Has innovation dried up in the UK?

Ryan Breslin, managing director of Cherwell Windows

As an installation business – in my role at Cherwell, rather than Business Pilot – we’re at the sharp end. We need to be able to offer homeowners products that they want to buy, to tap into their aspirations and give them something that excites them.

It’s over used, but it’s that ‘Grand Designs-effect’. It has reshaped, and continues to reshape, retail. Cherwell works in mid- and higher-end tiers of the market. What we see in common across each, is that our customers are buying into a lifestyle. They want to feel good about their purchases.

This means that they’re looking for products that fit. Products that have a strong aesthetic quality but also deliver on performance. To find those, we increasingly find ourselves looking to Europe, rather than the UK.

I totally appreciate that challenges in the supply chain have made it very difficult to bring innovation forward, here in the UK, or anywhere else. With a little luck, we may see new products coming online this year. As it stands today, however, things have become a little stale, and we’re sourcing more of the products that we fit, from outside the UK.

That’s not because I want to talk down manufacturers here. It’s simply that, as a retailer, I can’t always supply the products that my customers want, from the UK. These are products that drive our industry forward and which shift window and doors from a commodity to an aspirational purchase.

As a personal example, I’m currently building what will be our ‘forever home’. We’re making it as eco-friendly as possible – energy efficient, ground source heat pumps… all those good things: things that will lower our living costs and which make us feel better about what we’re doing. We also want it to look good.

What is disappointing is that we have had to source windows and doors to do that from Germany and Austria, because the products here didn’t deliver what we wanted. This is a project-house, and not everyone’s installation will be quite as demanding. But surely it should be available in the UK, there should be a manufacturer meeting that demand? They aren’t.

What concerns me is it’s not only the high-end market. Although there are some solid products among them, the solutions that we can offer to aspirational homeowners in the mid-markets are limited.

At present, lead generation doesn’t matter. The work is there – and too much of it – but that’s inevitably going to change at some point: maybe this year, maybe next.

We need to be selling homeowners a vision of their future selves, and underpinning that with great customer experience. That comes back to having those products and service.

Putting my hat on as a director and founder of Business Pilot, that’s what it exists to do – to help installers deliver great customer experience by helping them to manage every touch point with the consumer from enquiry to installation and aftercare.
Business Pilot also helps you to understand which products are making you money in real time – and trust me, it’s not standard windows and doors.

I want to close out on a positive. There are big opportunities ahead. The more focus homeowners bring to the design of windows and doors, their performance, how sustainable they are, how they integrate with smart tech in their home, the bigger the opportunity. We can meet it from Europe, but I’d much rather do so from here.

Ryan Breslin
Managing director, Cherwell Windows