• UK fire door sales rose 15% in the July-September 2007 quarter.
• Thirty-minute rated fire doors took 86% of the market.
• Most timber fire doors are sold as leafs or door sets, not kits.
• Merchants predict the market will tighten.
• Fire doors need to be promoted as a high tech, higher value product.

Factual data rather than market comment is now the central focus of the quarterly fire door and doorset market report compiled by Rigby Research for the British Woodworking Federation. The latest study shows a 15% rise in sales in the July to September period, compared with the previous quarter. But according to BWF chief executive Richard Lambert, the outlook is not so rosy, with the new emphasis of the report underlining a “growing disparity between sales in the previous quarter and the expectations of merchants for the future”.

He said: “Much of this is driven by the increase in manufacturers’ prices during this year, which merchants have found increasingly difficult to pass on. The average price figures in the survey don’t really reflect this because they are distorted to some extent by those at the top end of the market.”

The problem the BWF identifies is that merchants fear selling prices are at the limit of what contractors will pay for what they still see as a commodity product.

“Chances are merchants will look to preserve margins on fire doors by striking ever harder bargains with manufacturers eager to retain their business in an intensely competitive market,” said Mr Lambert.

This quarter’s report is based on interviewing 41 joinery companies in October 2007, sampled by company size and region to ensure a balanced spread. The sample included members and non-members of the BWF CERTIFIRE quality and performance assurance scheme.

Third quarter sales rise

The charts show joinery companies’ volume sales of timber fire doors by door type and rating, and by customer base. As this is only the second survey of its kind, a series of trends in actual volumes and sales is yet to emerge. However, the pattern of information will become clearer as the report builds momentum. Based on the sample of joinery companies interviewed, over 45,000 timber fire doors were sold in July to September 2007, compared with 39,200 the previous quarter.

One of the charts also illustrates the percentage breakdown of timber fire doors that are bought-in by joinery companies as door blanks or completed fire doors. Another shows the percentage breakdown of sales by fire door rating. In July to September 2007 timber fire doors with a fire resistance of 30 minutes continued to account for the majority of timber fire door sales (86%). Fire doors with a 60-minute fire resistance represented only 12% of overall sales, and the remaining 2% were sales of 90 or 120-minute fire rated doors.

The survey found that 48% of timber fire doors are sold with a filled aperture, which includes vision panels, air vents and letter plates, and 39% are sold with no aperture. The remaining 13% have an unfilled aperture.

Similarly to last quarter’s survey, most timber fire doors are sold as door leafs or doorsets. Only a small proportion are sold as door kits.

The survey also asks for the average price of a doorset, door kit and door leaf. Most joinery companies were able to give average prices, but there were some that were only able to give a range.

Similarly to last quarter’s survey, sales of timber fire doors mainly go to building contractors, with a further 11% and 10% respectively going to builders’ merchants and installers.

Timber fire rated frames

Thirty-seven out of the 41 joinery companies interviewed this quarter (90%) reported to make timber fire-rated frames. From this sample just over 8,700 timber fire-rated frames were sold in July to September 2007. Sales ranged from two to 2,000 timber fire rated frames.

Eighty per cent of the timber fire rated frames sold were manufactured in-house and the remaining 20% were bought-in from an external supplier.

With the fire door sector forecasting a tightening of the marketplace from here on, Mr Lambert said it is time for the business to rethink marketing strategy and move away from treating the product as a commodity.

“It makes more sense to press merchants to promote fire doors as an added value product – a carefully designed, precision-manufactured safety device,” he said.