The Gold standard
Will Gold was made CEO of Customade Group in September 2022. Glass Times editor, Luke Wood, talks to him about his first year in the role, and his outlook for the future.
Luke Wood (LW): How has the first 12 months or so been for you as CEO?
Will Gold (WG): It’s been an interesting start! Last year was all about huge demand and managing price rises, but for the first six months of 2023 that changed and we’ve been monitoring closely how different companies across the Customade Group have performed.
It was a relatively slow start for aluminium products, for instance, but thanks to the investment we made evolving our aluminium offer, including the new Alitherm range with clip in glazing beads that improve ease of fitment, sales have started to pick up and are doing well since the summer months.
Conversely, we had a very strong start to the year with our PVC sales, which carried on through to the summer holiday period, but since then demand has definitely been quieter compared to aluminium.
Sales of entrance doors are also doing OK, but they remain highly competitive and price driven. I think it’s an area of the market that’s seen very little product development over the last few years, so we have plans to really mix up our door offering for 2024.
Prior to my appointment as CEO, the group had overcome a number of challenges in recent years. That included a difficult period in the second half of 2019 and then into 2020 with the administration and acquisition by Nimbus. There was also some highly personal, negative fallout online that was directed, by a small minority, towards my predecessor. The vast majority of our suppliers continued to support us and that was instrumental in keeping things going and saving hundreds of jobs at the time.
LW: What’s your outlook for the rest of the year and into 2024?
WG: One of the things I learnt from my time as managing director of Stevenswood, which is part of the Customade Group of companies, was the importance of building a dialogue with customers via regular surveys.
It was something we used to do on a quarterly basis and we’ve just completed our biggest, group wide, customer survey to date.
It revealed a mixed outlook, but while forward bookings may have reduced a little, they are still ahead of pre-pandemic levels.
Home improvement sales are also getting more competitive, because homeowners are getting multiple quotes and they want lots of different options.
But we still see significant areas of opportunity. Our customers serve a broad demographic, some of which is relatively affluent and may invest in a whole house renovation, while at the other end of the scale, there may only be the budget to do the front of the house.
So, while price may be a big factor when it comes to winning sales, energy efficiency is still a big driver and flush PVC casements have also been a big area of growth for us. We’re now one of the biggest manufacturers of Rehau’s Rio flush system, it has been a big hit, and it’s also pushed up demand for foils. We’ve expanded our core range of colours to help build on that and we have recently begun a new partnership with Eurocell replacing our previous Duraflex offering.
Towards the end of the year, I think we may see an uplift in sales, the seasonal boost that is traditionally associated ahead of the Christmas period, although perhaps not to the extent that we’ve seen in recent years.
The industry has been shaken by the sad announcement of the administration of UKWG and further into 2024 is very hard to predict with any certainty. We could also see a General Election which may impact on consumer confidence for better, or worse.
But I still think it’s a positive outlook, because from what I can see, people are currently still spending money and even if it declines a little bit more, the breadth of product range we are taking to market, the OTIF we are offering, the quality of our service, there is plenty of opportunity out there.
If the new build sector or the housing market slows, for example, it just means homeowners are more likely to stay put and renovate their existing property.
It’s about having the right products and service, but also by being nimble, and adapting to market conditions.
LW: How important is sustainability, currently, to homeowner customers?
WG: I think there are always going to be consumers who are interested in sustainability, but with the cost of living, it has dropped down the list of priorities – certainly behind, price, performance and security.
But we work hard to improve our sustainable operations. All of our manufacturing waste is recycled, in many cases back to our suppliers – in fact we are one of the biggest contributors for recycled content back into the manufacturing process – and our Stevenswood trade counters will also accept old windows and glass for recycling.
LW: What are your thoughts on the Future Homes Standard?
WG: Well, as we speak it’s still guesswork, but we’ll almost certainly be looking at more demanding U values and an increase in triple glazing.
Will triple glazing be the answer to everything?
Possibly not, there are challenges with hardware and handling, especially for larger windows and doors.
It’s also going to be an interesting challenge for some aluminium systems, we may see them getting ‘fatter’ in order to comply, but we are working with our suppliers to prepare for whatever comes down the line.
Ultimately, as an industry, I think we are going to be better prepared for FHS, than we were for the changes to Part L.