How to start up a window fitting business

If you're thinking of setting up as a window fitter, you'll need to decide whether you'll install wood, PVC, steel or aluminium windows. Our easy-to-follow guide will help you to start up and run your window fitting business.

Research your target market

When you plan your window business you will need to make a realistic assessment of who will use your services and why - and of how much existing competition there is.

Customers

Think about how many people, businesses and organisations are likely to use your services.

Domestic work

Pay attention to the type and style of housing in your area. For example, are houses large or small? Are they old or new? Modern or traditional? Do they appear well kept or run down? Look at windows, doors and fascias - are they wooden, metal or plastic? Single or double glazed? What sort of condition are they in - have they been replaced recently? Is accommodation mainly owner-occupied or mainly rented? Is some owned by the local authority or by a housing association? Are there many buildings with special requirements, for example listed buildings and those sited within a conservation area? If so, find out details about local planning requirements.

Try to match the range of products and services that you offer to the needs of local customers. Think about whether or not you are prepared to travel to other areas to do work.

Work for other businesses and organisations

Think about other buildings in your area. Shops, pubs, offices, schools, churches and so on may all require replacement windows and doors at some point and are all potential clients.

Once you have identified who your potential customers are, you can direct your advertising efforts at them. Think about the types of window system and other products that will be required in specialist situations such as public buildings.

Contract and sub-contract work

Try approaching other businesses that may need your services. You could, for example, leave your details with local building contractors, property developers and shopfitters. Other large window installation firms might also require sub-contractors and freelancers on a regular basis. Consider approaching your local authority - these are major users of construction services and may be prepared to include your business on a list of 'approved contractors'. Housing associations may also be potential clients. You might also consider trying to become an insurance-approved contractor.

Large organisations who invite firms to tender for contract work may be reluctant to use a newly established business. Also, a young business may have difficulty in funding a large contract, as many things may have to be paid for well before any payment is received. But it may be worth finding out who is responsible for putting work out to tender in large organisations such as housing associations, local authorities and big construction firms. Try to find out how the tender process works and what you would have to do if you wanted to tender for a contract.

Establishing the level of competition

Once you have decided who your customers might be, you need to find out how well they are already served.

How many other window installers are there in your area? A look on Yell.com (classifications 'double glazing installers', 'double glazing repair', 'window consultants', 'glaziers' and 'leaded lights and windows', perhaps also 'conservatories') and other similar directories will help to establish this. Look out for local branches of large national companies such as Anglian Home Improvements and Everest. Bear in mind that other types of business, for example general builders and joiners, might also do window installation work.

Try other online searches for window and double glazing installers in your area too.

Look at some of your competitors' advertisements and websites:

  • what products and services do they offer
  • do they use any particular products (for example a well known brand of PVC-u profile, a certain type of glass and so on)
  • do they advertise any special features, for example 'no pushy sales-people', an insurance-backed guarantee, a freephone telephone number, 24 hour emergency glazing, '25 years experience' and so on
  • do they display any certification logos, for example FENSA, Certass or the British Standards Institution Kitemark
  • do they belong to any trade associations, for example the Guild of Master Craftsmen, the Glass and Glazing Federation or the Federation of Master Builders
  • what sort of impression does their advertisement give you (for example, does the firm come across as small and friendly, large and efficient, good value, traditional, upmarket)

Be aware that you'll also face competition from 'cowboys' and 'moonlighters'. Some of these may work for the large window companies and do extra jobs of their own in the evenings and at weekends. Others may be unqualified and even blatantly dishonest. It's not unheard of for cowboy installers to claim falsely that they're FENSA certified or members of another competent person certification scheme.

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Decide which services to offer

There is quite a wide range of fenestration (window and door installation) services that you might decide to offer. Work is likely to fall into two broad categories - new build work (including extensions, conservatories and new homes/other buildings) and replacement installations.

Within these broad categories, you might decide to undertake one, some or all of the following activities:

  • window fabrication (using bought in extruded profiles, beading and either sheet glass or manufactured sealed double glazing units)
  • window and door installation and installation of other products, such as conservatories, orangeries and curtain walling
  • glazing and window repair

Some window fitters operate as self-employed contractors for a larger window sales business and work on a labour-only basis.

