Ryan Johnson, Group Managing Director at Emplas, explains why any business failure is bad for the industry.
The failure of any big window business inevitably draws comment. Safestyle and UKWG are two examples. Analysis has highlighted size, scale, and product offering. Safestyle, in particular, has drawn criticism from some for having too great a focus on ‘standard white PVC-U’.
They argue that this ‘narrow focus’ directly contributed to its downfall – a glaring failure on the part of the retail giant to recognise a shift in home improvement trends away from white product to foils, flush and aluminium – a failure of the volume model.
This analysis is far too simplistic. Yes, UKWG and Safestyle were volume businesses. But to attribute their failure to the decline of the mass-produced white window, for me, doesn’t resonate.
Sectors of the industry are pushing a narrative that home improvement is moving away from white PVC-U to colour and aluminium. They do it because they have a direct commercial interest – as we do.
Emplas manufactures white PVC-U windows at volume. We also manufacture and supply flush windows, foiled products and aluminium.
We started by manufacturing white PVC-U windows – and we grew by manufacturing white PVC-U windows. We’ve expanded and adapted our product offer along the way, but white PVC-U windows remain central to our offer.
Why? It’s because of demand. White casement windows are the backbone of this industry. They are packed with technology, including a new generation of smart products.
Flush, foils and aluminium are an important part of Emplas’ offer and the retail mix, but not everyone wants or can afford them. White casements are its foundation, and we should be proud of that, not talk down a technically advanced product.
The narrative that volume manufacture and white casements are the cause of Safestyle and UKWG’s demise is false. Venture capital and management failure play a far bigger part.
The loss of Safestyle is damaging. It’s been suggested that the gap that is left will lead to a cascade of leads to smaller independent retailers. There may be some short-term gains but, long-term, it will cost the industry.
Safestyle was an innovator. It built awareness and it generated leads through its spend on marketing. Safestyle reached people thinking about buying windows and people who didn’t even know that they were thinking about buying windows.
These leads used to filter down to independent installers. We know, we saw it in our own retail businesses.
I’m not suggesting Safestyle was a retail lead generation service for the rest of the industry, but it did create retail demand. Independent retailers are going to have to fill that void by increasing their own marketing spend.
I also want to push back on some of the comments about the volume model. Volume fabricators are drivers of innovation. We work in partnership with our suppliers to develop new products and we set new standards for service and support.
Emplas’ partnerships with Kubu and Avantis have been instrumental in bringing new innovations to market. We also work closely with Epwin to drive positive change in our industry.
The work that we have done on 24/7 ordering, or tracking, two-hour delivery slots and 20-minute notifications on arrival have driven a shift in expectations of service. We have more exciting developments to come in 2024, which will move the industry even further forward.
That innovation has been built on demand for the white casement window and will continue to be built on it. We would be wise to remember it.