In the past, very few merchants have felt comfortable selling PVC-U windows and doors, despite it being a lucrative market. However, that’s all set to change as NMBS-approved supplier Crystal Direct is simplifying this process. BMN’s Nichola Farrugia met with Steve Halford, managing director, to find out more.

Within any successful business you need a mixture of knowledge, experience and the right attitude. Crystal Direct, a manufacturer of PVC-U windows, doors and conservatories, is hoping that its latest venture will bring just that.

Set up in 1990 by chairman Martin Randall, a window fitter by trade, Crystal has grown from a small installation business to one of the biggest fabricators in the country, producing more than 1,200 frames a week on a single shift at its factory in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, for national housebuilders, builders and installers.

Now into its 25th year of trading, Crystal’s remarkable growth shows no sign of stopping, having recently signed a three-year supplier agreement with NMBS to supply its members with a wide range of PVC-U windows and doors.

“Historically, independent merchants have avoided buying and selling PVC-U windows and doors because it hasn’t been an easy process for them,” explained Steve Halford. “As a result, their customers have been buying these high ticket value items elsewhere, despite the merchant selling all of the other products that go around a window or door.”

A market of opportunity
To overcome this issue, Crystal identified that if it could open the market to merchants by removing the barriers and making it easy to buy and sell PVC-U products, then it could provide them with a lucrative selling opportunity where they can achieve good margins.

“Merchants like complete solutions,” acknowledged Mr Halford. “They don’t like part of a solution where they have to source products from different places and bring them together. So, by working closely with NMBS field representatives, we can offer members a personal service that is tailored to their every need.

Crystal takes care of it all
Working with Crystal couldn’t be more simple for NMBS members. As the company’s products are bespoke and made to measure, there is no need for merchants to stock any windows or doors on the shop floor or in the warehouse. Therefore, there is no capital outlay or money tied up in stock. A five-day turnaround is available on made-to-measure windows and doors, with free nationwide delivery. Meanwhile, orders are GPS tracked so that merchants know exactly when their window and doors will arrive, and they can be delivered to either a specified depot or directly to the customer’s site address.

Crystal fully supports NMBS members with free sales and promotional material to help them sell the products to their customers. This comprehensive marketing material can be individually tailored and branded to include the merchant’s details and the prices it wishes to sell the products at.

To support the merchant even further, the manufacturer has also introduced CESAR (Crystal Exhibition Showroom and Representation vehicle) – a purpose- built HGV product demonstration lorry to help merchants capitalise on the growing demand from builders for PVC-U windows and doors.

Covering 63sq m, the fully extendable mobile showroom, with meeting room and full audio and visual facilities, displays Crystal’s best-selling products as well as marketing material. Available free of charge to all NMBS members for open days and product launches, CESAR is fully staffed by Crystal representatives. What’s more, the company will contribute 50% towards any catering costs incurred should a merchant decide to provide food and drink for their customers.

“CESAR is a great way for merchants and their customers to see our product range first-hand from the comfort of their own premises,” said Mr Halford.

“To book the mobile showroom, all merchants have to do is complete the booking form that is provided in the ‘Welcome Pack’, which is sent to all NMBS members, and send it back to us. Once we have received the form, we will send the merchant branded invitations highlighting when CESAR will be visiting the branch, so they can give them out to their customers.”

Since introducing CESAR in November 2014, the mobile showroom has visited a number of merchants up and down the country. One company who recently started ordering PVC-U windows and doors through Crystal is Joseph Parr. CESAR visited the merchant’s branches in Stockton and Benton towards the end of last year to help its staff sell PVC-U windows and doors to its builder customers.

Having heard about Crystal through an NMBS campaign, David Anderson, managing director of Joseph Parr, has been impressed by the service the merchant has received from the manufacturer, and also by what CESAR had to offer. He said: “Customers were really impressed with the quality of the products inside, and we even had a few orders there and then on both days. PVC-U windows are a big potential market for us and we had great feedback from our customers. We’re even planning to do another roadshow.”

Encouraging take-up
In the four months since Crystal signed an agreement with NMBS, the manufacturer has continued to receive an increased number of enquiries from merchants wanting quotes. “The speed of take-up from merchants has been very encouraging as they receive more tender drawings from their customers,” said Mr Halford. “Once we receive a drawing, we will send the merchant a quote within 24 hours, so that they are able to deal with their customers efficiently.”

As merchants switch on to the opportunities available from Crystal, some have been surprised at the scale of business to be had. “One merchant received two orders with a combined value of £100,000 in one week,” said Mr Halford. “For our part, we’re building a future pipeline of business, and need to manage the growth opportunities we receive from NMBS members. It’s about managing growth and structuring the business – both operationally and financially.”

This article first appeared in the February 2015 issue of Builders' Merchants News.