We have travelled one full year since the collapse of SafeGlaze. A whirlwind of a story which threatened to upend one of the biggest national retailers and cause huge disruption to the landscape of the UK fenestration industry.

It was a classic case of a company growing far too fast, being far too agressive, making mistakes and ultimately being the cause of their own downfall.

Safestyle vs SafeGlaze

There is history between the then owner of SafeGlaze and Safestyle. Different versions of different stories from different people. But what was clear was they were out to steal market share from Safestyle. And they were doing it with success from the start.

They were losing market share, volumes were down and their share price was taking a hit. There were reports of some quite aggressive tactics by SafeGlaze as they moved in to territory previously occupied by Safestyle.

As a company SafeGlaze were very active where we were locally. I remember our fitting crews being approached by them at the time. Our guys said no of course, but from what they told me they were being given some pretty lofty promises, which I think our installers saw right through. Turned out to be a good move in saying no as the company ultimately is no more!

Safestyle recorded a hefty loss of £16m for 2018. You can catch up with my post on that here. The slide was relentless. SafeGlaze were gaining momentum at a phenomenal rate, growing at a pace the industry hadn’t seen for a very long time. Questions were being asked about the future of Safestyle.

But, just as things were looking like a very uphill battle, Safestyle filed a legal claim against SafeGlaze:

Safestyle UK PLC today issued a claim seeking injunctive relief and damages against NIAMAC Developments Ltd (trading as Safeglaze UK) and a number of named individuals. The claim is made in the Business and Property Courts of England & Wales, on the Intellectual Property list.

The claim asks the Court to determine whether Safestyle is entitled to injunctive relief and damages from what the Group considers to be passing off, the misuse of confidential information, unlawful means conspiracy and malicious falsehood. Safestyle is also applying for urgent interim relief, pending the trial of this matter.  

They won. It was a huge moment in this story. It was a chance for Safestyle to slam the brakes on the SafeGlaze momentum and steady the ship. As a result of the legal action, Safestyle reached what was described as a commercial agreement. Not soon after, SafeGlaze entered administration.

For Safestyle this was a big win. It was a chance to remove a super-aggressive new competitor from the market place and enact a plan to recover the ground lost to the company. Since then the business has done a pretty good job with the recovery plan and is looking a lot healthier.

As for the rest of the industry, their story was just getting started.

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Administration, order books and debt

I wrote note long before this all happened about the effects of when a big company goes under. I perhaps wouldn’t have classed SafeGlaze as a “big” company, but they had grown to a large enough size to owe creditors tens of millions of pounds.

Documents released at the time showed that over £15m was owed to creditors at the time of SafeGlaze going under. Thats a lot of money from a company so young. In total 132 jobs were lost at the business. Mr Misra was owed over £10m of that, £1m was owed to HMRC, Camden Group were owed £2.5m with other claimants owed £1m. Amounts of money owed like this have a big impact further down the supply chain. As we know, its not just the company and its employees that are directly affected, but those who to supply to them and their employees as well. So the fallout down the supply chain was pretty severe.

That was just one aspect of the ripples fanning out from their demise. Thousands of home owners were left high and dry wondering what would happen to their planned installations and deposits. Because I was the only industry media site doing any kind of reporting on the story at the time, I was inundated with emails from home owners asking what was happening, asking for advice on what to do next and if I could help in any way. For me, there was very little clarity for home owners during this time and the industry didn’t do a very good job at the start in terms of giving advice and information about what to do next.

The order book left by SafeGlaze was £5.5m. A fairly significant size for such a new company. Thankfully, a company did step in to buy it: Warmseal. It increased the size of that particular company straight away. Importantly for home owners however, there was now a company in place to try and organise and carry out the installations they were promised. I remember speaking to a friend of mine at the time who helped oversee the transfer of the order book to Warmseal, and the size of the task that was ahead of them was enormous. No doubt that they are still working through some of that work even today. Hopefully all home owners who still wanted the work to their home carried out had it done and were happy.

A happy outcome though was not guaranteed. There was no obligation to buy that order book. It was quite possible for companies interested to take a look at it and walk away. It would have resulted in thousands of home owners not having any work carried out at all, deposits lost and immense damage to the reputation of the industry. Thankfully this was not the case in the end. But it could have been.

What I hope is that the industry watched this whole story unfold from start to finish and learn. Learn how to deal with an aggressive competitor who might be overstepping the mark. Learn how to carry out effective countermeasures. Learn to act sooner on a legal basis if needed. Perhaps most importantly, learn that communcation with the public when a big organisation goes under is critical from the very start. That is when the worst damage can occur.

Since then, we have seen further big names go to the wall, most recently the Kairos Group, which included brands such as St Helens Glass, Weatherseal, Zenith and others. The turbulence hasn’t really gone away since the SafeGlaze story, rather, its gradually grown.

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