Published On: Tue, Nov 28th, 2023

A final farewell to the juggernaut of direct sales

The news that national window retailer Safestyle has ceased trading, resulting in the loss of nearly 700 jobs, was a shock to the industry. Some will say they saw it coming, while others will criticise the way the company operated. Putting all of this aside, 700 people have lost their jobs, and undoubtedly, a long list of suppliers will be left picking up the pieces. Outside the industry, the news that Anglian Home Improvements has picked up the Safestyle order book will be greeted with some relief by homeowners. However, it is a blow to our sector and the people working within Safestyle. Hopefully, many will find alternative employment still within the fenestration sector, as we all know it is suffering from a bit of a skills shortage.

Since its formation in the early ‘90s, Safestyle has pushed the boundaries, none more so than in its marketing. Its BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) campaigns gained mass exposure and, in fact, benefited many local independent installers and retailers. An installer once told me he loved it when they started advertising on TV because his own number of inquiries always increased, riding the increased awareness of double glazing. Smart homeowners would always get a couple of quotes from local firms as comparisons to Safestyle, and more often than not, the local firm would get the job. This does go some way to explaining the relatively small market share Safestyle actually commanded; it has always fluctuated between 8 and 12% in its better years. With Safestyle quoting recent annual sales of around the £140 million mark, it will be interesting to see where these go in the future. In the short-term, Anglian Home Improvements have purchased the order book, but when these are serviced, the demand that helped create Safestyle’s more recent market share of 8% will naturally filter back into the market, to be picked up by the few remaining national retailers and the local installation companies.

Some of the surrounding commentary on the Safestyle news was also a bit disappointing, as it tried to point to a sector in trouble. We are all aware of the cost of living crisis, runaway inflation, poor consumer confidence, but blaming Safestyle’s demise on these factors and also using ‘unseasonably warm weather in September’ to dent demand for Safestyle products is a little unfair to the sector as a whole. Other factors were at play, and I think this messaging just makes homeowners think they can drive a hard bargain when negotiating prices for new windows and doors. The energy efficiency messaging is now more relevant than ever, and this is still resulting in healthy reported numbers of sales leads. Safety, security, and improved aesthetics are also key drivers, while the drive towards ‘smart homes’ is also increasing demand for smart locking systems. The belief still remains that the sales are there; you just may need to work a bit harder to secure them by offering innovative, energy-efficient, and aesthetically pleasing products.

We are in a changing world, and we need to learn to adapt. Old business models may need adjusting to continue to be successful, which can be very difficult when the business is so big. However, keeping up-to-date with innovation and the latest trends is very important. We are also entering a new era where artificial intelligence is going to revolutionize many of the things we do. AI means different things to different people, but there is no doubt it will impact everyone in the fenestration sector in some way. Why not turn to page 38 for a sneak peek at what the future could look like…

John Cowie – Editor