It was a challenging third quarter for merchants selling PVC-U windows and doors, possibly linked to a slowdown in consumer confidence: quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year enquiry levels were well down. Nevertheless, builders’ merchants’ sales of PVC-U windows and doors were up around 15% in Q3 2017 compared with the same period last year.
This level of growth is very strong, particularly as overall sales in the PVC-U windows and doors market are down nearly 10% on 2016. How can that be, and how can we be confident that merchants’ sales will continue to grow strongly?
What we are seeing is a big shift in builders’ routes to market: in effect a swing back to builders’ merchants where builders source most of their materials. Twenty years ago, builders who wanted to buy PVC-U windows had to go to their local window fabricator. But with the rise of very large trade fabricators, many with their own chain of small trade counters, it became uneconomic for local window fabricators to make windows and over 1,000 of them stopped and bought them in from large trade firms. So builders switched and bought from chains of trade counters instead.
However, since builders’ merchants have got their act together to sell bespoke PVC-U windows and doors in any style and any colour in 5 days, builders are switching to merchants to buy where they get all their other building materials. It is estimated that over 15,700 builders now install PVC-U windows and doors for the home, conservatories or other extensions – it’s a big shift as merchants win their customers back and take share of a valuable £5 billion a year market.
Sustainable growth though, will come from merchants that are able to create a seamless customer experience between in-branch and online. Purchasing behaviours have changed significantly in recent years, greatly influenced by digital. Merchants that combine virtual reality with in-branch showrooms and initiatives, and invest in slick processes that make it easy, quick and efficient to buy, will be the winners in the long run.