Meeting modern demands

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited Frame Fast in Derby to find out how evolving customer expectations are affecting its plans for growth.

When Glass Times met Frame Fast’s sales director Nigel Leivers at the end of January, the company had just celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Interestingly, Frame Fast is four years younger that its retail sister company, the slightly misleadingly named Trade Windows.

“Trade Windows was originally launched as an online business, but it was 20 years too early,” Nigel laughed. “However, it quickly developed an excellent reputation as a retail business with 12 fitting teams installing windows, doors and conservatories.”

Frame Fast, however, is – and always has been – fully focussed on the trade and small commercial projects.

“Rather than provide a standard product for the large projects, we’ve concentrated on developing a high-quality product for small builders,” Nigel said.

He told Glass Times that this is borne out by the fact that Frame Fast has had a Doc Q-compliant window for 12 years.

The company’s bread and butter PVCU window business produces 600 frames a week from its 30,000ft2 factory not far from Pride Park in Derby. However, a greater concentration on ‘special’ products has had a profound effect on the company.

“Getting into new-build work has been really good for us because when something different is required, it will come to us,” Nigel said.

Nigel mentioned conservatories, aluminium bifolds and flush sash windows, which now account for about 20% of the business. This has encouraged the firm to open a ‘specials’ area of the factory, prompting further expansion into a neighbouring 10,000ft2 unit.

“We’ve used the Logik system from Eurocell for 14 years now,” Nigel said. “But the Modus system has been great for us – especially with the flush sash.”

In fact, Frame Fast is handling so many Modus orders that it will be going down the company’s main fabrication line. Modus-S – the new mechanically jointed window – will be made on the specials line.

“We’ve found that here in Derbyshire the Modus windows work well in the conservation areas, especially in or near the Peak District,” Nigel said.

Eurocell also provides Frame Fast with the Skypod, which Frame Fast builds in a dedicated area of the factory before they are shipped out on the back of a van. The company also makes 60 conservatory roofs a month.

However, it is the bifold door market that is promising most growth this year for the fabricator. A team of seven is currently working out of a corner of the factory, but the machinery is all ready to be installed when the company moves its glass unit production across the road at the beginning of this month, and the aluminium section will get three times more space.

“We should be making 20-30 doors a week by the end of the year,” Nigel said. “It’s a great development for us, not least because it gives us full control over the quality.”

This philosophy is behind the company’s decision to manufacture all of its glass units, prompting the appointment of Carl Vandebroucke to head up the glass production side of the business. The company has also invested in new machinery, including washing machines, to ensure that its windows achieve the highest possible quality.

Yes, Frame Fast also enjoys the benefit of better margins, but the market is increasingly geared away from standard products, and Nigel said Frame Fast would lose its relevance if it only made white squares.

“With aluminium and other ‘specials’, customers are proving that they want ‘better’,” Nigel said, “and it’s up to us to make sure that we have the processes in place to deliver that.”

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