The march of the trade counter

Lower overheads and a more flexible business model has made the trade counter what some people call an industry success story. Pro-Trade Upvc, which has just opened its third offering, talks to Glass Times.

There’s a theory that goes: fitters dropped by their retailer employers during the recession set up on their own and bought-in from trade counters. Another one goes: smaller fabricators that felt the squeeze came out of fabrication and bought-in to rationalise their business model.

While acknowledging that each theory may have had an impact, Paul Wilkins, director of Pro-Trade Upvc, argues that it’s the flexibility in its offer that makes the trade counter so successful.

“You could argue it’s about price – we don’t have the overheads of a fabricator – but in reality, while we’re competitive, we don’t just sell on price,” he said.

“In our experience, quality, service and support are just as important, if not more so. We have seen growth by building a reputation for going the extra mile for our customers.”

Pro-Trade was set up in 2010 by Lee Walker and joined soon after by Paul as business partner in Swadlincote, Derbyshire. Four years later, it opened its second site in Loughborough, and has just opened a third, its new 4,000ft2 trade counter in Chesterfield.

“There are a lot of fitters and installers working out of Chesterfield so it made sense to go there and be closer to them,” Paul said. “It’s also a reflection of the demand that we’re seeing and our growing reputation. Our focus is Derbyshire but we supply far further afield – ultimately wherever our customers want us to go.”

The company also offers site surveys and technical support, plus access to free skips and recycling bins.

“We’re trying to make it as easy to deal with us as possible,” Paul said. “We regularly get involved with surveys and offer technical support to our customers where they want or need it. That’s not there in many trade counters. We work hard to offer that little bit more.”

Pro-Trade began buying in windows and doors from Emplas, last year.

“The quality we get out of Emplas is superb and most importantly it’s reliably good,” Paul said. “We’d encountered one or two issues with reliability and quality from our previous supplier, which had impacted a little bit on our own reputation.

“Those things are there with Emplas. The investment they’ve made in machinery and their own processes is clear in the finish and what you get as a customer.

“Optima is a decent system and came in at the right time, because FS70 had become a little dated. It matches in well to a lot of different systems so delivers more flexibility.

“And the colour offer is great. We now sell more anthracite grey and special colours than we do of standard woodgrains like rosewood and oak.”

Emplas expanded its ex-stock colour range at the end of last year, which means that foiled cream, anthracite grey, anthracite grey on white, black brown, and black brown on white are now available as ex-stock standard colours. Emplas’s most popular foils are now available in lead times of 10 days or less.

“If you’re looking at the market as it is, I don’t know how smaller fabricators can make it work, when you can buy-in high-quality product from a large fabricator like Emplas. The model doesn’t stack up anymore, which is where we fit in.

“We can provide a level of service and support that fabricators can’t afford to because we don’t have the overheads associated with production that they do. We can focus on quality and service and not worry about production.”

He added that Emplas’s customer support programme had also been influential in Pro-Trade’s decision to buy-in frames. This includes EVA, Emplas online Portal, which includes 24/7 online ordering and tracking, plus support tools including lead management software and automatic quotation pack creation.