The timber fire door sector continues to be buoyant with improved sales compared with the same time in 2003. And, during the January-March period, 35% of fire door manufacturers increased sales of timber products compared with the previous three months, although 12% decreased sales and 53% stayed the same.

The difference between the number of companies reporting an increase over those reporting a decrease is the net balance, expressed as a percentage. A positive net balance indicates growth; a net balance of zero implies little has changed.

On this basis, a net 23% increased their sales of timber fire doors in the last quarter compared with the previous quarter (chart 1). Most reported increases of more than 10%. In terms of volume, sales increased 11% on the previous quarter.

Both small (29%) and large companies (18%) increased sales, while medium-sized companies stayed the same. Manufacturers in the south (38%) and the north (34%) grew their business, but there was no change in the Midlands and Scotland. A net 38% of those who sold more than an average 1,000 fire doors a month performed the best.

Sales, year-on-year

A net 18% of companies say their sales increased in the first quarter of 2004 compared with the same time last year (chart 1) and most saw increases of more than 10%. Sales volume increased by 14% compared with last year.

Large companies saw most of the growth and, in regional terms, manufacturers in the south and Midlands sold more but the north and Scotland saw no change. A net 50% of manufacturers who sold more than an average of 1,000 fire doors a month in the quarter increased sales, while a net 11% who sold fewer than 1,000 fire doors saw sales fall away.

In line with the last quarter, 82% of timber fire doors sold by manufacturers in this survey had a FD30 rating. Sixteen per cent had a 60-minute rating and the remaining 2% were sold with FD90 and FD120 ratings.

A net 35% of manufacturers say they increased sales of FD30 rated fire doors in the last 12 months. A net 29% of companies improved FD60 sales. FD90 doors also improved but there was no overall increase in sales of FD120.

On an individual basis, however, there were some gains in the latter category. “We have seen a steady year-on-year increase in demand for 120-minute fire doors,” said Ian Makins, production controller of Hazlin of Ludlow Ltd in Shropshire. “This is due to compartmentalisation of large retail outlets and high rise apartments to reduce fire spreading to adjacent buildings.

“Approximately 55% of our business is focused on manufacturing fire doors. We expect the market for selling complete fire doorsets to grow to meet CE requirements,” he added.

Sales forecasts are strong again this quarter with a net 59% of manufacturers expecting to sell more in April to June compared with the previous quarter. Large fabricators are even more positive. Compared with the same time last year, expectations for the next three months are high, with a net 59% expecting increases. Again large manufacturers are the most optimistic (chart 2).

Order volumes increased for a net 24% of manufacturers in January to March compared with the previous quarter, but materials became more expensive in the last quarter with a net 29% of manufacturers reporting increases. Selling prices came under pressure with a net -12% of companies reporting lower prices.

Capacity and prospects

Twenty-four per cent of timber fire door manufacturers are currently working to capacity and the outlook for the next three months is good, with a net 41% of producers more positive than last quarter. Large companies are particularly confident.

However, price cutting in the market, lack of skilled staff and slow payments and bad debts were problems faced by manufacturers this quarter. The single biggest problem was price cutting in the market, mentioned by 29% of who took part in the survey (chart 3).

Ninety-three per cent of all timber fire doors sold by manufacturers in the last 12 months were internal doors while 7% were external. And 27% of timber fire doors sold in the last 12 months were sold as doorset packages.

A net 23% of merchants in this survey increased sales of fire doors compared with three months ago.

Compared with the same time last year sales are also healthy – a net 47% sold more in January to March. In line with the last quarter, 92% of all timber fire doors sold by merchants in the last year had a FD30 rating.

The merchant sector’s outlook for the next three months is also good with a net 56% expecting to sell more in April to June.

BWF comment

“Fire safety is one of the key issues when it comes to design and construction of new buildings and management of existing ones,” said Richard Lambert, director of the British Woodworking Federation.

“The current UK fire safety provisions are spread across more than 100 different pieces of legislation. Fire doors play an important role in providing the integral fire protection which is part of every building, but which few people ever realise is there, safeguarding them. Passive fire protection, such as fire doors, buys crucial extra time for evacuation in the event of a fire.

“But a fire door itself is not a safety feature alone. It’s the combination of the door, its components and frame that prevents the spread of fire. The message is getting through, but not fast enough.

“Merchants play a crucial role in making sure that contractors are sold compatible components for the fire doors they have bought. Fitting incorrect components to a rigorously tested fire door can have potentially life-threatening consequences.

“The message the BWF is trying to get across to builders and merchants is to adapt a more conscientious approach to the supply, specification and installation of fire doors and components. The cost of non-compliance could be high, in human lives and in potential court cases.”