If there is an area in our industry that could be classed as a disruptor it might be the trade counter business. Over the past few years trade counter business has seen a pretty impressive rise.

We can see the strength in the trade counter business in windows and doors by the recent purchase of Truemans Windows by Stevenswood. Their recent deal with Polyframe and now Truemans has seen Stevenswood create a network across the UK, where previously they were based just in Scotland. This deal would not have been done if there wasn’t a clear spike in demand for trade counters.

Question is, how far can this boost go, and what effects will it have on the industry?

How big is the potential?

For me, there is a ton of potential to exploit if you’re in the trade counter business. There is the obvious sort of trade, where window fitters go to trade counters to pick up trims, fixings, silicones etc for what they need for that particular job. There will always be that sort of business to be had.

But trade counters now do far more. Take Eurocell’s network of trade counters. Yes you can pick up your standard stuff you would expect, but you can order and pick up products from their window and door range, including lantern roofs and roofline system products. You could literally run your installations business through Eurocell’s trade counters if you really wanted.

That ability to have everything over the counter is spreading beyond trade counters themselves. For example, colour specialists Kolorseal are also a Eurocell and roofline trade counter. They then have the ability to spray any of those products as part of the service. Something unique to them. But here we have a business that primarily deals in colouring of PVCu and aluminium windows and doors, yet has the ability to win extra business by simply including a trade counter as part of their overall offering. Useful for installers who need some last minute kit and even more useful if it has to be sprayed a custom colour.

You also have businesses like Lister Trade Frames who have a very successful and well established trade counter. The potential for trade counters is massive right now, as fabricators see the opportunity to grab market share by enticing DIY-ers and small level installers to get more and more of the products they need from them, rather than places like Screwfix, Toolstation and other similar companies.

Convenience, cheap prices and massive availability are all big pulls for those who buy from window and door trade counters. However, there is one area of this business that concerns me and that is to do with regulation. Are trade counters a way for less than honest installers to get around the NVQ and MTC system?

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Legal technicalities

Technically speaking, you now cannot fit a window or a door without having either an NVQ or MTC card. You can also not be allowed to be part of organisations like FENSA without having either of the two. The system is now set up in such a way that you can’t be part of a self-cert scheme without having a window and door qualification. You can’t fit a window without it, unless you then go through the tedious process of getting the council to check off your installation each and every time.

The whole point of this system, whether you agree with it or not, is to make it much more difficult for people who have access to a van who think they can throw a few windows in and call themselves an installer. Our industry has long had a problem with those looking to get on the bandwagon, and we all know there are some fitting windows and doors that really shouldn’t be.

At the moment, fabricators could check up on the installers they supply to make sure they’re doing things the right way. I’m not sure how many do, but if some are, then kudos to them for trying to operate a business in an honest way. My concern however with trade counters is that because they are open to the public and trade, anyone could buy a window or door over the counter and fit it, either for themselves or for a “customer”. Remember, technically you can only fit windows and doors for customer’s if you’re qualified to do so and be part of a certification programme. How likely is it that all those who trade counters sell windows and doors to abide by these rules and regs?

My guess is that quite a few won’t be. I know that during our time to find new installers at our place, many who we talked to about NVQs and MTCs didn’t have a clue what we were talking about. So I think it is a safe bet that there will be a decent number of installers and DIY fitters out there buying their products over counters, fitting them, but not registering them or even being qualified to fit windows and doors.

So should it be the responsibility of trade counters to ask for proof of qualification before products are sold? If you are a trade counter business and you’re reading this, it would be good to get your take on this, and if you do indeed background check your customers before windows and doors are sold to them. And if we’re going to talk about who is responsible for making sure installers are qualified, we should talk about the whole of the fabrication sector and their approach to selling to their installers. Should it be that if an installer doesn’t have qualified fitters or isn’t part of a self-cert scheme then they shouldn’t be supplied to?

I know that this is a subject that has been brought up in the past, and it has been suggested that a system like this could really cut the deadwood out of the installation part of the sector by sidelining businesses who refuse to play by the rules.

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