Products

You might decide to offer windows and doors in a range of different styles, colours and finishes. Your range might include options and extras such as high security glass, decorative effects, triple-glazed units, super-insulating units and special coatings. Perhaps you will stick with a single manufacturer's products, or maybe you will offer several different ranges. Although PVC-u is now the most popular frame material for domestic windows and doors, you could also offer softwood, hardwood, steel and aluminium frames.

You might decide to offer specialist products such as unitised systems, which are commonly used on non-domestic building projects.

There are other products that you might decide to supply and install, for example:

  • conservatories, porches and car-ports
  • door canopies
  • glass balustrades, rain screens and brise soleil (sun screens)
  • glass splash-backs for kitchens
  • garage doors
  • roof-lights and roof glazing
  • fascias and weatherboards
  • other building plastics, such as cladding, guttering and down-pipes
  • solar panels and other renewables installation

You might decide to sell some items on a supply-only basis to DIYers. Perhaps you will stock other related products and accessories, for example PVC-u cleaner, blinds, conservatory furniture, laminate flooring and so on.

Specialist services

There is a range of specialist services that you might decide to offer your clients. Depending on your skills and facilities, you might undertake some of these in-house or engage the services of a specialist. Examples include:

  • leaded lights
  • stained glass work
  • other decorative effects, for example sandblasting
  • hole cutting
  • re-glazing and general window and door repairs
  • lock repairs
  • 24 hour emergency glazing and boarding up

You might also decide to offer some other services, for example general building work, carpentry and joinery.

'Added-value' services

The window installation industry is competitive and you may decide to offer your customers a range of attractive 'added value' services and features. These might include, for example:

  • free surveys, estimates and quotations
  • insurance-backed guarantees on all new work
  • computer aided design service (for example for bespoke conservatories)
  • a freephone telephone line
  • guaranteed quick turnaround
  • a 'no job too small' promise

Certification

Many would-be customers - trade and private - will want to satisfy themselves that your business is bona fide and does good quality work. They will also want to be sure that your products meet the latest energy-saving requirements of the Building Regulations.

An excellent way of demonstrating your commitment to quality is to gain certification for your products and your workmanship. The window installation industry is very competitive and many of your rivals will include certification details in their advertising material, so you will probably want to make sure that you can at least match their credentials. Customers are becoming more and more aware of environmental and energy-saving matters, and may specifically look for an installer whose products are certified as achieving the highest possible performance ratings.

Building Regulations and 'competent person' schemes

Document 'L' (Conservation of fuel and power) of the Building Regulations covers the installation of new and replacement windows. The Regulations, which are aimed mainly at lowering carbon dioxide emissions by reducing heat loss from buildings, require all1 windows and some glazed doors installed in domestic buildings to comply with certain insulation standards.

Be aware that other aspects of window installations are covered by different parts of the Building Regulations - including those relating to safety glazing, ventilation, fire safety and moisture penetration.

To certify that a replacement window installation complies with the Building Regulations, installers have two main options:

  • get it inspected and signed off by the local authority building control department or an approved independent building inspector
  • self-certify the installation under an approved 'competent person' scheme

The Fenestration Self Assessment Scheme (FENSA) was the first such scheme, set up by the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) following the introduction of the new regulations. Installers who are FENSA members can self-certify that a compliant installation meets the required building standards. The customer is given a Building Regulations completion certificate and details of the installation are entered into the FENSA central database.

FENSA is still probably the best-known self-certification scheme in the window industry, but there are now several other approved schemes available. They include:

  • Certass
  • Exova BM Trada
  • British Standards Institution (BSI) Kitemark
  • Assure

More information is available on the scheme providers' websites.

Note that the self-certification schemes for windows (and doors) apply to replacement installations rather than to new-build work (including new extensions). Windows in new buildings are inspected and signed off as part of the wider building inspection process.

To join a competent person scheme you will need to meet certain criteria, including a commitment to comply with Building Regulations, evidence of general competence, and a commitment to fair trading. There is an annual registration fee and, if applicable, a vetting/monitoring fee. There is normally also a small charge made each time an installation is registered with the scheme provider.

