Replacing wooden window frames with aluminium is one the first things people think of when modernising their homes, it is also usually the standard when new homes are being built, aluminium looks nice, weather resistant – it doesn’t rust, is sturdy and more secure. Aluminium doors is also very popular both in homes and offices. Here is a look at this fast growing business.
Getting Started / Business Model
When thinking of starting this business you need to decide on your business model. There are usually four to consider: manufacture only, install only and manufacture & install as well as manufacturing wholesale – manufacturers don’t just make custom sizes for the trade they can also supply standard sized doors and windows to the retail market (places like Cashbuild).
Many small business owners when starting out, especially with little to no capital, they focus on the installation side. Once they are familiar with the business and know how to install, what they do is: they start advertising their services, once they get a query, they go to the premises to measure the size of window or door they will need to install. Then they take that measurements (size) and requirements (single, double) to a manufacturer to get a quotation to give to the client, once client accepts, they provide a deposit to proceed with the job, the installer then pays the manufacturer to manufacture the window, once completed they install the window and get paid the balance. There are also standard size windows available that can be purchased complete and installed but these are limited to a few sizes and vary in design and quality.
There is also another variation to this business model, that is manufacturers that outsource the installation. What happens here is that manufactures they have premises and the manufacturing equipment but they don’t want to get into the installation side of things which requires vehicles and staff so they outsource that task. A lot of manufacturing companies in this industry partner with home improvement finance providers such as Real People, so the clients finance the windows and doors meaning they are more likely to buy. By focusing on manufacturing they can scale their business much quicker, if they are outsourcing installation they can have various installers on their books meaning the quote generation, finance applications and installation can all be streamlined to efficiently grow this business without worrying about install staff stuck in traffic and can only reach so many people a day. This is another opportunity for you if you are a competent installer to get into this business without a large outlay in capital by making yourself available to manufacturers. Yes, you will still need skills to install properly, a vehicle and the tools. But both install business models removes the need for premises and manufacturing equipment, as well as purchasing enough raw materials to run this business properly.
In order to start this business you need machines to cut and crimp the aluminium extrusions / profiles to make the windows or doors. These machines range from small portable machines used by small businesses to large floor standing models. Manufacturers buy the extruded aluminium from specialised aluminium companies like Wispeco. These profiles are sold in standard lengths (such as 2m or 2.5m or whatever length) and then cut and crimped to requirements.
First the profile are cut at the correct angle for the purpose. Watch this video especially around the time where the 45 degree angle is cut:
Then it is crimped, have a look at this video to better understand the process of a manual crimper often used by small businesses:
A more automated machine:
Then the glass is added and installed.
Now you must be thinking mmm… does not look to hard to make it, I can start installing and as soon as I can afford a machine I will get into manufacturing and make more money. Not necessarily. You see manufacturing involves holding stock of profiles and glass and cutting the profiles and the glass and crimping it. It takes time and sometimes you have to go and get the stock from supplier which can take more time. What am I getting at? If you have a burgeoning installation business and making OK money it may not necessarily be more lucrative to get into manufacturing immediately especially if you don’t have the extra capital for more staff and to hold enough stock (raw materials). Manufacturing is a different ball game and you can get bogged down with various things compared to if you are just measuring, someone else manufacturing, collecting and installing windows and doors the whole day. Small business owners only making enough to put food on the table almost always struggle to make the transition from installer to manufacturer due to the extra capital requirements and the knowledge of deploying capital efficiently compared to installing (which is a service business). To give you an example of the schlep some go through, some small businesses cut the profiles down by hand, I want you to compare the profile cutting video above to the one below:
Common sense tells us that manually cutting and then still have to sand down the profiles is not a good use of time. Don’t make life hard for yourself needlessly, jump from install to manufacture when you are in a position to do so, don’t rush it especially if you have a family to feed.
You do not need a specialised machine to cut aluminium but it makes the task (measuring and cutting) much easier, you can use a cut off saw, band saw or miter saw to cut it.
Manufacturing readymade aluminium windows doors for the retail market
If you have been paying attention you might have seen that I mentioned that some place sells readymade doors and windows in standard sizes. This means you don’t have to measure and install and can just sell to resellers like hardware and home improvement stores. Mass producing aluminium windows and doors for the retail market can be even more challenging without automation, which means a huge capital outlay. The margins are less than custom made as the retailer still have to put on their markup, you need economies of scale for this business model. You need automation:
Image credits: d8alum, smithwindows, hiluminium