Rethinking the door

How do you position your company to make the most of the rapidly evolving composite door market? Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited Dan Sullivan, owner of Doorco, to find out.

The start of 2016 heralded something of a new beginning for Dan Sullivan, owner of Macclesfield-based Doorco: the start of his new financial year signalled a complete break from previous supplier Capstone, and he moved all his operations under one 40,000ft2 roof.

“We had a great relationship with Capstone,” Dan said. “But it was an international company with a great deal of focus on the American market.

“The door market is constantly evolving in the UK, yet I found that my needs were secondary to the need of customers in the US.”

Therefore, Dan partnered with ex-Capstone managing director Tony Cha in Korea to design a door that would meet the demands of British customers. And since December, Doorco has only been importing the Doorco blank from a company that Dan has a share in, and which supplies no-one else.

“We had a blank sheet of paper when we designed the new door blank,” Dan said, “which meant we could incorporate features that would meet requirements such as PAS24; for example our blank is the only composite door blank that has a 4mm skin that passes the infamous ‘thumbturn’ test.”

This somewhat controversial test emulates a small hole being cut through a door for a burglar to reach through to turn the thumbturn. A 4mm skin is more effective at preventing this than the more widely used 2mm skin.

Another significant product development is the blank’s universal design. Called the ‘Combi Door’ the standard blank that Doorco imports has a six-panel design that offers seven different designs.

“The biggest impact this has for us and our customers is the stock holding,” Dan said. “It also means that if a customer makes a mistake on one blank, they should have another ready to go as the Combi provides many designs from one blank.”

Colour is another area that Doorco has invested in. The company currently offers seven colours off the shelf, but can offer 44 other colours thanks to its busy paint booth. However, Dan said in reality customers can have any colour they want because it is a completely bespoke service.

“We’ve had our paint lint line for four years now, so we have seen the demand for colour grow in that time,” Dan said. “However, over the last 12-18 months, that demand must have increased tenfold – it’s been remarkable. Our paint line is working constantly at the moment – fortunately we have the room to expand it.”

In fact, one bespoke colour has become so popular that Doorco will soon be introducing it as a standard colour – anthracite grey.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Dan said. “No more paint charges for our customers, and we should boost sales because we can offer it on a next-day service, rather than the current seven-day turnaround we offer on painted doors. It will also take the pressure off our paint line.

Dan explained that such a decision was possible because of the close relationship he has with his Korean supplier – ideas can be turned into actions at the drop of a hat. Which was why he was happy to talk about a new development that will be launched at the end of the year; he knows that his competitors would take much longer to bring an alternative to market.

It is a new textured GRP skin, which looks more like a powdered coated aluminium finish rather than the woodgrain finish that dominates the market today.

“There’s a growing demand for contemporary-looking doors, but the finish is the same as what you would find on a cottage door, for example,” Dan said. “It didn’t make sense to me, which is why we are launching the new textured finish – we will be making a bit of a splash with it by the end of the year.”

This launch isn’t an easy one because it requires a new mould to produce the etch, which isn’t cheap.

However, it is this forward-thinking approach that has prompted Doorco’s customers to sign up to the new product.

“The response has been excellent,” Dan said. “We are already 33% up on last year.”

Accompanying the design improvements, Dan has also paid attention to the company’s three routes to market: containers direct to the fabricator; warehouse-picked blanks that can be with customers the next day if ordered before 3pm; and prepped blanks.

The move to the new factory has allowed a refinement of the prepping process, including the investment in a new beam saw that has removed a significant bottleneck. The company now preps up to 1,600 doors a month, with a capacity of more than double that.

“By providing the prepping service, it gives small businesses the opportunity to offer a valuable add-on service,” Dan said. “Space that would otherwise be given over to that function can instead be used to make other high margin products like aluminium windows.

“Also, they don’t have to take full responsibility for the door blank – if something goes wrong, we will take responsibility.”

Together with the direct blank sales, Doorco provides the market with 15,000 doors a month with plenty of room to grow, especially since its Korean counterpart is also geared up for expansion.

“We can continue at this rate for the next few years at least,” Dan said. “We just need to make sure we can find the right people to come on board to support us.”

The door market is still something of a developing frontier, but Dan Sullivan is proving that if the same entrepreneurial spirit that built the window market is applied to doors, then it is also something everyone has access to and can benefit from.