Should installers be buying-in glazed products in the post-lockdown era?

IGU supply proved a key challenge for installers as the industry got back to work. Jody Vincent, national sales manager at Emplas, argues that stability of supply may be their next obstacle.

One of the things that we know installers have struggled with as the industry came back is IGU supply. It’s difficult to switch a business back on; fabrication is complicated enough – you need volume, you need to match your resourcing to it – but in glass it’s even more critical.

That’s why it took the glass sector more time to come back; it’s a competitive market, there’s a pressure on margin; and IGU manufacturers needed to choose their moment very carefully.

The net effect of that, however, was that a lot of installers struggled to get units, and that meant they lost time on jobs and in chasing them.

We were able to offer our customers a distinct advantage as they came back, in that our glass supply through Padiham, which Emplas bought last year, came back at the same time as our fabrication business did in March.

This meant that we could align IGU and frame supply, and offer a single delivery, since restarting deliveries on May 11.

That has simplified the operation of our customers’ businesses, everything is there on a single order; and it’s allowed them to complete jobs and get paid, which has supported their own cashflow (and ultimately our own).

And it puts us and them in a far stronger position going forward. We’ve seen a bounce in retail, which is great, but a sizeable chunk of the supply chain remains under pressure.

We know about the rumours in fabrication, in glass supply. You need to be able to rely on your supply chain and, right now, there are installers who we’re talking to who don’t have confidence in their IGU suppliers or their fabricators.

Through Padiham, we have the capacity to supply more than 15,000 IGU units per week from our 45,000ft2 Lancashire manufacturing facility, including Saint Gobain’s popular Planitherm range. We’ve invested in new software, machinery and handling equipment.

What that gives us is increased security within our own supply chain and, by association, those who buy glazed frames from us.

Covid-19 and lockdown has highlighted the challenges in the IGU supply. Putting that to one side, there are wider benefits to buying in glazed-frames because integration simplifies your business at a time when retail has become far more complex.

This includes automatic ordering of glass where customers buy glazed frames. Processed through our online ordering system EVA, orders are automatically placed to a dedicated glass specification.

For example, as part of our simplification of SBD, we’ve created dedicated tick box specifications as part of the online ordering process. This means that rather than having to remember and select requirements under Secured by Design, our customers can simply input window dimensions and then tick an SBD option.

These were wins for our customers pre-lockdown and pre-Covid but the value they deliver is now more. Customers buying in glazed frames get reliability in supply; they rationalise their ordering process, simplifying an area of operation of their business, and they get a single delivery and a single invoice.

We run our own retail business, T&K Home Improvements. As with many of our customers, we’ve seen good lead levels and demand. That’s not been the problem. It’s been much more about developing and adjusting to a new way of working; organisationally and in people’s homes.

We have made the safe operating procedures and guidance on safe working that we have developed for T&K available to our customers. Even with them, it takes time to adjust, and retail has become more complex. If you can simplify an area of your operation, for example by automatically aligning IGU and frame supply, you get time back.

This doesn’t only apply to glass. If you can purchase windows alongside your aluminium bifold, you can again strip complexity out of your retail business.

We started manufacturing the Aluk F82 bifold last year because we could see market demand and we could add value to our customer offer through in-house manufacture. Again, however, it gives us increased control over supply and product quality.

The F82 and our window and door ranges are available glazed in a ten-day lead time. We’re happy to continue to supply unglazed frames and lead times do come down. Windows are available in five days.

The conversations that we’re now having with customers, however, is that the benefits of single source for frames, IGUs and anything else – single orders, single deliveries, single invoices – outweigh the marginally longer lead time.

We become your administrative resource; we ‘pull’ your order together and manage it. That leaves our customers to focus on sales and installation, giving them the scope to successfully adapt their businesses to a new retail environment.