teams grow and succeed is one of the nicest parts of the job, so to see Hannah and Trisha honoured for their efforts was a highlight of the year.

Looking forward to 2024, our teams are receiving modular internal training to remain updated on legislative requirements around key issues including sustainability and digitisation. With the recent launch of our accessories Webshop, online exhibition tour and Window.ID software, our teams are also becoming more and more involved in digital topics and further familiarising themselves with modern online sales techniques.

Simply put, standing still isn’t an option – especially at the moment. However, I’m confident that these efforts will keep us on the front foot in 2024, and we can use that knowledge to help our customers at an interesting time for the windows market.

Q: In what sectors and markets do you anticipate Rehau UK will see growth in 2024?

MH: The retrofit and social housing sectors are becoming increasingly important for us as councils look for energy saving solutions capable of meeting current and future building regulations.

By launching some new on-trend colours in the spring including ‘pebble grey’, ‘sage’ and ‘alux’ gunmetal, we also hope to give fabricators focused on refurbishment residential properties more options to differentiate themselves. Changes and portfolio expansions such as these will be vital to companies looking to thrive in an increasingly challenging market.

Everything adds up, and it’s always struck me on how large decisions can hinge on even the smallest thing. Alongside remaining up-to-date on products, simply being able to offer more colour choice in a portfolio could be a difference-maker for fenestration professionals. If Rehau can help with that – well, I think that’s fantastic.