When challenges present opportunities
Raju Radia, managing director of large-scale aluminium fabricator Arkay Windows, talks to Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell about industry trends and opportunities.
Arkay Windows has supplied the trade since 1975, providing domestic and commercial markets with a wide range of high-end fenestration products: windows, entrance doors, sliding patio doors, bifolding doors, roof lights and roof lanterns.
It operates out of a 65,000ft2 facility in Watford, employing 150 staff and supplying customers from the south coast to the Midlands in the UK.
“Some have argued that our product offering is too broad a range,” managing director Raju Radia said. “For example, we offer six different sliding doors and four different bifolding doors.”
As Arkay predominantly supplies the trade, customers have ample choice to offer end-users for their differing lifestyles so this is unlikely to be phrased as a complaint.
Raju said that Arkay has worked tirelessly to ensure that the relationship it has with its customers is a two-way street, manifesting itself recently in the partner agreement scheme where retail leads are forwarded to customers along with marketing, technical and software support.
“Our customer base ranges from the one-man band to national companies, but this variance is not just in size but the market they operate in,” Raju said. “I guess this explains our wide product range. This has stemmed from the mantra that to attract loyalty, we must give loyalty: we have many customers who have remained with us since our inception more than 45 years ago.”
This focus on customers’ needs has arguably resulted in a flexible operation that responds quickly to shifting requirements.
“There is definitely an increased need – or at least a recognition for – higher levels of service from our customers,” Raju said. “I feel this must be reflective of industry at large.
“It seems that for our trade customers, the requirements are more design-led with a fair bit of attention to lifestyle. Sight lines and larger glass areas play an important role in the decision-making process for our end-users.”
In fact, higher specced fenestration products in general are feeding their way through the supply chain.
“There is a greater scrutiny on building products in general,” Raju said. “This is seemingly driven by the goal to reduce emissions to zero by 2050, and always striving towards better standards in acoustics, security and accessibility.”
Technology is another emerging trend, especially in the way we market, produce, and price products.
“Equally important and, interestingly, I feel that there still appears a need for very well-presented showrooms which fully accentuate products’ design and portray lifestyles,” he said. “End users still need to touch and see tangible products before making purchase decisions.
“That said, our virtual showroom has been popular throughout lockdown; we have seen increased hits to our website for this page. We are very excited to be launching a new showroom in the near future which will be bigger and better, showcasing an even greater range of market-leading products.”
For Raju, there is some comfort in seeing customers visit showrooms, and engage with products, especially following the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“During the first lockdown we had six weeks of zero demand,” he said. “Then demand started trickling through, initially from our customers serving construction sites. This was followed by trade work, which increased gradually over the following months.
“The biggest single worry was the uncertainty. Covid dwarfed the uncertainties of Brexit, and while demand has returned, the uncertainty has not lifted.”
Arkay responded to those challenges, and recognised the importance of staying in touch with the grass-roots community.
“Communicating with customers to keep them informed of any potential supply or production-related issues, and being able to respond quickly to changing market conditions and consumer demand, has always been important, but this has become more pertinent during these times,” Raju said.
“We are having more online and phone meetings with customers, and generally ramping up our online presence and online communication. Our telephone helpline opening hours have been extended and we have purchased new machinery to enhance production capacity to meet increased demand.
“Our office and factory environments have been adapted to render them Covid-secure. We’ve updated our health and safety, and risk assessments practices and policies, enabled remote-working, and installed sanitising stations with gel, masks and infra-red equipment to detect body temperature for visitors and staff.”
Raju also said that Arkay’s new Approved Partner Scheme will bring additional levels of support and new features, the details of which will soon be announced.
“Despite the increase in homeowner demand, there still exist many uncertainties around what could happen to this demand for fenestration once the landscape evolves and becomes less relevant,” Raju warned.
These include: the ongoing issues with Brexit; global Covid vaccinations, and potential Covid-mutations; and what will happen with the government business support packages. Furthermore, there is increased pressure on the cost of raw materials and general overheads, the effects of which still need to be filtered through the system, he said.
Meanwhile, consumer trends continue to evolve and present opportunities to those companies that are flexible enough to meet them.
While the demand for PVCU products has evolved to include different types of finishes, colours and laminates, along with the emergence of flush windows and doors, Raju picks out aluminium as a real winner in recent years.
“There has definitely been an increased demand for aluminium products,” he said. “We feel that the end user has greater awareness and appreciation for using fenestration to deliver aesthetics and lifestyles. This is driven by the greater availability of information in the media, and programmes like Grand Designs.
“Sustainability and energy efficiencies also play a significant role, especially where architects are involved in extensions and newbuilds.”
This, Raju argues, puts Arkay Windows in an advantageous position.
“Aluminium profile and glass suppliers are continually responding to deliver energy efficient products; the standards expected must in some way relate to the products currently available or being developed,” he said. “It is for manufacturers like us to embrace these changes and bring them to the market.”