Published On: Tue, Sep 19th, 2017

Andrew Thomson, Design & Development Director, Ultraframe (UK)

First Job: I join the Royal Navy as an Engineering Officer at 18 and was lucky to be sent to university by them.  My first design job was at Dyson just as the firm was starting.

When did you join current company: I joined Ultraframe in 2004 when the company was still a PLC.

Most useful/favourite gadget: Strava APP on my Iphone.

Favourite/most useful website:

Business person you admire: James Dyson.

Recommended hotel for business: Mitton Hall.

Favourite UK restaurant: Inn at Whitewell near Clitheroe

Best business decision: Sticking with Ultraframe even through the hard times.

Other interests: Building my house – an ongoing project and cycling.


Working Day: I like to be at work before 8am. When I arrive I dedicate myself to the team, helping them break through problems, guiding them in the right direction, and checking the quality of output. I try and involve myself as much as possible with customers, not only the business owners but the guys on the ground who are hands-on with our system installing roofs every day. Some days I will be in my scruffs, tools in hand working alongside installers and seeing our roofs from their point of view. It’s important we share these insights internally. A large part of the day will be spent coordinating the activities required to bring new roof systems to market, looking at patent applications and so forth. As the office clears at the end of the day, this is usually my time to think about the more strategic design issues or sketching up an idea and leaving it on a colleague’s desk for the morning. When I go to bed I still think about the business and have a sketchbook beside my bed to capture ideas as I have them.

Working Location: I am based at our offices in Clitheroe only a short cycle from home (if the day allows). The offices are open-plan which encourages interaction between the team. There is always a balance to be had between distracting people who are trying to get work done and getting useful involvement – we get the balance right – most of the time. I do have an office but I am often sat at the desk of one of the team. I also have a dedicated area in the factory to build prototypes; it’s a great facility and allows us to bring our ideas to life, then test them and see if they are any good!


Generally, trading over the last 12 months has been very good, but with some caveats. Growth has been more variable by customer than it was a year ago. Installers that are selling modern high-quality solutions are showing strong double-digit growth. Our core glass roof sales have grown significantly in the last 4 years and grew again last year albeit at a slower rate. This is good because it means the solid roof sales are incremental for those customers able to support the additional fitting capacity required. We are continually looking at ways to speed up installation, enabling our customers to sell more and fit more with the same manpower.

There has been a slowdown in the rate of growth since January and with the election we predict growth will continue to be more modest until the summer. While there is more uncertainty in the market we do expect the market to step back up again later this year. Managing inflation and the impact on raw material costs is an ongoing challenge – one that affects all manufacturing businesses, our R&D effort goes some way to mitigating this issue.  In terms of specific roof sales, we believe our customers are enjoying much better sales of modern performance conservatories. Designed properly, these extensions are highly desirable and meet the need’s of today’s homeowner regardless of their design brief, but critically, deliver excellent ‘profit per fitter’ – the measure we use to assess if products are fit for purpose.  Modern conservatories, simple beautiful orangeries, fast to install replacement roofs and high performance quick-to-build extensions are part of the toolkit we give our customers. We anticipate our customers will be able to exploit these markets to generate ‘above market’ growth in 2017.

The next two years will see a higher level of innovation than ever before. Our business mindset is one of continual innovation so our existing products and services continue to improve. This keeps the core business relevant. Then on top, we have a pipeline of new innovation that opens up additional growth opportunities for our network partners while simultaneously lowering installation costs.  An example of continual innovation is our LivinRoof, the introduction of a composite panel last year as an alternative to aluminium. This means it’s available today cheaper than when we launched it nearly three years ago. As a business our entire focus is all about product improvement – both in terms of the thermal performance and improved installation speed. UltraSky Lantern is a great example of how we’ve really challenged the market around thermal performance claims. Many lantern systems claim to be thermally broken, yet we know they’re not, because we’ve tested them at our facility in Clitheroe. Eliminating cold bridging throughout the entire roof, not just the ridge, has been our focus. From a retailer’s point of view they have to have absolute confidence in the roof they’re selling and fitting; if we make a statement about our roof, it’s factual.

Our new UltraSky Roof brings slimline aluminium roofs to the orangery market in a way that takes the market forward again. Not only is it a fully thermally broken system, it works beautifully combined with Loggia columns, bifolds and aluminium windows – creating a stunning, contemporary orangery. Alongside, we’ve also developed a new structural portal – UltraSpan – which enables large open spans to be achieved. It’s designed in such a way that it’s completely hidden in the UltraSky Roof – all the structural integrity you need without compromise on design.  Let’s mention UltraRoof380. Always watertight on day one, and usually complete on day two, this is a great example of a beautiful product that delivers profitable growth for our customers. This has been in the market for 6 months and sales volumes have been strong. We’ve worked incredibly hard to ensure lead-times are competitive and by the summer we will be able to offer P and T shapes. Feedback from retailers and installers is absolutely critical in this business. As I mentioned earlier, I spend a good deal of time on the road observing installations, it’s only through this process can we refine and develop new products, or indeed steer our marketing effort. Through our PR programme we frequently use case studies to illustrate the benefits of our systems and this feedback from the homeowner and the retail installer is invaluable. A recent UltraRoof380 installation by Tom Tonks at TT Installations really stands out in my mind. We developed UltraRoof380 with a clear focus to develop a roof system that not only looked fantastic but also performed well on site, with fast installation times and the least number of components. Chatting to Tom Tonks recently really demonstrated that this vast investment was worthwhile. He describes his first installation as “effortless”. This is exactly the sort of feedback we like. That said, it’s important we listen to all feedback – it’s only through this process can we make improvements.

LivinRoof has been the most successful campaign to date, no question. We brought a fresh perspective to the market when we launched LivinRoof, challenging the status quo that a solid roof had to be tiled. But since its launch it has gained real momentum in the marketplace and sells itself due to its contemporary external appearance, preferred by 50% of customers coupled with stunning internal shaped glazing features. While LivinRoof is still growing we have been surprised how quickly UltraRoof380 has caught up in terms of volume and both solid roof systems now sit side by side in our range showing that the solid roof market is more than just about tiles. For installers it’s hidden costs that can damage cash flow. Cheaper roof systems might appear to be better value, but in the long run, problems can be costly. Having to go back and rectify issues, spend more time installing on site, or using additional components all add up. We’ve worked hard to design roof systems that are simple and quick to fit with 100% reliability.

The opportunity for retail installers in today’s market is vast. We’ve proven time and time again that using an Ultraframe system can deliver better thermal efficiency than a traditional extension using brick. This fact alone really opens the market up for retailers to take on profitable work. From modern conservatories, contemporary orangeries, large conservatories that need upgrading – the art is to focus on a small number of designs that work in your market.

Several years ago as the market was in decline we made a very clear commitment that we would develop a range of roof systems that would open up new market opportunities for our customers, ensuring that there is an Ultraframe roof for every job. This was a big decision, and one that has taken significant investment across the business to deliver against this promise. It certainly brings a layer of complexity to our operations, but as we see retailers growing their businesses and winning work they might have previously lost to a builder, the decision back in 2011 was right.