Not out to lunch

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited Simon Felstein, owner of Altrincham-based Nova Group, to see how the development of new products and market forces took a modest glass business and created a regional fenestration heavyweight.

When plumber Ian Sproston required a piece of cut glass in 1971, he visited a local glass shop in Altrincham one lunchtime, only to be turned away (with other customers) by the owner who was having lunch. Realising that he could do a better job, Ian founded Altrincham Glass.

By 1975, the company had moved to its current site, which had considerable expansion opportunities.

The firm quickly progressed to making double glazed windows – first aluminium, then PVCU and conservatory roofs – and by the late 1980s, the decision was taken to consolidate all the divisions under the banner ‘Nova Group’.

The company had grown in to its 80,000ft2 manufacturing base, with 180 employees, when accountant Simon Felstein joined the company in 1999, and by 2006 he had bought the company with his wife.

“Today, our turnover is £12.5 million,” Simon said. “Our main drivers are PVCU frames and IGUs.”

Primarily a Synseal fabricator – focusing on the Synerjy profile for domestic refurbishment projects – Nova Group took advantage of the Sheerframe system, which helped the company move into the social housing market.

Nova has also started fabricating with Eurocell profile in the last six months in a bid to take on more new-build work, which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the north west.

“Eurocell has definitely helped in that regard,” Simon said. “We will also be looking to take on the Modus profile from them in the near future.”

While PVCU definitely feeds the beast in terms of product turnover – 1,200 frames a week – the company is also making significant inroads into the aluminium market with 150 frames a week.

“We have made aluminium windows for as long as we’ve been in business,” Simon said. “We started off manufacturing with the Sapa profile, but we are also manufacturing doors and windows with Warmcore from Synseal.

“Sliding and bifold doors in particular are doing really well on the aluminium side, because they tend to perform better than their PVCU counterparts. However, Warmcore flush sash windows have proven themselves to be very popular against aluminium windows.”

Seemingly not leaving any stone unturned, Nova Group also has its own secondary glazing system, which allows it to meet the perennial need from homeowners in conservation areas while avoiding the labyrinth of planning requirements associated with full window replacement.

On the glass side, the company boasts three IGU lines and a toughening plant, which produces the units for its windows.

“The majority of what we do is double glazed,” Simon said. “I’m not convinced by the economic argument for triple glazing; there are certainly energy and acoustic benefits to be had, but while it should be sold for at least 50% more, people are just giving it away.

“On the other hand, we have seen the demand for laminate glass grow tremendously, but even there we see bad practices. For example, while everything we produce is 6.8mm, to comply with SBD requirements, many companies appear to be producing 6.4mm laminate units and getting away with it.”

Looking to the future, Simon said he wanted to grow the aluminium side of the business because it forms part of the company’s heritage.

“However, we are now seeing people replace PVCU windows with PVCU, which is giving us plenty more to go at,” Simon said.

“At the end of the day, the company was built on the promise of providing the best possible customer service (we certainly don’t close for lunch), and we can do that because we are on a single site with very experienced and talented people working for us.”