Installers and surveyors working in businesses which operate under a competent person scheme must individually demonstrate that they have minimum technical competencies (MTCs) and are sufficiently skilled, knowledgeable and experienced to do their job. GGF Training offers a card-based MTC assessment scheme to help window businesses verify the skills of their installers - there is more information on the GGF Training website.

Window energy ratings

Window energy ratings indicate how energy-efficient a window system (frame and glass) is, on a scale of A+ to G (A+ being the most efficient). The system is very similar to those used to energy-rate boilers and electrical appliances like fridges.

Under the Building Regulations for energy conservation, all replacement windows must be rated as band C or better - or meet equivalent standards. So being able to energy rate and certify your installations will enable you to demonstrate to customers that they comply with building regulations and are a cost-effective, quality option.

Several window energy rating schemes exist, the best known of which is run by the British Fenestration Rating Council (BFRC). More information about how the scheme works and the benefits of membership is available on the BFRC website.

BSI

As well as providing Kitemark competent person certification for window and door installers (BS 8213-4), BSI also administers several other Kitemark licences relating to windows and doors. These include:

  • BS 7412 - specification for windows and doorsets made from unplasticised polyvinyl chloride (PVC-U) extruded hollow profiles
  • BS EN 1279 series - glass in buildings, insulating glass units
  • BS 7950 - specification for enhanced security performance of casement and tilt/turn windows in domestic applications

Other BSI licences available cover specifications in areas such as impact resistance of glass, fire resistance in buildings, and workmanship on building sites.

More information is available on the BSI website.

CSCS

The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) is administered by the industry skills body CITB. Construction industry workers who join the scheme are issued with an identity card which reflects their position, their experience and their level of training. Although it is not compulsory, more and more building contractors specify that people working on their sites must hold a valid CSCS card. For more information, visit the CSCS website.

Trade association membership

Many trade associations have a code of conduct and/or minimum standards for their members. Displaying the logo of a reputable trade association is a good way of demonstrating your commitment to quality. Some examples of reputable trade associations that you might consider joining are given below:

  • The Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF, which has a code of good practice for members)
  • The Guild of Master Craftsmen
  • The Federation of Master Builders (FMB)

Other certification schemes

Details of some other relevant quality certification schemes are listed below:

  • ISO 9000 quality certification schemes are available to businesses that manufacture items, for example doors and windows
  • The British Board of Agrement (BBA) certifies the quality of building materials, including windows, doors and other installations
  • TrustMark is a government backed scheme which covers much of the construction industry, including the glazing sector. The scheme aims to help consumers find reliable and trustworthy tradespeople
  • Buy with Confidence - Trading Standards Approved scheme, which operates in more and more areas of Britain and vets and approves participating businesses to enable them to demonstrate to their customers that they operate in a legal, fair and honest way
  • the Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme (DGCOS) is a voluntary accreditation and arbitration scheme for vetted installers which provides deposit protection, guarantees, mediation and compensation
  • some manufacturers, for example window and door lock manufacturers, operate their own certification schemes to demonstrate that approved installers work to certain agreed standards

The above list is by no means exhaustive and there are many other organisations that certify their members' competence, quality and honesty. Before spending any money on joining an organisation or scheme, however, it's worth taking the time to find out how well known and respected it is.

1 special provision is made for listed historic buildings and buildings in conservation areas (planning permission is required for replacing features such doors and windows in listed buildings)

Consider your work rate

Assuming that you get a fairly steady stream of work, the amount that you can earn depends partly on the number of days you work and the length of your working day.

You may decide to stick to normal business hours, for example 8.30 am until 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and perhaps Saturdays too. Or you may decide to work longer hours - perhaps an earlier start. Remember that bad weather can disrupt your work schedules. Perhaps you are prepared to work very long hours when the weather is fair and your services are in demand, taking some time off during quieter periods.

Depending on the number of people working in your business, you may need to spend time surveying potential new jobs, giving quotes and signing up new orders. Some of your customers may well find it more convenient to do this outside normal working hours, so you may end up doing it in the evenings and at weekends. Of course, this helps to free up your day for doing installation work, but it does lead to a long working day.

