There was no doubting that the aluminium representation was the largest in the history of the FIT Show. In the exhibitions since it’s launch, the 2017 show had the most aluminium syscos and fabricators exhibiting new and existing products. A sign of the times.

It’s worth mentioning though that there is room to grow aluminium representation for the 2019 show. There was still a number of very large, notable aluminium houses without representation this year. For 2019 I would like to see a more rounded, fuller aluminium representation next time. Perhaps it could bring a bigger commercial footfall with it too.

One thing I did take away though was the extent in which the industry was seeing the potential and progress with aluminium in the residential market. I could see this being demonstrated by what was on show on the AluK stand. On Wednesday morning I got a personal tour of the stand and the vast array of products and ranges now available at AluK. Some very high end, some a little less, and some a little less further. Point was, all aluminium, all aimed at the residential market, all aimed at differing budgets.

They weren’t the only ones. After this year’s show, after listening to the conversation, I am starting to believe that aluminium really could become a threat to the market share dominance of PVCu in the residential part of the market.

Aluminium ascendancy

The rise in popularity of aluminium windows and doors in the residential sphere is quite remarkable when you think about it. Consider how strongly PVCu took over in the late 70’s and early 80’s, to completely dethrone timber and aluminium firmly into the long grass. During that time, PVCu has evolved into a much more mature, efficient, higher quality product, as reflected by many of the PVCu products on sale in the UK right now.

Yet, aluminium, and to a lesser extent timber, has managed to claw it’s way back into relevancy in the residential part of the market. In the past few years we have seen a total transformation of what aluminium windows and doors are capable of. Much improved energy ratings. Vastly superior aesthetics to it’s predecessors decades ago. Sexy hardware suites. Powder coated, textured and now in some parts wood grain finishes. Aluminium windows and doors in 2017 are a genuinely aspirational purchase for home owners now, and that is where I think it could springboard into much bigger sales in the years to come.

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Aspire for aluminium

I think a lot of the early aluminium resurgence can be pinned to TV programmes like Grand Designs which showcased amazing home, many with stunning aluminium bi-fold doors and more recently large span sliding doors. It’s a popular programme with home owners, gets good viewing figures every week. Products that get exposure on these sorts of programmes can count on boosts in sales.

From there, aluminium in the residential market has managed to build up a solid base, with sales rising for aluminium windows and doors rising year on year. But that part of the industry has done a fantastic job of reinventing itself from the dowdy decades of the 70’s and 80’s into a product that is now a genuine aspirational purchase for home owners.

In that respect, this is where aluminium has got itself ahead of PVCu and timber too. I fully understand that PVCu has gone through it’s own evolution process in the last ten years or so, deciding to take on many more characteristics of timber, and yes, PVCu is now far better for it. But in the battle for the premium crown, aluminium most certainly comes out on top. In the aspiration race, it’s the one at the top of the pile that people want the most.

Attack on all pricing fronts

The tour of the Aluk stand at the FIT Show showed me where the aluminium market is going to be going in the coming years. Laura from AluK showed me three ranges of products. One aimed at the very highest end of the residential market, one aimed just below that, and another aimed at the more budget part of the market. Although the word “budget” probably doesn’t apply in the aluminium market.

But what this formulation of products and ranges showed me was that the aluminium market was starting to shape up in a much bigger, more organised way to hit all parts of the residential market. It could be argued that up to now aluminium windows and doors have been reserved for the higher end of the home owner market. But from what I saw at the FIT Show, it is clear that the aluminium market is coming after the heartlands of the PVCu market.

And why not? Energy ratings are on a par with most PVCu alternatives. Weather performance is just as good, if not better. Aesthetics are fantastic, with wood grain finishes now finally filtering through. Most profile depths allow for easy retro-fitting. Conservation area compliance isn’t a problem either for specific heritage ranges. If aluminium companies start aiming at the PVCu market with near-par pricing points, backed up with the aforementioned USPs, then it is quite feasible that we could see the market share of PVCu in the residential sector become quickly eroded.

I believe we are at a turning point in our industry. A moment where aluminium is perhaps the single biggest threat and opportunity to overturn the dominance of PVCu. In ten years time, our industry could look very different.

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