Race to the top

As Emplas marks its 40th year in business, managing director Ryan Johnson argues 2018 represents a turning-point in fabrication.

‘Race to the bottom’ is a term applied regularly to the window and door industry, frequently accompanied by the charge that someone is giving away product rather than upselling innovation. ‘Race to the top’? That’s a different proposition all together.

As we see it there are four investment-led large fabrication businesses, of which Emplas is one. What marks us out is that we all remain privately owned; we don’t have to answer to venture capitalists, don’t have to deliver shareholder return, or make large bank repayments.

That means that we have been able to reinvest, in the same way that those other three fabricators are investing, and that’s driving a step change in quality and service offer in manufacture.

It’s a race to the top. It’s about continuous improvement of our product and service offer, to guarantee that we remain at the head of a group of highly innovative fabrication businesses.

The 2008 financial crisis and ensuing downturn has, as some commentators suggest, only started to bite in the last two years, with a number of high profile acquisitions and collapses.

Under-investment in product and manufacturing capabilities hit a number of big fabricators last year. We continued to invest in our service and product offer throughout the downturn and that means two things: we have been able to introduce a number of manufacturing efficiencies, which have allowed us to keep our costs down, pass on those efficiencies to our customers, and continually improve our product and service offer; and we have hit a point where we have critical scale, while remaining a family owned business, which gives us purchasing power, allows us to manage our relationships with our suppliers effectively, and we can pass those economies onto our customers.

Recently, we spent more than £3.5 million on our new factory extension and machinery, and a further £1.4 million spend on machinery, which has brought our weekly capacity up to 3,000 frames.

This has been underpinned by a corresponding investment in our IT infrastructure and systems, increasing visibility of our service offer to our customers from the initial point of order right up to delivery.

It’s been very important to us to make sure that our growth is sustainable so we can guarantee lead times and quality.

We started in retail, and T&K Home Improvements is still an important part of our business today because it operates in exactly the same market as our customers do and faces the same challenges. It means that as a trade fabricator we understand retail, which is why our retail support offer has been so successful.

We’re also a family-owned and run business, which puts us in the same boat as many of our customers, sharing the same values and focus on personal service.
We have a very strong product offer. This is not just the Optima Flush from Profile 22 necessarily, but the service that sits around it. Profile 22’s new colour offer is significantly more competitive and that means we can offer our customers far better access and shorter turn-around times.

There are challenges for fabricators; there are larger businesses that haven’t invested in product and service offer, and we’d argue the changes that we’re seeing in retail make that unsustainable; and the same for smaller fabricators that perhaps aren’t doing the volume to justify investment, and can’t compete on product offer.

Cost is also going to be a key challenge for fabricators. Strategically, we’re already advanced in our planning to control and manage cost of supply, and scale is again an important part of that strategy.

I’d personally argue that it’s less about white or colour than it is about good window manufacture. Each have reach in their respective markets but what both need to be is well manufactured.

We have capacity to manufacture 3,000 windows a week, but it’s got to be about quality and it’s got to be about personal service. Whatever we’re doing has to come back to a better service to our customers and tangible support for their growth.