Lower overheads and a more flexible business model has made the trade counter an industry success story. We catch-up with Pro-Trade Upvc, which has just opened its third offering.
Why have trade counters seen so much growth? Well you could argue that their the product of the last recession. As retailers felt the squeeze and cut fitters ‘loose’, so they set up on their own and went into competition with their former employers, buying in from trade counters along the way.
At the same time, there are others who argue that they’re the product of the corresponding squeeze on fabricators, those smaller manufacturers who have opted to come out of fabrication, buy-in and rationalize their business model.
While acknowledging that each may have had an impact, Paul Wilkins, Director Pro-Trade Upvc, argues that it’s the flexibility in its offer that makes the trade counter so successful. “You could argue it’s about price – we don’t have the overheads of a fabricator – but in reality, while we’re competitive, we don’t just sell on price.”
He continues: “It’s a mistake to assume that that’s all trade customers are interested in. In our experience, quality, service and support are just as, if not more important. We have seen growth by building a reputation for going the extra mile for our customers.”
And Pro-Trade has seen significant growth. The company was set up in 2010 by Lee Walker and joined soon after by Wilkins, as business partner, in Swadlincote, Derbyshire. Four years’ later, it opened its second site in Loughborough, and has just opened a third, its new 4,000 sq ft trade counter in Chesterfield.
“There are a lot of fitters and installers working out of Chesterfield so it made sense to go there and be closer to them”, says Paul. “It’s also a reflection of the demand that we’re seeing and our growing reputation. Our focus is Derbyshire but we supply far further afield – ultimately wherever our customers want us to go.”
In addition to the supply of a wide range of products, it underpins its offer with site survey and technical support, plus access to free skips and recycling bins. “We’re trying to make it as easy to deal with us as possible. We regularly get involved with surveys and offer technical support to our customers where they want or need it. That’s not there in many trade counters. We work hard to offer that little bit more”, he adds.
Pro-Trade began buying in windows and doors from Emplas, last year. The decision, is something Wilkins, who originally joined Pro-Trade from a background in fabrication, argues has been pivotal in supporting the company’s continuing growth.
“It’s been a really good decision”, he says. “The quality we get out of Emplas is superb and most importantly its reliably good. We’d encountered one or two issues with reliability and quality from our previous supplier, which had impacted a little bit on our own reputation.
“Those things are there with Emplas. The investment they’ve made in machinery and their own processes, is clear in the finish and what you get as a customer.
“Optima is a decent system and came in at the right time, because FS70 had become a little dated. It matches in well to a lot of different systems so delivers more flexibility.
“And the colour offer is great. We now sell more anthracite grey and special colours than we do of standard woodgrains like Rosewood and Oak.”
Emplas expanded its ex-stock colour range at the end of last year. Cutting lead times and reducing costs it’s new offer, has been carefully designed to support installers in tapping into growing end-user demand for premium foiled finishes.
It means that foiled Cream, Anthracite Grey, Anthracite Grey on White, Black Brown, and Black Brown on White are now available as ex-stock standard colours.
Sitting alongside existing ex-stock foil colours including White, Golden Oak and Rosewood, Emplas’ most popular foils are now available in lead times of 10 days or less.
“If you’re looking at the market as it is, I don’t know how smaller fabricators can make it work, when you can buy-in high-quality product from a large fabricator like Emplas. The model doesn’t stack up anymore, which is where we fit in.
“We can provide a level of service and support that fabricators can’t afford to because we don’t have the overheads associated with production that they do. We can focus on quality and service and not worry about production.
“For us it’s about value, how can we deliver the best service to our customers and that means buying in from the right supply partner.”
He added that Emplas’ customer support programme had also been influential in Pro-Trade’s decision to buy-in frames from it. This includes EVA, Emplas online Portal, which includes 24/7 online ordering and tracking, plus support tools including lead management software and automatic quotation pack creation.
“They [Emplas] have their own retail business and that’s reflected in the support that we get. EVA is great in what it offers us, it’s very easy to place an order and the wider retail support is there too. They’d have to really upset us for us to ever consider another supplier.”