Many mass production and architectural joinery firms appear to have met their budget targets in the first quarter, although few seem particularly upbeat about forward order levels.

Uninspired by market conditions, many sources were more interested in speaking this week about developments at Dale Joinery Ltd where administrative receivers were appointed in January. According to a spokesperson for chartered accountant Ernst & Young, the company’s main Rochdale site had been particularly affected by “a very competitive market” and was closing “because we have not been able to achieve a sale of the business as a going concern”. However, as we now know, a buyer was found for Dale’s Lichfield window plant.

The new owner, former Palgrave Brown managing director Richard Fawcett, suggested to TTJ that the acquisition should be seen as a sign of still growing market confidence in fully-finished, factory-glazed timber windows.

“Our target market is fully-finished and factory-glazed products for better-quality residential properties,” he said. “We will be looking to see if we can develop a relationship with the self-build sector and to work more closely with builders merchants.”

The decision to use the name Dale Joinery (Lichfield) Ltd reflected the fact that this was “a good business selling a good product”.

The demise of Dale’s Rochdale factory has already boosted business for some of its erstwhile competitors and, in some instances, given a little more scope on pricing. One company commented that, after a slow start to the year, trade had “picked up nicely” after the first month and sales were now “back on track”, thanks in part to the fact that former Dale Joinery customers were looking elsewhere for their supplies. One source described the closure of the factory as “another step in the consolidation process” and suggested its collapse was due to “a lack of the volume required to make it work at existing market price levels”.

Looking to the wider market, several key industry players said they were enjoying “a steady flow of enquiries and orders”, but complained of widespread delays in confirmation of delivery dates. One said orders for timber windows had been very healthy but that “frustrating” delays raised the prospect of “a mad rush on production when all the delivery dates come in”.

The trend towards factory finishing has continued in door as well as the window sector. Increasing demand is also reported for doorsets, especially those coming under the Secured by Design banner. Business has been strong too in sliding sash windows, and the social housing sector is behind a “healthy level of orders” for flush casement styles.

In all these product areas, significant price increases have been difficult to impose and the same seems true for stairs. The shift towards pre-finished staircases has continued, although one supplier suggested there was “still a need to educate people how to use these products on site”.

Adequate UK stocks

No problems are reported with timber supply and UK stocks appear to be more than adequate. Downward price pressure was noted in some areas, notably in Russian solid timber. According to contacts in the architectural joinery sector, lighter hardwoods, particularly North American, still have strongest customer appeal. And consumers still appear unwilling to pay a premium on FSC-certified material.

ß It is difficult to generalise about demand for architectural joinery as some firms have been reporting better-than-expected first quarters while others claim business has been slack. One of the former confirmed that it had managed to pick up labour from other joinery firms far less busy than itself, although much of its activity was based on business booked last year. Forward orders were less healthy.

Buoyant demand

Demand for joinery from the private housing market appears to have remained relatively strong, and the commercial fit-out market is also reported to be buoyant.

Most companies appear satisfied with enquiry and tendering levels, but there is dissatisfaction at the order conversion rate. And all firms would like to see better margins in what remains a competitively-priced environment. “Companies are cutting each others’ throats,” said one source. “There are always firms prepared to put in a lower offer and I can understand it when you have a factory full of people.”

However, several contacts pointed to an improvement in recruitment into the architectural joinery sector, attributed partly to recent publicity surrounding high earnings potential in key building trades.

There still seem to be difficulties persuading employees to take on foreman and management roles, but the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) is now considering starting courses to encourage people to enter joinery management. “Hopefully, it would make it easier to find the right people and to train them,” said the BWF.

The federation has placed even more emphasis on training over the last year and has significantly strengthened its relationship with CITB ConstructionSkills to create a “greater range of training and a lot more training opportunities at all levels in joinery”.

The BWF has also given its first demonstration of an interactive wood machining training guide which combines workbooks and manual learning and on-site assessment. In addition it has recently published guides covering policy development with respect to complaints procedures, training, waste management/environment and health & safety. “Some of these policies are tailored for different sizes of company,” it pointed out.

Insulation/energy performance

The British Fenestration Rating Council (BFRC), meanwhile, has reported substantial interest in its new insulation/energy performance label for windows. This is based on the standard European energy level and gives an energy efficiency rating from A to G taking into account the window’s U-value (heat loss performance rate per square metre per degree Kelvin), solar gain rating and the air leakage factor. According to the BFRC, the label will achieve a high recognition factor because of its similarity to energy-related labels on electrical appliances. It is not yet in use, but the council said interest had been registered in the scheme both at exhibitions and its website. A spokesman said it was “highly likely” that energy rating requirements would appear in the next revisions to the Building Regulations.

A good response has also been reported to the askTRADA website ( since its relaunch earlier this year. Now free to professionals, the site is attracting an average of 13,000 visitors each month and has 5,000 registered users. According to a TRADA spokesperson, the website is designed to encourage architects and engineers to use timber. He added that the organisation plans to repeat its successful recent In touch with Timber conference which targeted the same audience.