Some glazing firms offer a 24 hour emergency service for work such as repairing break-in and storm damage. If you intend to offer this service you will need to make sure that you can provide cover at all times. You might decide to team up with another glazier to share responsibility for emergency calls.

Work rate

You should have a good idea of how long certain types of job will take you. It is very important when quoting for a job that you can make an accurate estimate of how long it will take. It's no good basing your quote on two days work if it ends up taking you four!

The speed at which you work depends on your own skills and experience and on the type and standard of the work that you do. Your charges should reflect all of these things.

Non-productive time

Unfortunately, not all of every working day will be spent earning money. Here are a few examples of reasons why you may sometimes find yourself working hard but earning nothing:

  • visiting sites to do surveys, cost new work and give quotes
  • doing your own direct selling
  • finishing off jobs that take you longer than you had thought (possibly due to unforeseen problems, such as an old window which is difficult to remove and requires a lot of making good)
  • returning to recently-completed jobs to make adjustments - doors may sag slightly after installation, for example, and need a small amount of adjustment several weeks or months later
  • re-doing faulty work
  • travelling to and from jobs, or to get tools or materials from a supplier
  • repairing tools or vehicles

Sometimes you may find that you are unable to work at all, because:

  • the weather is too bad to leave window openings uncovered and to work outside
  • you are waiting for items to be delivered
  • a window or door is the wrong size due to mis-measuring
  • a vital tool or piece of equipment is broken
  • another contractor has fallen behind with his or her part of the project
  • you are ill

Take all of these factors into account when you are estimating the maximum number of productive hours that you can work each month. Be realistic! Remember that they can apply to your employees as well as to you. When you plan your working schedules, try to minimise the amount of time that will be wasted. For example, you may be able to build a contingency into your work schedule so that you can move straight on to another job if for any reason you are unable to work at the original one.

Price your services

How will you decide on your prices?

First decide how you will charge for the work you do. For example, you might:

  • charge for installation work on an hourly or daily basis, adding to this the cost of any materials you supply
  • offer certain special package prices, for example 'one door and four basic windows for £2,500' (price included for illustrative purposes only)
  • charge for window fabrication (if you do it in-house) at a set rate per square metre plus an additional charge for any extras such as opening sashes
  • charge for certain types of work, such as fascia replacement, at a set rate per linear metre

You may decide to use different methods of costing for different jobs, depending on who the customer is and what type of work you will be doing.

It is very important that you set your charges carefully. You must make sure when deciding on what to charge that, assuming you get enough work, you will earn enough to cover all of your operating costs including your own drawings.

Also consider the following points when setting your charges:

  • what do your competitors charge for similar products and services
  • do you aim to win business away from your competitors with attractive pricing (for example regular discount campaigns)
  • will you vary your rate depending on the type and complexity of the work involved
  • will you make a profit on windows, doors and other items that you buy in or will you pass these on 'at cost'? If you decide to add a mark-up, decide how much this will be
  • will you make a call-out charge for some types of job, for example glazing repair work (if you do this)
  • will you charge a higher rate (for example double time) for out of hours emergency glazing work
  • what will you include in your prices, and what will you charge for as an extra
  • will you make a charge for surveying a job, or will you do this free (included in your price)

You will often be asked to give an estimate or quote for a particular job. Many customers will want to agree a price before a job is started and will expect you to stick to this.

Quote or estimate

If you give a quote for a job, that is a fixed price. Once it has been accepted by the customer the price can't be changed, even if there is a lot more work to do than you realised when you prepared the quote. Your quotes should therefore give precise detail of what is covered and make it quite clear that any variations or extras not covered by the quote will be charged for as extras.

An estimate is not a fixed price, it is just your best guess of what the job is likely to cost. You are not bound by it. It is perfectly acceptable to provide several estimates, each taking into account different circumstances from best to worst case scenario.

Where necessary explain to customers what could lead to the price for a job having to change - for example the discovery of rotten lintels. And if the customer asks for extra work to be done during the course of a job, be clear about how this will affect the overall cost.

It is usual to provide estimates and quotes free of charge on a no-obligation basis. You might, though, decide to make a charge for more complex and time consuming consultancy work - perhaps you will refund this charge if it leads on to a substantial contract.

