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Replacing the replacements

European Scene: Window fabricators have incredible...


May 9, 2008
By John Roper

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European Scene: Window fabricators have incredible survivor record.

Reports of the demise of the UK window industry may have been somewhat exaggerated. Of course it was never going to go away completely, people still need windows and the industry as a whole does have an incredible survival record.

Two recent reports have been pretty positive about the prospects; our own, regular WHS Halo Report which interviews window manufacturers about their activities in the previous quarter and the more recent Plimsoll Report which monitors the financial performance of companies.

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The Halo Report found fabricators reporting order books up on this time last year and up on the previous quarter. Good news, though things are still not as good as two years ago and we are still faced with a steady 10 year decline in demand and prices.

Somebody put it to me recently that in the 1970s an average house in the South of England would cost you about 70,000 pounds. To replace all of the windows would have cost about 9000 pounds. Right now the same house is worth upwards of 350,000 pounds but the same windows (actually much better now as the technology has developed) would come in at about 4000 pounds. You don’t need a math degree to spot the problem. Mind you it puts into perspective the ‘Holy Grail’ of the window industry: replacing the replacements. Or: “Now that all of the rotten wooden windows have been replaced with indestructible plastic, how do we persuade homeowners to shell out again on a new lot of indestructible plastic windows?”

It’s not going to happen. At least not in a way that will take us all back to the heady days of the early ‘80s when window salesmen wore Rolex watches and drove Bentleys. The real scenario is that someone buying a house is likely to include the windows in a refurb program because it won’t be a major cost and anyway, the new homeowner probably wants new doors and a conservatory as well. But if you have lived in a house for 20 years and you still remember the pain of window fitters trying to destroy your property by replacing windows that are still working, you are unlikely to want to replace them regardless of the technology or how cheap they are.

The other good news is the Plimsoll Report which, from a financial perspective, finds companies mostly in good health. The full report runs to almost 2500 pages and reports on companies on an individual basis. In brief, of the 2000 window companies it looked at, 28 percent were rated as ‘strong’ with only 15 percent being given a ‘danger’ rating.

You could argue that the rest could go either way. Plimsoll rates 26 percent with a ‘caution’, with ‘mediocre’ and ‘good’ getting 18 percent and 13 percent, respectively. In the end, I suppose it depends which of them you are planning to do business with.

The pluses and minuses to look out for are the price of oil: many vinyl extruders still have price structures based on $25 a barrel against the current $70, a big ouch factor which is bound to bite. On the plus side, ecological considerations are big political business and the recyclability of vinyl, as well as aluminum, make them favourite materials.

The WHS Halo Report can be found at: www.521621.com or at www.pro-finder.co.uk and follow the links to the June issue of The Fabricator. The Plimsoll Report on UK doors and windows costs 350 pounds and can be ordered through email: m.aston@plimsoll.co.uk -end-

*John Roper is editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazines published in the UK. His comments reflect opinions from the UK and may not be applicable in Canada.


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