Putting the competition in the shade

Caribbean Blinds made its FIT Show debut this year and continues to enjoy strong demand from the extended living sector. Glass Times editor, Luke Wood, talks to Caribbean Blinds managing director, Stuart Dantzic, to find out more.

Caribbean Blinds made an impressive debut at this year’s FIT Show in May, and according to the Sudbury’s based firm’s MD, Stuart Dantzic, the timing couldn’t have been better.

“We were absolutely flat out at FIT Show,” he says. “And while we had a lot of interest in our awnings and blinds, the majority of installers on the stand wanted to know more about our pergola systems.

“That reflects growing demand at the premium end of the retail market, with many installers telling us they’re getting more and more enquiries from homeowners who want to invest in high quality products to enhance their outdoor living space.”

Established in 1987 by Stuart’s parents, Caribbean Blinds began by specialising in awnings and canopies, introducing external blinds into its product offer in 2001 and then launching louvered roofs and pergolas in 2011.

“The original pergola concept was designed predominantly for commercial applications and was introduced in Australia and New Zealand,” explains Stuart. “The product we offer now in the UK is much more refined – and demand has absolutely skyrocketed for it, especially since the start of the pandemic.”

According to Stuart, while sales of products into commercial projects were greatly reduced under the Covid pandemic, Caribbean Blinds saw a huge boost from the retail sector, enjoying roughly 47% growth in year one, and around 45% in year two.

“Our biggest seller by volume is awnings but pergolas are by far our biggest area of growth in terms of value and increased by 30-35% a year,” he says. “We are now seeing commercial sales picking up as companies in the hospitality sector look to make long-term, high-quality investments, so we are now at roughly at 80/20 split in favour of retail.”

But with competition increasing in the extended living sector, as evidenced by the number of alternative pergola systems on display at FIT Show, is it becoming harder for Caribbean Blinds to win sales or increase its customer base?

“It was interesting to see the variety of pergola systems at FIT Show, but we remain highly confident in our position as a market leader,” says Stuart. “With pergolas, we are naturally targeting a wealthier demographic, so our customers can sell on quality, not price, and FIT Show gave us the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that quality.

“But our advantage is not just in the quality of our products.

“The investments we have made in production processes – and we are proud to be an accredited Made in Britain manufacturer – mean we can offer a rapid, two-week lead time.

“That’s a crucial selling point,” adds Stuart. “For windows and doors, lead times are important but in reality, homeowners are typically prepared to wait longer for them, as long they are assured that they are ultimately getting a good product and service.

“But if they are enquiring about a pergola in April or May, and they are told they are going to have to wait two or three months for it, then they won’t be able to use it until very late summer or early autumn. They know they won’t get the most out of it until the following year – that’s enough to delay the purchase, or worse, that money may end up getting spent elsewhere,” he continues.

“Our customers get a guaranteed delivery in two weeks, delivered to site, or to their premises. It’s a massive opportunity for them to win the sale.”

Installer training days

Another key part of Caribbean Blinds offer is the support it offers to its installer customers. This includes a programme of installer training days at its Sudbury headquarters, which is equipped with a dedicated training facility.

“There is a fee to attend to our training days, we provide lunch and everyone gets a goodie bag, and we have installers travel to us from all over the UK,” says Stuart. “The majority of our customer base, around 65%, is in the south east and that’s an indication of the more affluent demographic in that region, but we’ve trained installers from as far afield as the north of Scotland and Guernsey.

“A lot of the installers that visit us are prepared to invest a considerable amount of time and money in learning more about our products, and how to fit and adjust them properly. That gives them the confidence to sell to their customers, but it also helps to build a better working relationship with us, as a supplier.

“We limit the days to six installers at a time, with two members of the team here to carry out the training, and the feedback we receive proves it’s a very positive and valuable experience.

“Installers also have the opportunity to become part of our ‘Elite Dealer’ network, which means in addition to training, they also get validated leads from us,” continues Stuart.

Future plans

While Caribbean Blinds continues to enjoy strong demand, Stuart is keen to point out further investment and new product development that is being introduced to support future growth.

The Sudbury facility has recently been extended with additional warehouse space and work is currently underway to introduce a new area that, once finished, will showcase all its products in situ.

This will further benefit installers who visit for training, but will also be available for installer customers who don’t have the capacity for a showroom, enabling them to demonstrate Caribbean Blinds range to homeowners.

“We’ve also recently opened up a design studio located close to Canary Wharf in London,” says Stuart.

“The aim is to attract architects and specifiers, of commercial or high-end residential projects, and to encourage our products to be included at the design stage.

“That’s in addition to a new product launch that’s scheduled for November this year. We are calling it the Deluxe Plus and it’s the next evolution of our pergola offer,” he explains. “It will feature a part glazed and part louvered roof, with sliding fin panels to the sides and will be compatible with all our usual options including a brand new, aluminium timber effect finish.

“We expect it to be very popular with homeowners who are really looking to make the most of their outdoor space, particularly for outdoor kitchens, but it can also be attached to the house, and deliver maximum natural light through the glazed section of the roof.

“We have other exciting plans in place – the details of which I will hopefully be able to share at a later date – but for now, with strong demand continuing for high quality extended living products, our focus is on delivering the best possible service we can for our growing customer base.”