Tarred with the same brush?

Dear Nathan

Re: Home Discomforts 

Our organisation has supplied the social housing sector with replacement windows for almost 25 years, and GRP composite doors for more than 15 years. My predecessor held strong views about quality and service being paramount at an appropriate price; something he called ‘best value’. Something we protect with a passion and vigour I think he would be proud of.

We first went into the new build sector seven years ago and we like to bring the same virtues to our dealings in this market, as we do in the refurbishment sector. But it’s not always possible, as you say, due to the tight margins that exist in the market. We have occasionally received feedback from potential customers – particularly on the larger jobs – indicating the difference in offers was substantially lower than our own offer. I’d be very concerned that much of the product being offered at rock-bottom prices is fully robust and fit for purpose in the longer term.

Most suppliers’ products look great when newly fitted – but most of the perils are hidden beneath the surface, and the client, contractor and (more importantly) the homeowner can’t tell just how poor the product actually is. I’m actually surprised it isn’t more of an issue for the likes of NHBC or LABC, who presumably are left to pick up these issues under warranty.

I wonder if part of the problem might be that homes tend to be offered with ten-year warranties, but I understand the builder’s responsibility might be only for the first two years, leaving the insurance to cover the next eight years.

We have had a range of problems brought to our attention from customers who have been caught out.

We have seen numerous instances where windows have been supplied with wide outer frame to the head to accommodate the trickle vent, with narrow outer frame to the sides – leading to the ends of the head being exposed and prone to water ingress. This is an automatic non-compliance to the most basic parts of the specification.

We have seen evidence of screws rusting because they are not stainless or austenitic.

We have seen on a local job wholesale dropping of side hung sashes because the hinge is incapable of sustaining the weight of the sash.

We have seen the occasional job where the glass is not laminated to the ground floor but cheaper float glass.

We have also had several instances of customers bemoaning the standard of service from window contractors – not turning up, turning up on site but only fitting the odd window, installing bits and pieces across numerous plots but not finishing any, poor quality installation and finishing off, bad attitude on site, health and safety breaches, not coming back to snag works leaving them unable to be handed over, the list goes on.

We’ve even had two instances where we have been asked to price for remedial works, to put right works done by another company who refuse to return to bring the work up to standard.

There are different but equally concerning issues in relation to the retail sector, where in many areas of the ‘furniture’ sector, including the window industry, advertise heavily, promoting ‘sales’. I spent nearly ten years in the furniture industry so I know the difference between a genuine sale and ‘price establishment’*. Some firms have discounted price lists, and you have no idea if they are genuine discounts or not. Then they seem to be able to produce ‘special deals’ only available if you sign today. It can’t be possible to have so frequent or even permanent sales without them being, shall we say, not genuine sales at all.

It’s a shame that so many unwitting members of the public get suckered into falling for these so-called ‘deals’.

There are many good, reputable companies that have operated in the window industry for a long time. Like in most walks of life, the vast majority can be trusted, but unfortunately a small number have poor standards and cannot be trusted – and have the potential to tarnish the reputation of the honest majority.

Over the years we have seen a number of changes in how procurement is done; there are indications that some house builders are beginning to value the virtues of quality and service to a higher degree and accept that lowest price isn’t everything.

We hope that the slow trend we are seeing towards ethical, honest business and willingness of larger contractors to engage with our type of business will continue on.

*Price establishment: to sell a product in at least six stores for at least 30 days at a higher price, which allows you to reduce the price by 50% and call it a half-price sale.

Name and address supplied.