Published On: Thu, Sep 24th, 2020

Aidan Harte, Managing Director, Freefoam Building Products

First job? My uncle owned a butcher shop in Cork,
and I worked there during the summer holiday when I was 14 years old. It was a great experience and gave me my first taste of business.
When did you join your current company? I joined Freefoam in 1993 as Financial Controller.
Most useful/favourite gadget? iPhone and my Surface Pro.
Most useful/favourite website? I have my go-to websites for news ( and Over the last couple of years, I’ve started to shop more online – and I’ve even made a few purchases!
Recommended hotel for business? The Hopping Hare in Northampton.
Favourite UK restaurant? When I go to London I always try to book a table at Cecconi’s in Burlington Gardens.
Business person you most admire? I have great admiration for Bill Gates. He comes across as a modest person and he’s given away so much of his wealth to good causes. It can’t be ignored that he created the largest company in the world by market capitalisation. Microsoft is at the centre of everything we do as we go about our working lives.
Best business decision? The best decision we made at Freefoam was making a commitment to the UK market by investing in a modern, integrated manufacturing plant to include extrusion, mixing and distribution. This site in St. James, Northampton now has 16 extrusion lines for foam and rigid product and employs 150 people. Our decision to put a greater emphasis on Western European markets over 10 years ago has also paid dividends for Freefoam.
Other interests? I’m a sports fanatic. I’m from Cork so I have a natural affinity with Gaelic Games which are part of our national identity. I also have a huge interest in Munster and Irish Rugby. I’m involved in coaching youngsters at my local GAA club.

Working Day: No working day is the same, but I have regular meetings
and catch-ups with production, operations, finance and the sales team to ensure I’m up to speed with all areas of the business. I usually reach the office shortly after 8am and I work until about 6pm. I’m a strong believer in the work-life balance, and I think if you get enough downtime you work more effectively.

Working Location: I’m based in our head office and manufacturing facility in Cork, with travel every couple of weeks to Northampton, where we have our UK manufacturing and distribution base, and to Continental Europe.

The Main Feature:

2020 is a major milestone for Freefoam, as we celebrate 30 years of trading. We’re an independent manufacturer of PVC-Ue roofline, PVC cladding and interior wall panels. From small beginnings in Cork with one extrusion line, founders Tony Walsh and George Cronin set up Freefoam to provide the growing home improvement market with PVC fascia and soffit as a high-quality, low maintenance, long-lasting alternative to traditional timber roofline.

Different markets with a single goal – Since I joined Freefoam in 1993, we’ve grown from 25 to a team of 307 across Europe, with 14 extrusion lines in Cork and 16 lines in the UK. The UK is now the backbone of the business, but we also have a strong presence across Europe, with distribution centres supplying customers in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. No two markets are the same but our approach in each country is unchanged. We’ve built the Freefoam brand around quality, product choice and support and we work closely with customers to give them the products they say they need to sell more in their markets. We’ve also invested in each of these markets to ensure we have a smooth, reliable supply chain and high-quality products. Our philosophy of supporting customers and helping them grow is the key to our success over the past thirty years.

A changing market – The market has changed beyond recognition since Freefoam’s early days. The last decade in particular has been eventful, to put it mildly, and those events have shaped many of today’s important trends in roofline. Ten years ago, the roofline market – and windows and construction with it – tipped into the deepest recession in decades as banks and financial markets went into meltdown. More recently, politics like the Scottish referendum and Brexit have caused more uncertainty, although we hope for more stability going into 2020. Meanwhile, Britain (and much of Europe) has recorded nine of the hottest years since records began, with more extremes of weather like gales, storms and floods impacting on building fabric and maintenance. Not all changes have been bad for business, and changes in demographics are opportunities for Freefoam and our customers. Britain’s population has grown at the fastest rate in Europe, and a significant proportion of the increase is in the 55+ age group. House prices have risen steadily, boosting the housing wealth of older homeowners. These consumers have the money to invest in their biggest asset and they’re prepared to spend it on enhancing the look and feel of their property. This growing group of older homeowners has been driving the growth of colour, high-end products and the premium market across most home improvements – which is good news for Freefoam and our customers!

Colour is the new black – Colour is the fastest growing trend in roofline, reflecting its popularity in windows and doors. Over the whole market it accounts for around 30% of sales, and we know that many window companies selling premium products are reporting 50% or more in colour sales. And if a homeowner has invested in a high-end suite of foiled window and doors they want the roofline colour to match. As the innovator in roofline colour, Freefoam led the way with a wide range of colours in fascias and soffits, and rainwater guttering. Our patented Colormax® technology helps stockists and installers capitalise on this growth area. It’s one of the most technically advanced colour processes for roofline and rainwater, incorporating a unique selection of stabilisers and pigments, specially chosen for their high colourfastness. That’s reassuring when the climate is changing. Unsurprisingly, stockists report strong colour sales with Freefoam products. Darren Beaumont, General Manager at C&A Building Products says: “Customers want a full suite of colours with matching accessories. Freefoam lets us capitalise on this growth market with a choice of 16 attractive colours in fascias and soffits and six colours in rainwater guttering with a 10-year guarantee.”

Market concentration – the end of independent stockists? There were casualties in the last recession and some roofline companies have fared better than others. Competition is tough and a number of brands disappeared, while others have maintained market share by acquiring independent stockists or by setting up new outlets to sell their own brand. Doing both has been popular, and we’ve seen significant market concentration as the share of owned distribution has increased and the number of independent stockists declined. But it’s a difficult balance, selling to independent stockists while your own distribution competes with them. Today, the share of roofline sold through owned distribution is over three quarters of the market, often restricting installers to a choice of just one brand. Independent stockists on the other hand increasingly find themselves competing directly with suppliers, as supplier-owned chains continue to expand.

Supporting customers, not competing with them – As an independent manufacturer we made the decision to only sell through independent stockists and merchants in the UK. Instead of competing with customers, Freefoam’s strategy has been to support customers to help them grow. Our support starts with product choice and unbeatable guarantees like our popular Lifetime Extended Guarantee (50 years on white roofline, 10 years on colour) which is a great selling tool for installers and gives homeowners extra peace of mind. We’re continuing to invest in our supply chain and recently added two new extrusion lines in Northampton. This investment ensures we give customers a wide choice of products and colours on very short, reliable lead times. We supply a range of marketing packages, POS, brochures and samples to help stockists and Freefoam’s consumer-facing websites direct homeowners to their nearest stockist and our network of registered installers, generating quality leads for customers. There is also a visualiser tool which helps homeowners picture how different colours will look on their property, so they can explore the options before committing to one product. And our fascia quote request process is straightforward, hassle-free and easy so customers can provide reliable and accurate information to homeowners.

Supporting our customers is a way of life at Freefoam and we’ve formalised this ethos into our marketing campaign, #HelpingCustomersGrow. Visit, call 0800 00 29903 or follow @freefoam.