"Are you leaving a lot of easy sales on the table for your competitors?" asks Steve Halford, Group Managing Director of the Crystal Group.
One of the most keenly discussed reports in the industry, the BMN Leading Lights supplement, is about growth: who’s grown and how much since last year. It only covers the headlines - number of branches, people, turnover and growth - but that’s all you need to see. It’s simple. All in one place, and endlessly absorbing because it’s the closest we’ve got to an annual report on the temperature of the industry and its major players.
Growth is also a reasonable proxy for business health. Are you too cautious or investing too little? Your competitors will race by. Ignore the risks and spend, spend, spend? You’ll trip and come to grief.
The report shows merchants are growing strongly. Most are growing profitably, too, but could they grow faster more profitably? Sometimes, when you are looking for new products and new markets to expand into, larger, lower risk opportunities are overlooked.
Merchants are used to selling kitchens and bathrooms and doing well from them. But what other low risk showroom products could be sold to their customers? One large builders’ merchant recently told me kitchens and bathrooms accounted for around 6% of sales.
According to estimates by MTW Research, total UK kitchen sales were around £3bn in 2017, while an estimate from AMA indicated bathroom product sales of around £0.9bn in 2017. Comparing markets is always tricky – it depends what’s included or excluded, and how they are measured, among other things - but in round terms we estimate the market for PVC-U windows, doors and conservatories at around £5bn. That’s a bit more than kitchens and bathrooms combined.
Builders’ merchants’ sales of bespoke PVC-U windows, doors and conservatories to this market are surging. They are growing fast because (a) Crystal has made it exceptionally easy for merchants to sell what was once a complicated bespoke product, and (b) because it is easy for merchants to sell a product to existing customers that they have been buying somewhere else. Especially when the choice, range, quality and speed of service merchants can offer is the same or better than they have been getting.
But not all merchants have jumped on the bandwagon. Looking at the turnover figures in BMN Leading Lights and halving the 6% percentage to 3% of sales, to be conservative, several merchants could be leaving annual sales of £3m-£6m a year on the table for little risk or investment. On top of that there’s the additional building products, the sealants, ancillaries and trims etc they buy with the windows and doors.
Are you getting your share of this growth market?
In an uncertain economy and otherwise soft window market, builders' merchants’ success has been outstanding. The industry is transforming the PVC-U market for independent merchants, regional chains, and large nationals.