Did the market grow during the pandemic?

The past two years have been about dealing with what is happening in the moment, with little thought given to forecasts and plans for growth. However, keeping an eye on trends will help inform your product range, and even your key suppliers. We talk to Owner and Managing Director of aluplast in the UK Keith White to find out more.

The received wisdom is that we saw significant market growth during 2020 and 2021 as the surge in demand following the initial lockdown far outweighed those restrictions on movement.

“I’d argue that that the last two years have not been so much about growth, but about redefining the industry in which we work, and if you don’t recognise those changes then you will be in for a shock when your order book starts to thin out,” Keith White, aluplast’s UK Managing Director, said.

As the dust settles, it is clear that two forces acted simultaneously on the market: an increase in demand; and a change in behaviour.

“Much of that surge in demand we saw was pent up – a release from having several weeks with no movement,” Keith said.

“This was then compounded by a number of factors, including an out-of-kilter PVC polymer and additive supply chain, which had multiple challenges thrown at it: unexpected bad weather; canal blockages; and disrupted infrastructure to name a few.

“The unprecedented increase in demand, and generally poor-preparedness of suppliers to respond, caused people to seek alternative suppliers so that they could fulfil their obligations. In fact, we picked up significant new business – some of which was on the brink of collapse – because the original systems suppliers restricted available product range, allocated limited volumes, or just failed!”

Keith said this skewed market perception: the combination of increased demand and bottle-necked supply gave the impression of real growth. He said it is changing consumer behaviour that is more important from a longer-term business point of view.

“As a systems supplier that has maintained supply based on demand throughout the pandemic, we have seen how consumer patterns have changed,” he said.

“The first is obvious: as people have worked more from home, they’ve made changes to their home environment to improve what was already there, while accommodating office space and extra living space. This can include garden rooms, extensions, and converted loft space.

“This is a trend that will go on for many years – it will be a bit like when the conservatory market took off 20 years ago.”

However, while the conservatory market was about volume, new trends for 2022 and beyond will be about higher value and higher margin.

“One reason why we were able to win new businesses during the pandemic is because we were able to offer a secure supply of high-quality foiled product, including our aludec and woodec ranges,” Keith said. “This was while their original suppliers ditched colour in favour of standard white in high volume.”

As a group, aluplast processes over one million metres of foiled product every week, which come in over 40 finishes, including woodec and aludec. These are next generation foils that accurately replicate timber and aluminium.

“Even up close, you would be hard pushed to tell the difference between woodec and the real thing, it looks and feels just like timber,” Keith said. “And the same can be said for aludec as a genuine alternative to aluminium.”

When used on aluplast’s new flush casement with the Ideal 4000 system, the ultra-modern result offers significant opportunities for ambitious homeowners looking to upgrade their properties. Furthermore, there is no extension on lead times for ex-stock foils.

“It is also worth noting that the growth for the flush market is not in heritage projects,” Keith said, “but in contemporary designs that really make use of the slim profile – 58mm – the Ideal 4000 system offers.”

While homeowners are expected to spend more on higher value items, this won’t be at the expense of the environment. As a result, sustainability will play a significant role in purchasing decisions going forward, which will include the energy efficiency of products, or their embodied carbon.

“Or, most likely, a combination of both,” Keith said. “And if you aren’t making and supplying products that can demonstrate either, then you will struggle in the years to come.”

For aluplast, one key product will be the Smart-Slide Patio Door.

Tested to PAS24, Smart-Slide meets BS6375 for weather tightness and a DER of A+ – or a U-value of 1.2W/m2K – depending on glass specification.

Capable of spanning 4.5m x 2.5m with just a sliding sash and a fixed panel, the use of advanced hardware means that it can be operated with the lightest of touches, even with individual sash weights of up to 200kg. The sash also features locking points on all four sides, enabling it to be left part open for ventilation while remaining completely secure.

“The size at which Smart-Slide can be manufactured, its quality, and the range of finishes, allow our customers to sell into projects that would normally be reserved for aluminium,” Keith said. “But we also expect this to be sold into newbuild properties because the tightening of Approved Document L of the Building Regulations means housebuilders need to be confident that the products they are specifying are future-proofed.”

aluplast has also got a very strong sustainability message with its ecotech profile, which can be passed on to the homeowner.

“ecotech is our ultra-green profile that is supplied as standard across our Ideal70 and Ideal4000 range,” Keith said. “It is the result of an advanced, ‘dual-extrusion’ process that uses two extruders in parallel to push recycled and virgin polymer through the profile die at the same time. This ensures that recycled material is only used in the internal webbing, remaining isolated from the external wall, with virgin polymer used to provide the external ‘face’ of the profile.

“The recycled element of ecotech may be locked away at the core of the profile, but the quality of that material is extremely important. We know exactly where it comes from, so we can guarantee it only contains calcium organic stabilisers and that there is no trace of lead or cadmium.

“It’s also critical that we can deliver a perfectly flat, non-pitted exterior surface. That gives an optimum quality of finish, but it also means we can confidently offer our range of foils without the risk of delamination.”

For Keith, 2021/22 was not about growth, it was about managing fluctuations in demand.

“If you want to grow in the years to come, you have to understand that consumer behaviour has changed, and you need a supplier who can keep pace with those changes,” Keith concluded. For more information, call 01684 273401 email info@aluplast.co.uk or visit www.aluplast.co.uk.