That old saying “when one door closes, another opens” has possibly never been more appropriate than at Vicaima Doors Ltd in the UK, where a huge resurgence in business has followed a major management change in 1996.

Vicaima doors are manufactured in Portugal and have been around in the UK for many years. Having initially developed through the long-established agent, Flatau Dick, Vicaima set up its own distribution business from Doncaster, but the depressed state of the housing market in the early 90s and the ongoing philosophy of bulk container trading brought the business to a low level. Something needed to be done.

At this time Crosby Doors was also going through a time of enormous change, culminating in its purchase by Regency (now Premdor). Peter Johnson had worked his way through the Crosby Doors business to become operations director, then managing director of the architectural division. Now Vicaima Ltd’s managing director, he explained: “I left during the merger between Crosby and Regency Doors in early 1995 and it didn’t take long to come to terms with Vicaima, which was looking to radically change its whole strategy for the UK. Vicaima is a massive organisation, with the financial and manufacturing clout to achieve a high market presence throughout Europe. I knew that we could turn round the UK division by totally changing the emphasis to selling high quality, veneered flush and feature fire doors”.

Vicaima certainly is “massive”, with interests ranging from banking to forestry, timber importing, veneer, chipboard and MDF plants, as well as door manufacturing. In Portugal door distribution is handled by a direct selling operation, but every other European business sells via merchants and distributors, with some direct sales to large end users.

In June 1996 Peter Johnson and his team began to wind down the Doncaster operation, while arranging the relocation to Swindon in Wiltshire. Vicaima took over part of Crosby’s recently vacated Drakes Way door plant, which had many of the facilities it needed. The site has 100,000ft2 of space, accommodating over 75,000 doors held in stock and a fully equipped servicing area.

Thinking globally, acting locally

“Think global, act local” has always been the central philosophy and the UK team’s experience ensures that the range offered is suited to this market. “We started out in 1996 with just myself and two other people,” said Mr Johnson, “but nearly all of the staff we recruited were known to us and we took their product knowledge to produce the right range for the UK. This package has always included a high level of servicing options, such as glass openings, glazing, decorative beading, fitting intumescent strips and many others, to save time on site, but also to ensure that they’re done to the highest possible standards.”

Vicaima has a heritage built up on veneered flush, inlaid and feature panel configurations, using the resources of its chipboard, MDF and veneer production capabilities. “Our huge range of over 750 door types and the servicing options available to provide a total package, ensure that our customers get something a little different from the mainstream offer,” said Mr Johnson.

The range of veneer options is vast, but sales trends have shown that oak, ash, beech, cherry, maple and walnut are probably the most popular, with sapele, koto and eucalyptus also in contention.

These veneers are available either as flush doors in the Essential range, or with marquetry inlays as the Exclusive range. The next step up is the Classic range, where flush doors have face fitted mouldings applied, that give a variety of panel effects, or alternatively traditional raised and fielded panels. Firecheck doors in FD30 and FD60 are available across all these ranges.

Wood-look foils

A recent development from Vicaima has been the use of high grade wood-look foils, that give an extremely accurate real veneer look. Branded as Dekordor, they’re very hard to tell apart from real wood veneer and product development is now bringing forward a far wider range, so that customers will be able to choose between real veneer and Dekordor in each product range.

The Dekordor product ensures a very consistent quality, eliminating some of the problems experienced with painted, waxed or stained doors, whilst maintaining a very high quality look. A great deal of development has gone into producing foil layons that create exactly the same effects as their real veneer counterparts, especially in the raised and fielded panel or face fitted mouldings ranges.

“We’re working now on producing a Dekordor version of our Exclusive marquetry inlay doors, which will be almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing,” said Mr Johnson.

Vicaima is also launching a matching door kit based on its patented European style system, altered to suit the UK market. The Portaro Easifit Door Kit provides a matching frame and architrave set, alongside a factory-serviced Vicaima door. Supplied in an unassembled format, it’s ready for site fixing, with a range of matching skirtings and window boards.

Using the “act local” adage also brings statutory requirements into play, particularly in the area of fire certification. There have been many changes within these regulations, often leaving merchants and end users confused by them, which makes it even more important to work with companies that have a rigorous testing and approval system.

Doubling up

“We know that fire certification is crucial,” said Mr Johnson, “so we decided to run with two of the main UK certification bodies, BWF-Certifire and BM TRADA. While it’s a very expensive way of doing things, as we have to gain approval from both bodies, when really only one is needed, it means that our customers can almost certainly use our doors against any specification in the UK.”

This is typical of the Vicaima approach to quality – it doesn’t look for the lowest cost option, but seeks a standard that will exceed what the market expects. “This just makes it easier for our customers and we find that we gain more business,” said Mr Johnson.

Doors arrive from Portugal every day into the UK, in scheduled shipping and are then transhipped to Swindon against a programme, to prioritise against stock levels, but also to ensure a steady stream of doors. There is also a scheduled lorry service that delivers from the factory every week, to take care of any panic deliveries.

The Swindon site then clears all orders and allocates doors for servicing. Modern CNC and robotic machines create hinge, latch, letterbox and spyhole openings, as well as an extensive range of glass openings. FD30 and FD60 glazing options are also available in a variety of glass types and the future plans are for a wide range of door kits, based on Vicaima’s patented European style system, with alterations to suit the UK market.

Sales strategy

Vicaima’s sales force covers the country and whilst the initial sales growth was developed by direct selling to key inner city developments, the new emphasis is on dealing via merchants, with independent businesses as the mainstay. “We had to go direct in the early days “to take on the business lost from the old contracts and also due to the strict buying policies imposed by the large merchant groups,” Mr Johnson explained. “This effectively precluded us from access to the market, but as time has gone on and our name is so well known, the large groups have all seen the real benefit of selling our product, as well as the more standard package from one of the large joinery companies.”

This is a significant change in selling policy and will give many merchants the opportunity to gain new business, by having doors backsold through their sites. But, as Mr Johnson made clear, it’s not money for old rope. “Doors need a good level of product knowledge and it takes time and attention to detail to sell doors with a high level of service. But the rewards are there, for us and the merchants who want to join in. Customer service, quality design and price are the keys to this partnership.”