Be aware that many of your clients will get quotes from several installers, so you need to be able to quote accurately and competitively. However, don't cut your own throat. Many clients value good quality craftsmanship and efficient service and are prepared to pay a realistic price for it. Above all, make sure that you don't end up working at a loss because your quote was too low!

Despite all the bad publicity that 'dodgy window salesmen' have had, there are still plenty of replacement window companies that open negotiations with a price that's well over the odds, giving them plenty of scope for tricks like "I'll phone my boss and see what he can do" and "if you sign up now I can knock off another £500". There aren't many other trades where this sort of price negotiation goes on, and it's probably best to stick to giving customers a fair and realistic quote from the outset.

Special guides are available to help you when pricing all aspects of construction work. They give up to date advice on what rates to charge for particular types of jobs. Some materials suppliers may also help you to work out what quantities you will need for a particular job, and the cost.

Promote your business

It is important to advertise your business effectively, to let your potential customers know who you are, where you are and what you can do for them. Most of your domestic customers will not require window installation services regularly and may not have the name of an installer to hand.

Online marketing

Many people search for things like replacement windows and doors online - so a good business website and perhaps a listing in an online directory could be very effective. Think about using social media, forums and perhaps a blog to promote your business. You could also pitch for work on websites like Mybuilder.com and Rated People.

An entry on Yell.com and other similar directories can be an effective way of advertising your business. However, many of your competitors will have done the same. Some firms spend a lot of money on large, eye-catching display advertisements. You will have to decide whether to compete head on with these firms, or to look for a different way of attracting customers. You could, for example focus on your own 'unique selling point' (USP) in your advertising material. This might be, for example, "25 years experience" or "Family run firm"

Try to tell people as many of the good things about your business as possible in your advertisements, particularly any quality certificates that you have gained and other things that distinguish your business from its competitors.

Direct selling

Direct selling is quite common in the replacement window industry. Some firms use both telesales and 'cold-calling' to sell their products. Although these sales techniques can sometimes be effective, there are drawbacks. Employing sales staff or paying for the services of a direct marketing agency is expensive, while some customers are just put off by direct selling. A growing number of people have signed up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), indicating that they don't want to receive unsolicited marketing calls. Some installers now make a point of advertising the fact that they don't employ any 'pushy sales-people'!

You could try the 'roadshow' approach - visiting events like ideal home exhibitions with a mobile display of your products. Or you could put up a semi-permanent display, such as a show-conservatory, at an outlet like a garden centre or shopping complex. Once again, the cost of this type of marketing can be high.

There are special rules and regulations that apply to cold calling and direct selling, to protect people from unfair sales tactics and give them a reasonable 'cooling-off period' during which they can change their minds and cancel. Some people display notices at their doors indicating that they will not purchase any goods or services at their doorstep - these should be respected.

Business networking

If you hope to get plenty of work from other traders like builders and property developers then good networking can pay dividends. You'll need to make contact with other traders, tell them all about yourself and your services, and convince them that they'd benefit from using your business. Of course, all of this can take time.

Other ways of advertising

There are lots of other ways you could consider for advertising your business. For example, you could:

  • distribute a paper flyer, plastic card or sticker with your business name and telephone number on it as part of a mail-shot that you do, perhaps in the early spring
  • look into becoming listed by an insurer, specialist helpline or directory as an 'approved tradesman' (most of these organisations operate a quality screening process and some will only list firms that have been trading for at least two years)
  • contact local residential landlords associations to enquire about being included in their suppliers guide

Think about other ways of promoting your business. You could for example sponsor a local sports club or event. Your local paper may run a regular 'contact the experts' advertising feature. Remember that your vehicle can be a very effective means of advertising if you have it sign-written and keep it clean and presentable. You might consider having a large sign made that you can display outside places where you are working - but make sure that your client has no objections before putting it up.

Some window fitters market their services by keeping an eye on local planning applications and sending a flyer to any applicants who they think might want to engage them.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth referrals and recommendations are very valuable to your business. Everyone has heard horror stories about 'cowboy' tradesmen who bodge jobs and swindle their customers - and they want to be sure that you're not going to do the same to them. You will have to earn your reputation through good, reliable workmanship - but even small things like politeness and considerateness can pay big dividends. Make sure that any staff, including sales staff, you employ are good ambassadors for your business too. Installers may get sales enquiries from local residents when they're out working on site, so be sure that they understand how to handle them courteously and effectively.

