Trade counters used to be places where you would pick up fixings, trims, sealants and other small ancillary products. Today, you can go into a trade counter and pick up windows, doors, bi-folds, locks, and most other things an installer needs to be able to do their jobs. Its very simple, and most are open to trade and the general public.

But with installers supposedly having to follow rules and regs as instructed, who is watching the trade counters selling to anyone and everyone?

Who is regulating?

In order for installers to do their jobs, they have to be members of a self-certification scheme and have qualified installers. Its meant to demonstrate to home owners that they are trustworthy and can carry out the work to a good standard. It also lets the industry check up on itself and try and stop rogue companies from cutting corners. Well, thats the idea, its very debatable as to whether this actually happens to an tangible level.

Modern trade counters sell windows, doors, bi-folds and more. They can be sold to the public and companies. But trade counters, as far as I know, aren’t subject to any sort of regulation which would make them sell to companies who abide by the rules. It means an installers could walk into a trade counter, order a house full of windows and doors, usually cheaper than from their regular supplier, and fit them on the quiet. This is a major loophole which I am sure is no doubt being exploited by the more nafarious section of our industry.

So whilst trade counters have made it much easier for installers to get hold of a massive range of products simply and quickly, there remains a major question as to whether they are holding the door open for companies who want to avoid scrutiny. Perhaps an area industry bodies need to look at.

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Reshaping the sector

The truth of the matter on the ground is that trade counters are reshaping the industry as we speak. Trade counters are vastly different to what they were a decade or so ago. An installer can pick up pretty much everything they need to carry out a job. From fixings to the windows themselves. I’m thinking of companies like Eurocell as a good example of this.

So here’s the thing to consider: as more and more trade counters establish themselves and rapidly expand the amount of products they offer to installers, are they actually the big competition for fabricators?

There are companies out there rapidly expanding their trade counter network, often setting up in areas with established fabricators. Its feasible that installers will look at what those trade counters are offering, with their modern-day setup, wide array of products readily available, at prices cheaper than their current options, and decide that they are worth a try. They frequently have offers on specific products, and the trade counters themselves are welcoming places, which resemble showrooms rather than scruffy old trade counters. The temptation would be understandable.

Naturally, fabricators would rely on the loyalty of their customers and remain with them rather than trying out something new with a modern trade counter. But when you look at companies like Stevenswood and Eurocell, who have been expanding their network, they obviously see a path for growth for trade counters and see this as a major part of their future business models.

Make no mistake though, trade counters are reshaping our industry and how installers go about sourcing their products. I sense this is more than a short-term trend, this is going to be a much longer evolution and fabricators need to keep an eye on how this particular part of the market grows and if it poses a serious threat to their customer base.

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