Published On: Thu, May 16th, 2019

Craig Miller, Managing Director at AluFoldDirect

First job: Wanting a career with horses, I left school
at 16 and joined the Household Cavalry Regiment, staying till I was 21.
When did you set up AluFoldDirect: AluFoldDirect was set up in 2014. I used to run a conservatory installation business called Extend-A-Room. We bought a machine to manufacture bi-folding doors in-house for our own projects and enquiries were starting to come through for them. It became obvious we should wind down Extend-A-Room, as we were selling aluminium bi-folds to local installers and they were going like hot cakes. We got good at it and AluFoldDirect was born.
Most useful / favourite gadget: Easy – my laptop…it allows me to work fast, to keep moving, whilst staying on the job all the time I need to, which has been often over the last four years, given the speed of growth we have been managing.
Most useful / favourite website: I don’t use any one in particular by way of my job, but I do use the web widely to research everything from the performance of new machines, to running costs on vans, tyres and fuel costs. I find that the web saves me lots of time and gives me impartial and up-to-date information quickly enabling fast, clever decision making, in a way that wasn’t previously possible.
Business person you admire: Elon Musk is a great example of one of the many business leaders I admire – I am in awe of people like him, with abundant, flowing creativity coming through them. They inspire me although I have to say, I am mainly from the school of ‘adding value’ as opposed to being a creative sort.
Favourite UK restaurant: Randall and Aubin in Soho, for a late meal with oodles of atmos’, but I only get there a couple of times a year.
Best business decision: To focus on developing people. We recruit and train untried, inexperienced people who grow into the job, causing the business to grow…everyone wins.
Other interests: This last four years has been mostly about work, but I love a day at the races and when that involves customers or staff then all the better.

Working Day: My Mon-Wed routine is really quite rigid. Out of the gym at 8am and drive to work, accompanied by a business or personal development content podcast, helping get my attitude and focus primed for the day ahead. I clear my desk of emails and other correspondence first thing, check the key numbers and then move on to my list, which is typically planned/prioritised for one week’s work at time. I go around and quietly inspect every dept. every day, looking and listening for signs of stress. I spend one, 1-2-hour long session with each of my dept. leaders each week and let them get on with it otherwise…if they need me, they will find me. By Thurs. I am moving on to strategic planning, helping to deliver the growth. I try and have Fri. free, to get stuck in to bigger project stuff or to have some listening and thinking time. AluFoldDirect is the most important work I have done and by that, I mean having the most impact. We have created over 100 good, full-time jobs in four years. We have a happy, growing team, have a growing bunch of happy customers and haven’t borrowed any money.

Working Location: AluFoldDirect HQ is based in Blackburn. We moved here from Haslingden in Spring 2016. We needed the extra room because we were growing so quickly. It’s now home to our factory and the Aluminium Glazing Design Centre, the only one of its kind outside of London.

The Main Feature

It’s incredible to think that in just four years, AluFoldDirect has smashed all targets, changed the way the trade buys aluminium and won the G18 award for Fabricator of the Year. When we started out in 2014, we set a target of £7.5 million in profitable turnover by 2019. We exceeded that target in 2017 with £8.3 million turnover. When we ran a conservatory installation business, we used to order in aluminium bi-folds and it was always the same old story. Long lead times, the products that arrived weren’t ready to install and it always caused headaches. I knew that other installers would be having the same issues as us, so there must be a market for something better. After all, the trend for wide-span doors wasn’t going away any time soon.

That’s where we began. We perfected the manufacturing process for aluminium bi-fold doors. Creating an efficient set-up with enough profile and hardware stock-holding so that we didn’t have to rely on third-party suppliers, we could deliver aluminium bi-fold doors in one week unglazed, two weeks glazed. It was a far cry from the 6-week lead times the industry was used to and meant that installers could build the aperture for the door and then order it from us for delivery next week. It just made sense. Measurements from survey are always more accurate than from plans, so it meant that bi-folds were delivered direct to site, in an unmarked van, right first time, ready to install. This gave installers who were used to the fast lead times and easy fitting of PVC-U the opportunity to get a piece of the growing aluminium market. It was delivered just as fast. The products arrived ready to install. And it was much more profitable for them. With this strong foundation to build from, the range could expand and Everything Aluminium was born. Slimline windows, sliding doors and patio doors were introduced, so installers never had to walk away from an aluminium job. Lead times stayed the same too and a full suite of aluminium windows and doors could be delivered in one week unglazed, two weeks glazed. Our customer-base already knew that we delivered on our promises on bi-folds, so they had the certainty they needed to keep quoting for bigger jobs and ordering more aluminium glazing from us.

The range continued to grow, and now includes fully Secured by Design commercial aluminium doors, low-rise curtain walling and Infinium, the minimal frame glazing system that takes framing a view to dizzying new heights. Technic-AL Roof Lanterns and flat rooflights were also added to help installers meet demand from homeowners for glazed roof extensions. Available for same day or next day delivery in stock sizes and colours, again, the gap can be built before the roof lantern is ordered. They’re with colour-coded packaging and straightforward instructions, so they can be fitted in just 40 minutes. The latest addition to the Everything Aluminium range is the stunning Venlo RD2 Entrance Door range – full aluminium, flush-fit entrance doors that are delivered in just 2 weeks. From there, it was time to think about innovations we could implement to help installers grow their businesses and get even more from the aluminium market. We built the Aluminium Glazing Design Centre when we moved to our current premises in Blackburn. It’s the only centre of its kind outside of London and is free for installers to use as their own. They can send their customers to us and it’s great for also showing architects, specifiers and developers the Everything Aluminium range too.

Knowing that there were a lot of experienced PVC-U installers starting to fit aluminium, which is more complex, we built the Aluminium Installer Training Academy in 2018. It’s a one-of-a-kind, purpose-built training academy where installers can upskill on aluminium and make the most of the growing market. Training sessions are free and personalised to each customer’s needs. There are multiple options – training can cover installing the entire Everything Aluminium range, a refresher on select products or Infinium Glazing Accredited Installer training. Every session is hands-on and practical – we don’t bother with PowerPoint presentations or sitting at a desk. After a coffee, delegates go straight into the academy, which has been built within the factory, where aluminium installation expert, Paul, teaches them best practice aluminium glazing installation. The academy has rigs with full-sized examples of the Everything Aluminium range to install during the sessions.

For installers who want to take the next step, into the world of commercial and development, but don’t get the support they need to make big jobs run smoothly, we launched Aluminium Glazing Projects. It’s a free project management service, so installers can come to us for all the support they need to win big glazing jobs for large refurbishments or new-build developments. It gives everyone on the project, architect, specifier, developer, installer, surveyor, project manager, one, consistent. AluFoldDirect contact, who supports them from initial tender, through to project completion. To top it all off, this year, we’ve racked up a healthy five awards – two Red Rose Business Awards in March, and a Made in the North West Award in May. We’ve finished the year on a high, with a double G18 Award win, for Training & Initiative of the Year and the top award, Fabricator of the Year. I’m immensely proud of my team and everything we have achieved so far. We’ve got plenty of activity planned for the next 12 months too. The factory we thought would last us for five years is almost at capacity and there are a few other launches and innovations in the pipeline to make 2019 an even bigger success for our customers. I have no doubt that we’ll smash the next lot of targets too. We are successful because our customers are successful. There are still so many opportunities in the market for installers to grasp and as we continue to offer them Everything Aluminium with absolute certainty for profitable business growth, I know that we’ll see lots more success in 2019.

Tel: 01706 260700