That headline by the way is a very rough rule of thumb, and an answer to a question I put to my hosts during my visit to Belgium last week. So not scientific fact, but an answer from a guy with much more knowledge about the state of the window industry in that country than myself.
Be prepared, by the way, for a slew of posts inspired by subjects talked about from when I was over there! There was much to discuss and I came back with a ton of post ideas!
So, if a place like Belgium is able to pay twice what our average is for a house full of windows and doors, it’s high time our prices needed to rise to match that. Let me explain why.
Do a bit of digging and you’ll see that in a UK vs Belgium/Eurozone growth and GDP battle, the UK mostly comes out on top, and is the 5th biggest economy on the planet. For now at least anyway. And in this UK vs Belgium living costs comparison, the UK is a winner too.
So, we have more spending power and lower living costs. We could, on economic factors alone, argue strongly that Brits could afford to put their hands in their pockets a bit deeper and pay a bit more for their rather vital windows and doors. The very things that block up every hole in every building, keep the cold and criminals out, and that give character to any structure.
I’m working here on an average cost of about £10k for typical house full of windows and doors, taking into account higher average prices in the south and lower in the north. According to info from a much more knowledgeable person than I, Belgians pay twice what we do, roughly, for the same amount of work. I was also told that prices for things like profile on the continent are much more profitable than the UK. A point I will address later on in the post.
But when you hear something like that, and you look at the areas we travelled in, I saw no reason why the UK would not be able to charge a similar rate for a similar amount of work. Of course being able and being willing to charge more are two very different things indeed.
From an economic standpoint though, the UK, even with the B-word currently ongoing, would appear that it could handle higher window and door prices.
Positive approach to construction
The more you look at the way other countries go about construction and the materials used in construction, including windows and doors, the more you begin to understand that the UK has it all drastically wrong.
Here, it remains very much price first. A big chunk of the window and door industry conducts it’s sales based on price first, USPs firmly in second. You can see it in your inboxes every week, where you’ll have aluminium bi-folds being sold cheaper and cheaper by the leaf. Or low-end basic composite doors being made and delivered to you in 17 minutes. It’s all price driven, and it’s dragging everyone down in the race to the bottom.
In other countries, specifically Belgium in this example, you only need to look at the homes being built as you drive around to see that there is so much more pride taken in the construction of their houses. For a start nearly everyone is different. You don’t have estate after estate of lifeless, dull, boring homes built by super-massive house builders like Persimmon. Each one is different, by way of building material. And I’ll say this, they did not scrimp on the windows and doors. There were some spectacular installations on display as we drove down the streets of the towns and villages. Nothing average at all. And a real mix of materials and colours.
A lot of homes were self-built too. Land over there is cheap compared to the UK, so it’s not a prohibitive factor. It means people can buy land and use most of their money to build fantastic homes and worry less about cutting corners on build quality.
All of this centres around the fundamental point that our industry has been and may always will be price focused. When price becomes the primary selling point, everything else suffers. Quality of products, quality of service, range, development and research, it all suffers because it becomes a struggle to be profitable.
Can you imagine the profit margins made on a house full of windows and doors sold at twice the price over there than in the UK? All because the industry in Europe, and indeed home owners, simply understand that to do things well, they have to pay for it. Here, we want the best of everything but on a shoestring budget.
If I use our installations business as an example, and use only a door to give you an idea what we charge home owners. The average composite door we sell would go for around £1600 including VAT and installation. Many go for more than that if the home owner has added a few more bells and whistles. Our PVCu engineered doors (midrails and mullions) also go for similar amounts. Many of our competitors on the other hand advertise their doors starting from a third of that price. Whilst in reality that price will go up as there are a ton of ifs and buts when you read the fine print, all it serves to do is to condition the public negatively on price, setting aside concerns of quality and security. It forces the prices down locally.
That being said, we do well with our approach to sales and focus on quality first, and because of that we pick up a certain type of customer. But we shouldn’t be in a minority of companies where we are. Had the attitude of our industry been to focus on quality, and set aside price decades ago, perhaps now we might have been in a position the same as other countries where our sector is far more profitable.
We are where we are, and we find ourselves, only because of our own shortcomings, at the mercy of commercial decisions being made by those at the very top of the supply chain which are creating shortages of materials and price increases, artificial or otherwise. Until we learn that price cannot be the single most important factor in sales, then we’re only going to continue to make operating a profitable business in this industry harder.
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