Around two years ago, during the first wave of the pandemic and the subsequent first lockdown, one the of year’s biggest fenestration sector stories away from the pandemic was taking place: the collapse of Customade Group.

The collapse and the reaction that followed would set a brand new precedent in how the industry would react to the failure of a business.

Customade Group collapse sets a new precedent

Two years ago, as the industry was grappling with the first major lockdown and all the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, another major story was developing within the industry.

The Customade Group, one of a number of industry super-groups, made up of a set of very well respected brands and businesses, was on the ropes. Prior to the pandemic, there was chatter that the company was not in the best shape. Then the lockdown came and appeared to cement the path it may already have been on.

I remember it being a very weird period of a few weeks. My phone was constantly in use, being told bits of information from various sources. Most of which turned out to be true in the end. I even had some people from within the business ringing me to ask if I knew what was going on.

A point I want to make early here is that the group was made up of a set of individual brands and businesses that in themselves were very well respected and had loyal customer bases with good reputations. Brands such as Atlas, Virtuoso Doors, Polyframe, Fineline etc were all great companies. No one wanted to see those brands damaged in the failure of this group.

As it was, the Customade Group group collapsed and was then acquired by investment firm Nimbus in June 2020. To much criticism, David Leng was allowed to continue at the firm until April 2021.

What then followed was something quite unusual; the industry came together to condemn the collapse, the failure of leadership and the huge amount of debt to suppliers dumped. It was unprecedented. A string of profile and hardware companies came out with public statements to condemn what had happened and that they would not be supplying the reformed company.

The chorus of anger was led by a number of industry figures, which the fallout directly affected. The question I then pondered was if this was the dawn of a stronger industry response to poor financial management, or whether this was a circumstantial response due to the people and companies involved.

Not a revolution

The anger towards the upper management of Customade Group was something I had not witnessed before. Some of the attacks were vicious. There were even new social media accounts created with a view to attacking the company and the people at the top. I did think it began to go too far with how pointed some of the verbal abuse was. There was a line being crossed at times.

Still, many had long called for a better response by the industry towards companies that had caused so much damage but were seemingly able to get away with it. This time, it got it.

It set a precedent. Never had an industry so roundly condemned what had happened and gone as far as to pledge to not deal with the new company.

I remember at the time thinking that if this sticks, this perhaps would become a new standard for dealing with pre-pack administrations.

Very kindly, but wrongly, I was singled out as some kind of media commentariat, seemingly because DGB was the only site bothering to properly cover the story. The rest of the media, as is usual with actual news of interest, kept its distance.

This wasn’t to be a revolution in better behaviour. Once the dust had settled and the new Customade Group had become more stable and the noise disappeared, I began to wonder whether we would see the same anger and action the next time a major company carries out a pre-pack administration. Turns out, we didn’t.

Specifically, on Customade Group, the anger and response were drive likely due to the people and companies involved with the business. They just so happened to be vocal people and well connected, and it affected them. Hence the response. Since then, companies have come and gone, some rather large, and we have seen nothing even close to the condemnation we saw with Customade Group.

I make this observation now as I have information on a couple of industry casualties, again not small, but have yet to see or hear the same criticism as we did back then.

This is the problem when you make such a public stance. You set a precedent for yourself and a new standard by which you have to judge the entire sector by. Selective anger dependent on your own personal circumstances is not right or fair. By making the stance the industry did against Customade Group, it also set a new standard by which it had to act in the future against other large corporate collapses. It hasn’t, and has therefore proved that the environment of two years ago was down to who was involved, rather than changing longer-term behaviour.

All that being said, Customade Group now appears to be on a more stable footing. The noise around the company has virtually disappeared, and the brands that still operate within the group appear to be doing well. It means jobs are more secure, and the outlook is more positive.

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