End-user education and easy installs = door furniture growth

by | Nov 15, 2021

While Australian door furniture trends have seen more traditional styles grow in popularity of late, over in New Zealand it seems consumers are quick to embrace more modern varieties, Windsor Architectural Hardware National Sales Manager, Mark McHugh reveals in this report.

Kiwis are now trending towards more muted tones, according to the New Zealand based door furniture supplier, including the popular graphite nickel, timeless brushed nickel and bronze finishes. 

Particular styles that continue to grow amongst both Australian and New Zealand consumers include the round rose variety as well as long plate hardware, according to Mr McHugh.

“Traditionally long plates were used on a new home build’s exterior while the round rose was used internally, but we are now seeing more of a shift towards long plates being used throughout the whole house,” he said.

When it comes to the bacteria free handles, and the unprecedented growth within this segment of late, one would be forgiven to think that the recent 200 per cent growth in natural brass products was attributed to consumers utilising anti-micro quality within the copper content, as a result of the pandemic.

However, Mr McHugh says, “while brass ranges are certainly popular, we have not aligned this growth with the anti-bacterial qualities with brass. Mostly I think the popularity of brass comes from the look and feel of the product and Windsor’s signature hand finishes.”

Keyless entry versus traditional

While traditional locks have been tried and tested for centuries, malfunctions still tend to occur on occasion which Windsor attributes to incorrect installs. However, malfunctions are not isolated to the traditional lock sector and can typically occur throughout the keyless entry sector as well.

“We would always recommend consumers use a professional to install any locking device they may be unfamiliar with as all locks can still malfunction. This is also why our product development and marketing teams continually work on simplifying the install of our products without comprising quality and security. We do this by improving our fitting systems and providing ‘how to’ videos and step-by-step instructions on our website which are commonly used by the DIY market.”

“If we see a particular issue with locks becoming a trend, we will produce a video on how to install it accurately. It is a must to constantly evolve online platforms particularly as customers utilise the online space more and more to triple check that they have installed their product properly and ensure no mistakes are made,” he said.

Windsor’s newly released Smart Entry range is priced similarly to traditional locksets.

While consumers were once wary of using smart keyless entry products, Mr McHugh says this wariness has dissipated not only due to the increased usability of products, but also due to the reducing price gap between smart locks and traditional turn key locks.

“Our newly released Smart Entry range is priced very similar to traditional locksets that are currently on the market. We are also now seeing consumers assess the additional fit out costs that come with traditional locks, particularly when they have to make a cut out for the pull handle, and they need to mortice out the lock while also putting together three components on the front door,” he said.

“Our Smart Entry locks require just one cut and deliver all the functions the user needs to lock and latch a door within the one unit. While these locks are easier to install, consumers have become more attracted to the convenience of these products as well.”

“This is also the reason why I believe Windsor is now adhering to a lot of requests for digital options on our high-end products as well. Historically there have been limited design options across the market but this is why the likes of our Smart Entry series is available in multiple finishes and styles and used by high end designers for projects,” Mr McHugh said.

Pandemic price peaks

While COVID has certainly boosted sales within both the DIY and trade sectors globally, it is also becoming more evident that New Zealand consumers’ need to prioritise spend on home reinvestment is far from over.

The downside to the pandemic is of course supply concerns with Mr McHugh saying supply chain issues have now led to increased service provider costs, increased raw material costs, longer lead times, as well as manufacturing delays.

“This is all impacting the cost of materials that we have to pass on. The concern around this is what impact this will have on the cost of building considering it has already gone up significantly over the last 12 months.’

‘While the cost increases in timber have nothing to do with door handles, it still may push out costs so much that it turns consumers off wanting to build new homes entirely. Throughout this time, we ensured that our stock levels were at a point where we can sustain these interruptions. In saying this, we do feel like we are over the worst of it for now,” he said.

New ranges

Launching two new ranges onto the market in recent months, Windsor recently introduced its innovative NIDO range, a contemporary range of lever handles available in four finishes all derived from machined brass. 

Windsor’s second collection launched this year is the new Smart Entry range of electronic locks. A key point of difference of the new range is Smart Entry’s narrow style, which gives it the ability to be used in both timber and aluminum applications. 

“The new squared narrow style lock enables it to be used across both hinged and sliding door applications. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatible, the locks are also app based. Windsor is now the first door furniture supplier in New Zealand to offer graphite nickel in this type of electronic lock, which is also available in matt black and stainless steel. Windsor proudly led the charge in graphite nickel in New Zealand when we first launched into this market about three years ago,” he said

“We always try to build our ranges around the colours we have available. For example, with our graphite range we have the door stops and everything else that complements it. Now that graphite nickel is in this range as well it will be a huge addition to our offer.”

“Another unique aspect of Windsor is that all of its finishes are created locally in New Zealand. We import brass hardware and hand finish it into fifteen different brass and bronze finishes. These include living finishes, which naturally patina over time, and lacquered finishes which protect the look of the finish as well,” Mr McHugh said.

Pointing out that Windsor does not compete with entry level products, Mr McHugh said the company continues to maintain its focus on quality residential and high-end builds including Italian brass products which are all hand finished in New Zealand.

