Published On: Wed, May 16th, 2018

Innovations drives and steers the market

Windows Active Editor John Cowie believes the power and importance of innovation will continue to drive the fenestration sector forward

Understanding the marketplace and how it is evolving and changing is a fundamental requirement for any successful and growing business. A deep understanding of your customers and their shifting needs and attitudes often leads to profitable innovations. Many of the UK’s largest companies place innovation at the forefront of their activities. The construction market is one of the most forward-thinking sectors in the UK and has witnessed increased focus as pressures have grown to deliver sustainable and energy-efficient buildings that have a positive effect on communities.

The fenestration industry has many parallels with other sectors of the wider construction products market. Innovation is what drives the future and ensures sales growth. Paul Howard, Head of Innovation and Support at British Gypsum, in a recent supplement on Super Brands by The Centre for Brand Analysis stated: “A key aspect of innovation is listening to our customers and striving to solve their challenges. As an example, our plasterer customers were dissatisfied with their earning potential and under pressure from low-quality competitors undercutting labour rates. We decided to help by launching a range of performance plasters such as magnetic plaster, a plaster that attract magnets, and Purefinish which aids the improvement of air quality. These products give them a new aspect to offer in conversations with customers. We also introduced a plasterers’ installer scheme to give them a means to show homeowners they are quality tradesmen with a work guarantee.”

This passion for innovation and new ideas runs through the veins of some of the UK leading construction products providers. In a similar fashion, the Kingspan Group is dedicated to innovation as it sees it to be a key pillar in the Group’s strategic growth. Kingspan’s Director of Digital and Brand, Louise Foody explained its stance in the same Super Brands supplement: “Product development is fundamental at Kingspan. Our latest insulation core, QuadCore technology, powers the industry’s highest combined performance of an insulated panel building. We’ve also embarked on a digital transformation journey to improve both the customer experience and efficiency within the business. Working together across departments can bring the greatest innovations. For me, two key characteristics of effective innovation are openness and curiosity; learning from failure and understanding that small changes can have enormous impact. You can always do things better. You can always do more. And the benefits are great: growth, a happier workforce; better customer experience; differentiation.”

What these two examples demonstrate is that there are many facets to innovation. Product innovation is obvious, but the way it is supported and created is just as important. Innovation within the workforce is just as fundamental, as this is the birthplace of many ideas and has ownership of the processes involved to create the product. The company’s interaction with its customer base is also essential, and by creating a workforce that is in tune with the overall innovation strategy, ideas can be shared. It’s a case of taking the well worked mechanisms of customer focus groups to a new level. As Paul Howard highlighted, a key aspect of innovation is listening to customers. Every customer-facing individual in an organisation has a responsibility for innovation. This also extends to internal functions and processes, where a new idea within a particular department can have far-reaching benefits across the whole company.

The fenestration industry has always been a strong advocate of innovation. The next few years are potentially going to see this rise to the next level. Home automation and smart technology are the buzz words in the construction sector and we are reaching a point whereby we have a fantastic opportunity to embrace this field. The hardware sector is best positioned to take full advantage of this, and we are now seeing a number of leading suppliers bringing to market products that can be integrated into smart homes and buildings. Many will remember earlier forays into this area, the difference this time around is that there is a real appetite among building owners as their lives are dominated by the digital revolution. Over the next few years we will see smart technology being incorporated into more windows and doors, which will eventually result in the technology being accepted as the norm in the future. The pressure is on for the manufacturers to continue to innovate and bring to market products that are functional and cost effective. It will then be the responsibility of the retailers and installers to use these products to give them a new aspect to offer in conversations with customers.

John CowieEditor of Windows Active