One of the areas of growth in our industry over the past few years has been the rise of the trade counter. They’ve become a staple of the industry, with some businesses putting trade counters at the very centre of their business plans.

We all know the main ones. Eurocell has a large network of trade counters, GAP also has a large network of counters, Lister Trade Frames have their BIG Trade Counter. They have become a tried and trusted back up for those in the industry who need to pick up extra materials for ongoing installations, small parts orders or the odd product that fabricators don’t always stock as standard.

Many also supply windows and doors through those trade counters. And that for me is where lines begin to blur and certain issues arise.

What checks?

As we all should know by now, to legally fit windows and doors, you need to be qualified to do so. And you can only be part of a self-certification scheme, like FENSA, if you are qualified. Failing that, you get your local council to assess a new window and door installation to obtain a certificate to state that the project is fine and the house can be sold in the future without fuss. That’s a basic model of how the installation market works now.

But this is based on installers buying from fabricators within a trusted relationship and the installer doing the right thing and ensuring that either themselves or those they employ to fit on their behalf are qualified or becoming qualified. What about the guy who roles up to a trade counter in a car or unmarked van and purchases a few windows with the intention of fitting them?

This is a scenario that I assume plays out on a regular basis. Modern trade counters don’t just supply trims and silicones. Full windows and doors are readily available. But given the new legislation, do trade counters have their own checks to make sure their customers are legal to fit windows and doors? Do they just serve their customer as it’s not their responsibility to police the installation market?

I genuinely don’t know the answer. I hope that they do in fact check all their installer customers to make sure they can prove they have the relevant cards and qualifications before they go an buy windows to fit from their trade counter. If they don’t, then there is quite an obvious loop hole in the legislation that needs to be fixed. If there is this loop hole, then this not only serves to work against the new rules that are designed to make the industry more accountable and professional, but also works against the installers that have worked hard to become compliant with the new rules.

Price suppressor?

Another characteristic of a trade counter is their pricing. It can be confidently assumed that most trade counters offer products at “trade prices” that are cheaper than going to a fabricator. In our industry’s case, you could walk into a trade counter and order a standard sized window cheaper than you might be able to from a fabricator.

Whilst this is OK for the counter and for the person buying that window, it’s takes business away from a fabricator, who could then accuse that trade counter of helping to suppress prices or even drive them lower.

This is where a new battle ground has opened up. Trade counters and businesses with trade counters have spotted a niche where trade counters can provide handy rapid business to trades people and installers looking for products in quick time and low prices. At the same time, fabricators are working hard to maintain margins, raising prices in places, looking to gain new installers and customers and help existing customers grow using their products. Trade counters can erode this and I very much doubt many established fabricators might not want to see the trade counter business expand too quickly.

Here to stay

It’s important to remember that for a lot of installers, of all sizes, trade counters provide a very helpful and sometimes specialised service.

If an installer is needing a few extra trims, silicones of a certain colour, some fixings, they can nip to a trade counter and get what they need there and then, for very little expenditure. It means the days work can get done and the installer gets paid.

And they make money too. You wouldn’t see such a growing network of them if they didn’t. There has to be balance however between these and fabrication. Trade counters should also be working to enforce the new regulations. I believe they, as well as all fabricators, should have a responsibility to ensure their installer customers are fitting their products in a legal manner. It helps no one if they’re not.

Trade counters are here to stay, whether we like it or not. I have seen opposing views on trade counters in recent months, and if you would like to add to the debate, please add your thoughts via the Facebook comments or standard comments section below.

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