For the developer of the UK’s first internet roof truss ordering service, the business model makes perfect sense. Why keep on redesigning the wheel when all the work has been done before many times over and the order could be placed online and delivered direct to where it’s needed?

Manchester roof truss fabricator Roof Frame is now providing a service whereby clients can price their own standard roof trusses by entering details into an online calculator. The system, which was developed specifically for the company, delivers an instant quote and the facility to go ahead with an order.

The company continues to design and manufacture more complex structures, but Roof Frame owner Nigel Woods believes the majority of business could be conducted online.

"We must have done hundreds of 7m 30° trusses over the years and we all make the same standard profile," he said. "The figures are always the same whether you do it on the phone or on the internet and will be forever. You have the gross timber in cubic metres, then you take the plate area and you get the price of the timber and the plate, and from that the cost per truss and that gives you the gross margin.

Power of the internet
"We all do it hundreds of times over and only the price changes. The power of the internet is unbelievable and we just have to use it. If you can go to Asda and buy cereal online in Manchester and have it delivered in Southampton the next day, why not do it with rafters? It’s time to give the end user more control."

The system was launched in January and at the moment is designed for simpler roofs such as garages and gable-to-gable houses, which probably account for about 80% of roof truss manufacture. Online, the pages detail design loads and list tiles. There are two deal-breaker questions: the tiles must be included in the list – there are hundreds by manufacturer and product – and truss centres must be 600mm, which may restrict openings such as dormer windows. The trusses are also not designed for hoist loads, tracks for supporting disabled people or water tanks heavier than 230 litres.

Roof Frame uses Gang-Nail technology and timber predominantly from Crown Timber. It operates in a 4,000ft2 industrial unit with a two-acre yard in Swinton. Design is in-house and the company has vehicles and trailers modified to 32ft long, with wells to carry inverted tall trusses.

Mr Woods started Roof Frame 10 years ago. He had been designing roofs with his father, Norman Woods, a director at Crendon Timber Engineering and Constructional Timber in Barnsley, since he was 17 and until his father’s death. Mr Woods Jnr decided to set up on his own and now employs three people.

"We are a small manufacturer; we don’t get the type of work like Barratt Homes. We get a lot of complicated stuff and we have to work smart," said Mr Woods.

He said the new online ordering service was a way of growing the business. The aim is to increase the company’s share of pro forma orders to help with cash flow, increase website traffic, reduce repetitive work, allow it to focus on its more profitable complicated roof work and raise the profile of Roof Frame.

"If I had wanted to get busier, I would have to employ a rep and try to grow, but there’s a cost in that and that’s a risk until it starts to pay itself off," he said.

"I wanted to send a present to someone across the country, so I did it online and it worked so well and was so easy I looked at how it was done and could see no reason why I couldn’t come here in the mornings and find a pile of orders and money in the bank."

Rights protected
Mr Woods said he invested a lot of time and money in the project -although he won’t say how much -and has protected the rights to the website. Potential customers enter detailed roof information including spans, the pitch and length of the building to generate an instant automatic quote and PDF image of the roof. The dimensions are incremental and the angle of the pitch to half a degree from 22.5° to 40°.

He said the DIY pricing system is helpful for service builders, end users, estimators and quantity surveyors looking for a quick price. He said these types of tender can bog down fabricators and rarely convert to actual business. So far the system has generated 70 quotes, although these have yet to be translated into orders.

Mr Woods said he will expand the system to Tee intersections, barn hip roofs and mono roofs, and eventually timber frame, with an online roof catalogue to follow.