Are Commercial and residential systems the same?

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Nick Dardalis

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Our recent article about how commercial systems can be used in a residential property reinforces that there is a different perception by fabricators and installers of commercial and residential systems.

What it also reinforces for you as an installer is that unless you have both commercial and residential experience you may be losing out sales opportunities. What it says to us, more importantly, is that the aluminium industry is not getting its marketing right. And, it could be costing the grass roots installer sales, and limiting choice for the end user customer.

Who is responsible for bringing a brand in front of the consumer?

kawneer windows and doors in residential properties.
Who is responsible for placing a brand in front of a consumer? Is it the systems company, a fabricator or an installer?

Study the websites of some of the best home improvement companies in the UK, and they all seem to offer the same products and the same systems. Is this ‘me too’ philosophy that seems to have been adopted stifling the market or making it more competitive?

Aluminium may be more expensive than PVCu, but the same ‘buy on price’ principle that has plagued the mass PVCu market for nearly three decades has started to infect the aluminium sector as well.  One needs only to look at trade media to see bifolding doors at rock-bottom prices by some suppliers.

Are you an installer that buys fabricated aluminium windows and doors from a trade supplier? If so, how much choice to you have? What influenced your decision as to what system to buy? Was it price, service or the perception of the system as more residential than commercial?

Have you ever considered looking at systems like

  • Comar
  • Kawneer
  • Kestrel
  • Senior
  • Technal
  • IKON
  • Or others?

If you did, what did you think?

Despite the best efforts of the home improvement industry to market itself as a diverse industry with a broad range of products, we believe installers and homeowners are missing out on the range of aluminium systems by other systems companies.

What we find interesting about the recent episode of Grand Designs featuring Senior Architectural Systems is that it reinforces what we have believed for a long time.  That the residential market as diverse as it might appear is missing out on a fantastic range of windows and doors that are unjustifiably perceived as commercial. Even Senior acknowledges that they are regarded as a commercial systems company in their recent press release.

Are systems companies getting their marketing wrong?

The multi-tiered and complex nature of the door and window industry we think is stifling opportunity for you as a grass roots installer.  After all, it is you the installer that ultimately sells a product to the end user. It is your showroom they visit; it is your chosen products they see.

Of course, the current customer will do their research in trying to find the most suitable window and door for their home. What they’ll also find in many cases is a lack of choice unless they know how to source the right windows and doors. But more on that later.

We think, a combination of incorrect marketing by the Systems Companies, the little desire by trade suppliers to provide real value to their customers and complacency by installers is to blame.

If you’re reading this article as a systems company, a fabricator or as an installer, who do you think is responsible for bringing the system itself in front of the consumer?

Who is responsible for selling a brand to the customer? The installer or the systems company?

What should be done to make a customer desire and ask for by name, a Reynaers Sliding door, the brilliant Smarts Alitherm 47 Heritage suite or the splendid AluK window? Let’s look at what options are available in the key tiers of the aluminium supply chain.

The Aluminium Systems Company.

new rental properties with aluminium windows.
Senior PURe windows have been specified in a 1.8m contract of new windows for dwellings in Manchester.

If we look at how aluminium systems are marketed it seems the systems companies could be getting it wrong.

With few exceptions, study the press releases of the systems companies, and they are mostly targeted at the specifier.  Their press releases are consistent in highlighting that their systems have been installed in recent commercial developments of schools, hospitals, colleges, airports or office buildings.

All the systems companies offer an excellent range of residential windows and doors including sliding and bifolding doors. However, some systems companies such as Senior Architectural Systems, Kawneer, Kestrel, Comar, Metal Technology and others install these in developments of new flats and houses.  Does the homeowner ever see these systems in the typical double glazing showroom?

It is understandable that the systems company focuses on commercial contracts and getting their systems specified. This is a crucial market for a systems company.  However, the beneficiary of brilliant, innovative and well-designed aluminium windows and doors by systems like Seniors or Kawneer tends to be the purchaser of these new properties rather than the typical homeowner replacing their old windows or building a new extension. In several areas, these commercially perceived systems are different and in many cases more innovative and better.

But what about this type of customer? Should the systems companies not be developing their brand to bring it right in front of these clients more? Or is this the responsibility of their fabricators? We already have homeowner focused websites by Reynaers and AluK but what we don’t know is how effective these are.

The aluminium fabricator.

retail double glazing brochure.
REAL Aluminium offers an easy to understand yet highly comprehensive retail brochure that sells and informs on aluminium.

Certain aluminium manufacturers offer a general product range and others that provide a broad product line.  CDW Systems in Gloucester that fabricates for the trade has publicly stated that part of their growth strategy is to bring in one new system a year. This is fantastic news for their customer base, but CDW Systems is the exception rather than the rule.

If your aluminium fabricator is buying bar length and extrusions from a systems company, their function as a business is to provide unglazed fabricated doors and windows to installers.  Many trade suppliers offer fantastic marketing packages to their customers. Real Aluminium By Customade, Lister Trade Frames, Everglade Windows are just three examples of experienced and long established trade manufacturers that consider it necessary to support their installers with showroom set-ups, brochures, samples and marketing support.

Origin is a fantastic example of a business that believes in the overall brand.  Few trade suppliers offer Origin branded boxes, end user manuals and even key fobs. Visit their factor and their brand is everywhere for their staff and customers to see. Most trade suppliers will not make this effort to promote their brand.

You the installer.

Depending on the size of your business how do you sell your windows and doors? Do you leave it up to your trade supplier to provide you with literature or is this up to the systems company? How do you go about researching what aluminium doors and windows to sell? Are you even aware of the systems available to you by other systems companies that feature on Grand Designs where your system may not? Why are these systems specified in the first place?

We think the systems companies should focus the same amount of effort in marketing to the end user as they do to architects and specifiers.  If people are coming into your showroom asking for a product by name, you are more likely to source it. And if that customer is insistent, they’ll go elsewhere.

Those that fabricate and install are the more expert window company.

senior curtain walling and windows in a house.
Commercial Senior SCW+Curtain Walling and SPW600 Doors featured in this idyllic modern home.

Look at Grand Designs and other home renovation shows, and it is a different type of window company that comes to the forefront.  These are not new businesses, they have been around for a long time.  These are the companies that fabricate and install.

Alphamet in Manchester and Soundcraft Doors and Windows are two examples of window companies that manufacture, install and carry out commercial as well as residential work. They have the expertise to look at a project and know that they can offer not just a residential suite of windows and doors but a commercial one as well.

Our research into who has carried out the installations of windows and doors on programmes such as Grand Designs shows that it is these manufacturing and installation companies that are often chosen.

Aluminium Systems companies must engage more with the end user.

We are currently carrying out an aluminium systems company survey that is reinforcing what we’ve long believed. That the perception of aluminium systems companies is mostly formed by how they market themselves.  And most are choosing the commercial route rather than the residential even though they have domestic products on offer.

The product range of many Systems Companies is perceived by many as commercial when the reality is that they are entirely fit for purpose residentially in any application. We wonder if the systems companies are happy with this perception? We hope to help them when we reveal the results of our survey later in the year.

As good as the marketing by systems companies may be, there should be less reliance on their fabricators that fabricate and install to sell their systems and less dependence on the installer by the trade manufacturer as well.