Treading its own path

As Apeer gears up for the FIT Show in May, Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited the company’s base in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, to discuss its recent rise in popularity and what plans it has for the next five years.

Asa McGillan, Apeer’s managing director, is a quietly confident man who effortlessly draws you into his confidence, a personality trait that probably helped him to convince the management board to invest in the Lumi window system and expand the factory to house the new machinery.

Success, of course, is not all down to a winning smile – a well designed, built and marketed product also helps. When Glass Times visited Apeer in 2013, we were given a sneak preview of the new Lumi window system, which was still in the prototype stage, and which was due to be launched at Grand Designs in 2015.

It was unlike anything else on the market, even when compared to the rise in flush-fitting sashes that are now starting to dominate the market. Following the official launch, Lumi won new product of the year at the G-15 Awards, as well as the hearts of hundreds of homeowners who have seen the product at exhibitions and are now specifying it on their dream homes.

Lumi still stands apart from other systems, principally because it is the only structurally glazed product available for the domestic market, and is the only one to use GRP as a profile material, which offers numerous advantages including thermal efficiency, strength, and design flexibility. Apeer continues to expand the Lumi range, including a curtain walling system that looks incredibly striking.

Its route to existence follows a well-trodden path by Apeer to manufacture and supply products that offer something different – not me-too products whose only real differentiation is price.

Apeer started life in 1996 (known then as New World Developments) making PVC panel doors, which it still makes, but current sales are nothing like the peak of 1,400 a week the company was experiencing in 2007.

This trend was expected by the company, so it put its R&D efforts into designing a composite door in 2002, concentrating on specific areas such as the door skin, glazing system, and slab integrity that would stand it apart from competitors. Apeer Doors was subsequently launched in 2003.

Products since then include the Isolate fire door and Stable Door, each designed to meet the demands of specific markets. The company also launched a more cost-sensitive product in 2009 – Diamond Doors – following the economic crash, which is the first door the company made on an imported slab.

Finally, Modo Doors was launched at the FIT Show in 2013, which was one of the first high-end aluminium residential doors on the market, and which drew many plaudits from visitors.

Today, Asa’s focus is on growing the company. Yes, there are other products in development, but he knows that Apeer has a good enough portfolio to satisfy most needs in the market. Also, Lumi’s design, development and production costs were significant, and future developments require Lumi to be a commercial success as well as a critical one.

Asa’s aim is to triple the size of the company in three years, which will equate to a £35 million turnover by 2020. No mean feat, but a 25% year-on-year increase in the composite door business would go a long towards achieving that goal, with the company achieving 35% growth in the current period, so way ahead of its own predictions.

On the Lumi side of the business, Asa said it is all down to awareness. “We are attending 14 exhibitions this year,” he said. “We are also increasing our exposure in the trade magazines and improving our digital platforms.”

One misconception Asa wants to overcome is the Lumi’s suitability for the replacement window market.

“We need to change that perception,” Asa said. “On the new build side, the orders are really starting to come in. We have had an installed value of £450,000 in the last 18 months, and we have about £4 million quoted for – but it’s a slow order cycle.

“The replacement window market is the most valuable one to pursue, and the one where homeowners really want to make a statement for their windows.”

Asa pointed out that Lumi is a truly modern window. For example, it has been designed around triple glazing, unlike most aluminium systems that were originally designed for double glazing, but have since been adapted.

“We also provide all sellers of Lumi windows full training – we have even built a house within our factory with a variety of window apertures to cover all eventualities.

“Training installers is key to ensuring that the products are pushed out to the marketplace.”

Installers can also be assured of the quality. Asa intends to keep production in Ireland for the foreseeable future, having recently added a 10,000ft2 extension to the factory. There are also plans to open a comprehensive showroom alongside the training suite.

However, Asa concedes that a distribution hub in England would be wise considering that region is a target for growth.

“We want to be a superfabricator on our own terms with our own products,” Asa said, batting away suggestions that Lumi production is something that could be licensed to other fabricators.

As for future product development, Asa candidly talked of theoretical ideas that he wanted to pursue, such as Lumi Lite – a double glazed version of Lumi – and glazed flat roofs and lanterns.

Glass Times once again got to see what Apeer has in store for this year’s FIT Show, and it is a bold – and logical – move that should really pay dividends for the firm. Saying too much about it here would probably give the game away, so we suggest that you visit stand K30 in May to find out more.