You may be able to persuade a satisfied customer to let you use his or her house as a show-home and to give you a reference or testimonial that you can use in your advertising literature.

Offer finance

Replacing doors and windows, or adding a new conservatory, is an expensive purchase. Some customers may be unwilling or unable to pay for it all in one go and would prefer to pay a deposit and spread the balancing payment over several months or years.

You may want to offer credit to these customers through a specialist finance company. There are a number of finance companies that specialise in home improvement finance, and between them they offer a range of different finance packages. Some of the finance packages available which you might use to attract customers include:

  • standard interest bearing credit
  • subsidised interest rate credit (a lower than normal interest rate)
  • interest free credit (0% interest)
  • deferred payment (buy now pay later) credit
  • high risk credit (for customers who might normally be turned down by a finance company)

When you sell goods on finance you will have to fill in a credit application with the customer to introduce them to the finance provider. Your finance company will then give a decision on whether to accept the application. All being well, the transaction will be completed quite quickly and you will receive payment from the finance company within a few days. Usually, the customer will pay a certain amount as a deposit. You will usually also be paid commission by the finance company. This is normally based on a percentage of the value of the sale and paid to you separately at the end of the month.

Most finance companies will expect you to meet certain requirements and standards before agreeing to do business with you. Some will only deal with businesses that have been trading for a certain minimum length of time, often two years.

Shop around when it comes to choosing which finance company you will deal with. Their terms and working practices vary. When choosing which one is best suited to your business, bear in mind the following:

  • what type of finance packages are most likely to appeal to your customers
  • how promptly will you receive payment from the finance company
  • how much commission are you offered
  • how quickly will your customers' credit applications be turned around
  • what level of back-up and support is available to you

You will need consumer credit authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) if you want to offer finance to your customers. You are likely to need full permission rather than just limited permission authorisation to cover any credit activities you engage in, because the supply of goods and services associated with the credit broking is likely to take place in the customer's home (this is referred to as acting as a 'domestic premises supplier'). For more information, visit the FCA website.

Franchise

Replacing doors and windows, or adding a new conservatory, is an expensive purchase. Some customers may be unwilling or unable to pay for it all in one go and would prefer to pay a deposit and spread the balancing payment over several months or years.

You may want to offer credit to these customers through a specialist finance company. There are a number of finance companies that specialise in home improvement finance, and between them they offer a range of different finance packages. Some of the finance packages available which you might use to attract customers include:

  • standard interest bearing credit
  • subsidised interest rate credit (a lower than normal interest rate)
  • interest free credit (0% interest)
  • deferred payment (buy now pay later) credit
  • high risk credit (for customers who might normally be turned down by a finance company)

When you sell goods on finance you will have to fill in a credit application with the customer to introduce them to the finance provider. Your finance company will then give a decision on whether to accept the application. All being well, the transaction will be completed quite quickly and you will receive payment from the finance company within a few days. Usually, the customer will pay a certain amount as a deposit. You will usually also be paid commission by the finance company. This is normally based on a percentage of the value of the sale and paid to you separately at the end of the month.

Most finance companies will expect you to meet certain requirements and standards before agreeing to do business with you. Some will only deal with businesses that have been trading for a certain minimum length of time, often two years.

Shop around when it comes to choosing which finance company you will deal with. Their terms and working practices vary. When choosing which one is best suited to your business, bear in mind the following:

  • what type of finance packages are most likely to appeal to your customers
  • how promptly will you receive payment from the finance company
  • how much commission are you offered
  • how quickly will your customers' credit applications be turned around
  • what level of back-up and support is available to you

You will need consumer credit authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) if you want to offer finance to your customers. You are likely to need full permission rather than just limited permission authorisation to cover any credit activities you engage in, because the supply of goods and services associated with the credit broking is likely to take place in the customer's home (this is referred to as acting as a 'domestic premises supplier'). For more information, visit the FCA website.

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