Roto has a long-standing trading partnership with VBH worldwide. In Britain, the two companies have been working together for more than three decades.
For this article, we decided to go straight to the top. We did our best to think of some of the things a fabricator might ask if they had a conversation with VBH (GB) managing director Peter Rowlands. We also thought of a few things we wanted to ask ourselves.
We came up with ten questions and then put them to Peter. He gave us some very considered answers...
VBH has been supplying hardware and other accessories to the UK industry for well over 30 years. What do you think are the highest priorities for window and door manufacturers purchasing hardware today? (Price, quality, security, lifetime etc)
“It is very interesting that the market is segmenting to a greater degree than ever before. Depending on the hardware application, the customers’ requirements can be weighted to deal with the market. For example, some customers are totally price driven provided the product is fit for purpose. But the main market is looking for well designed products at competitive prices which enhance the overall value of their windows and doors.
“Good service is vital for all suppliers as lead times are constantly getting shorter and delivery reliability is essential”.
The front page of the VBH website currently has a link to downloads relating to CE Marking. During the build-up to CE Marking becoming mandatory in July 2013, did you experience a significant increase in enquiries about it? How about since?
“Yes, we did see a rise in the number of enquiries in the first half of the year. This has flattened off since July, and the number of enquiries is not as high now as it was.
“We decided early in the CE process that the best way we could help customers was to provide all the data they need online to allow them to complete their CE marking documentation. Our customers can download what they want, whenever they need it”.
VBH corporate branding shows a green box being delivered. What can you tell us about your logistics operation and how you go about providing this aspect of your service?
“VBH introduced the green box concept in 2009 as part of a world-wide branding exercise. The aim is to convey to the market that VBH has a wide service offering which is not just about delivering orders complete and on time. The service package from VBH includes a unique offering to VBH customers including online ordering, stock management systems (LOGOS), Kanban deliveries, and in some cases a bespoke delivery service. We have four warehouses strategically located in Kent, Birmingham, Swansea and Glasgow that can all provide the full VBH customer service package”.
With so much more information being available online now, how important is technical support to your fabricator clients?
“Good question! The internet is a wonderful resource and we use our website to make as much information as possible available to the industry. This includes the CE marking documentation you’ve already mentioned, all our catalogues, Product Bulletins and profile related item information. However, we have always recognized the importance and reassurance of the human touch and that is why we continue to provide the services of a three-strong in-house Technical Department whose members are always available to help our customers and sales staff. Led by Technical Manager Melvin Hutton and with over 80 years’ industry experience between them, many spent on production lines, the team is well qualified to help.
“Our Technical Advisors work closely with their counterparts at our suppliers so that we have the most up to date technical information for all the hardware we supply. We believe that we have the strongest technical team of any hardware distributor in the UK and have struck the right balance between written and human technical assistance.
“It’s also worth noting that our Area Sales Managers are not simply order takers. They’re all experienced industry professionals, some with production and technical backgrounds”.
The VBH Service Centre Network is an interesting initiative. Can you tell us more about it?
“As you know, we are a distributor to the trade, not the public. However, we have always received enquiries from the public and repair companies who often turn up at our warehouses, looking for assistance. They are typically sourcing single items to replace something that has failed on an old installation but we’re not set up to deal with orders such as these and would actually lose money if we didn’t impose a minimum order value. We also feel that this is a growing market and needed to be dealt with more professionally by VBH.
“Our National Sales Manager for England, Simon Monks, came up with the concept of formalizing the process by setting up a national network of trade counters, to be known as VBH Service Centres. In exchange for the Service Centre stocking an agreed package of products that we have put together for the repair market, they receive catalogues and other POS material as well as being featured on the VBH Service Centre area of our website and gaining business through referrals from VBH.
“The concept is a huge success and allows us to supply hardware to anyone, at a reasonable price, whilst increasing business and profitability both for us and the Service Centres”.
Your online ordering platform is called VBH24. How has the take-up been for this service?
“This is down to customer preference. The take up of customers who use it to place orders continues to rise at a fairly steady rate, with nearly 400 user registrations at the time of writing. However there is still a reluctance from many in our industry to use a webshop for order placing, even though most of us use the web for many of our personal purchases.
“With VBH we offer many ways in which an order can be placed, including scanner systems, email, direct interface with customers’ systems, as well as the telephone, of course. Even faxes are still used! In the new year we will be launching a new initiative called easyScan. This is another ordering device which will give our customers direct access to our system to place their orders.
“Frequent users of VBH24 find that they can use the ‘Favourites Lists’ tool for incredibly quick ordering. Many customers actively use the site for checking stock and prices but then prefer to call our sales team to place the order. I suppose this is testament to the service the sales team provides, and the fact that customers still like human interface!”
How do you see the future for the major German hardware brands such as Roto in the UK market?
The major European brands will always have a place in the UK market because they are very powerful brands and Germans are seen as excellent engineers. In the same way that people buy other commercial brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Bosch, Siemens etc, the brands associated with our industry will continue to push forward with new products and innovation. Not all these ideas will be suitable for UK tastes but companies such as Roto, will be with us for the long term because they invest heavily in product development and technical support. If anyone has any doubt about this I strongly suggest a visit to the Fensterbau-Frontale exhibition in Nuremburg in March to see first-hand the power of Roto and the European hardware industry.
Worldwide, Roto Group has put a big emphasis on the suitability of its products for the low-energy market, for example on buildings designed in accordance with Passivhaus techniques. In your experience so far, has this sector been of significance in the UK?
“The market for low energy products is still a small part of the total UK market, although it is gaining momentum. As U-values are getting lower for windows and doors, then the hardware required has to move with the market. For example, as glass weights are increased because of heavier glazing units then the specification of supporting hardware needs to be increased proportionately. This means heavier duty door and window hinges and bearing systems which can support the heavier weights”.
Which Roto products are the most important for VBH right now, and why?
“VBH distributes a wide range of Roto products suitable for the UK market. The folding door market has been growing strongly and we expect to continue to increase sales in the next 12 months. We have a strong market position with Roto tilt & turn hardware and with the new developments and continued competitiveness of the range we expect to continue to grow market share in this major niche area. In the future we are looking forward to pushing even further into this field with the Designo developments”.
Does VBH have any plans for the near future that you can tell us about?
“We’re looking forward to pushing on with new Roto products such as Designo II tilt & turn, and the TSH30 open-out hardware. Our own greenteQ designers have also been busy this year and we have a number of new greenteQ products coming in between now and the end of the year. These include new resi-door, window and sliding door handles that can all be used with Roto locks. There are also new developments in our door furniture, including hinges, knockers and stainless steel pull handles. We will also be busy promoting our Clearspan bi-fold door hardware into the aluminium market. We hope to see great things from all these products.
“Things are looking very bright for VBH and our key suppliers such as Roto, as we push forward with new service tools and new products”.