Absolutely not, says Sean Mackey of jade Engineering, who Window News spoke to at the recent Glazing Summit.
The recent Glazing Summit again impressed overall, with high quality presentations and standing room only for an impressive cross-section of the window and door industry’s great and good. Of the presentations made, one of the most thought provoking was Alex Tremlett’s, Insight Data’s Operations Manager, because it was a bald, stark analysis of the industry’s company stats: effectively the industry’s corporate births, deaths and marriages.
Alex’s first slide showed the decline overall in fabricators and installers operating in the window and door sector. A loss across the board of just over 1,500 companies since 2017 would suggest that our industry is in decline, whilst further data presented showed that the main casualties have been installation firms, losing 1,441 overall.
Within this is a drop of 64 firms that are no longer fabricating window and door frames. This represents the core customer base of Jade Engineering, which has the proud boast of supplying machine tools to every PVC-U frame maker in the UK and Ireland, and the majority of those churning out aluminium frames. Jade’s Sean Mackey, who runs the business with Adam Jones, is the firm’s numbers man, an accountant by training, and he offered his views on the statistics and how the decline in his customer base is affecting their trade: “The reduction in the number of fabricators might be taken as showing a decline in the window and door industry as we know it,” reflected Sean. “But the reality is that it is consolidation, with the business of the fabricators leaving the industry or going out of business, being absorbed by the remaining companies.
“It has been a very bumpy road since 2020, with the surge in orders during the early lockdowns, then levelling off to a manageable level. The 20 to 25% drop that delegates to the Glazing Summit appeared to agree on for the current period, with economist Ed Johnstone’s presentation forecasting that the UK economy is heading for bleaker times next year as large numbers of mortgages become due for renegotiation, must give everyone in our industry cause for concern.
“However, as the question was how do we view the decline in the number of PVC-U fabricators, the remaining companies have simply absorbed the business of those leaving the industry, which the presentation showed was just 18 in the past two years. Additionally, the number of fabricators producing frames in aluminium has increased in the same period from just 802 in 2014 to 921 in 2023, with a gain of 37 in the past two years. We have not seen the emergence of the ‘Super Fabricator’ that was widely forecast 15 years ago or so, but those companies serving the industry are far more professional, with few making frames without sophisticated, complex machinery including CNC controlled equipment. And that is our bread and butter,” said Sean.
Sean also explained that the demise of UK Window and Door Group (UKWDG), and in particular the systems house Duraflex, has skewed Jade Engineering’s trading activities this year: “What we hope remains a rare occasion for the sake of the industry, Duraflex ceasing to trade created a surge of fabricators seeking a new systems supplier and having done so, a rush to retool. Jade provides tools for every PVC-U systems company operating in the UK and Ireland and the three months following the Duraflex announcement pushed our resources to the limit. We have now settled back into a more normal routine after considerable disruption.”
On a final note Sean offered a positive note, reflecting on the final slide in Alex Tremlett’s presentation that summarised installers showing cautious optimism: “Considering the quite severe financial impact of energy costs and interest rates, for 71% of installers to respond that they expected their businesses to remain around the same or even grow slightly during the next year or two, is remarkable.
“From our point of view, demand for machine tools and sales of our specialist single purpose tools, remains very strong and that is our real-world experience, irrespective of what any poll shows. Let’s hope that continues.”