When it comes to educating the end-user on all new product launches, Windsor overcomes this obstacle by organising on-going training sessions when a product is launched.

Maintaining close contact with builders, along with merchant sales representatives and account managers is crucial in ensuring our customers stay well informed, he said.

“We utilise a targeted database of builders that we have gathered over the years and we always ensure they are aware of product changes and improvements when these come to hand. It would be flawed to expect buyers to pass on the information for us because they work with so many products throughout the day. This is why it is so important that builders remain informed on new product launches or product upgrades.”

2022 forecast

Ongoing projections for both new builds and home renovations are still very high, according to Mr McHugh, who said some of his customers have suggested that they still have 18 to 24 months of work booked now without taking further orders.

“I feel there may be some reluctance to travel even as restrictions ease which is why 2022 is heading in the direction of being a very strong year for the building and construction industry. Consumers will continue to invest in their homes as international travel takes some time to wind up again,” he said.

Allegion transforms Gainsborough brand throughout pandemic

Repetition of door furniture designs and finishes has continued throughout the safety and security space in 2021, including the re-emergence of matt black over the last 10 years which Allegion’s Marketing Manager Australia and New Zealand – Craig Patterson says, is still incredibly popular and has created its own space.  While satin chrome continues to make up the largest part of door furniture sales, one variety that is making a substantial comeback is brass, according to Mr Patterson.

“When I say brass, this is not so much the bright brass but more the satin and aged brass finishes that are trending. This increasing popularity led Allegion to introduce two new finishes in one of our ranges this year, one of which was satin brass and the other satin graphite.”

“The satin brass has a real rustic, aged feel to it while the satin graphite has warm brownish hues coming through. We see this a lot in tap wear and electrical fittings as well, so it has suited well within our range. Allegion were suppliers to ‘The Block’ this year and satin brass was hugely popular with three out of the five homes using the satin brass finish,” he said.

When it comes to exterior locks and discussing the importance of user-friendly applications in both mechanical and electronic locks, Mr Patterson agrees that it is vitally important to deliver products that consumers can be confident in installing. This usability is also why Allegion developed its Quickfix technology into some of its product lines, to reduce the number of errors an end-user might make when installing hardware.

“Essentially Quickfix comes almost entirely assembled so it reduces the need to cut screws. Once the latch is in the door it is pretty much 30 seconds using a screwdriver and it is all done. This is particularly important for trades where time is money and we wanted to make their whole experience quicker and safer so they are not cutting screws or filing things down. Our mechanical Trilock also went to a single hole design last year. This is again a better user experience upon installation because DIYers or builders are only required to make one hole in the door.”

“We have an extensive portfolio of electrical locks under our Schlage brand that come from our US and Korean factories, while we also develop our own Gainsborough locks as well. The ones from North Asia can be more complicated to install and take a larger mortice which are not ideal for the DIY Australian market. The US developed Schlage range however, is very easy to install and so too is the locally developed Gainsborough Freestyle Trilock which retrofits to the existing Trilock making installation simple,” Mr Patterson said.

Upon comparing the electronic and digital lock spaces, Mr Patterson pointed out that electronic varieties continue to gain momentum outpacing its mechanical equivalent, with this growth attributed to the continual improvement of technology as well as the evolvement of smart assistants that link well with electronic locks.

“Amazon, Google and Apple do a great job at selling their automation home systems with far more connected devices on the market now. Home owners see the value in having a hub like Alexa or Google Assistant that our locks connect to. This will continue to gain momentum over time.”

In-store Allegion has noted that staff members who are fanatical about smart systems and use these systems at home, are also usually those who successfully market these products to the end-user, according to Mr Patterson. But the same goes for those staff members who are more comfortable with mechanical locks and often shy away from discussing electronic locks with customers if they are not familiar with the product, he said.

“This is why we have focused on developing a Gainsborough resource hub where end-users and tradespeople can go in and gain a better understanding of how simple these products really are to install, especially on a front door which is the first line of security for the home. Exterior door products can be incredibly expensive so consumers do not want to make a mistake when it comes to installing these products that might lead them to having to purchase a new lock or door. I think all manufacturers, us included, need to do more around training and educating our resellers so they feel confident in selling this product,” Mr Patterson said.

Multimedia remains a crucial source of information for consumers because it allows end-users to easily absorb information. It seems that ‘how to’ guides in PDF format or 20-page user guides are becoming a thing of the past, Mr Patterson said.

“This is also why we will be launching a new website early next year, that will provide consumers with some product inspiration, all in a timely fashion. In the past I believe we focused too heavily on specifications and did not really solve that style dream for our customers. This is also why we will leverage this website to provide style inspiration for end users, home buyers and tradespeople, delivering an online reference point that really reflects and serves that customer. We also have trades looking for information and ‘how to’ guides online, especially if the products are electronic. All of this will be available on our new website,” Mr Patterson said.

Pandemic challenges and transformations

When it comes to some of the challenges that have evolved as a result of the pandemic, Allegion has been lucky enough to easily resolve supply chain issues because it is part of a wider, global organisation that spans throughout Asia, Europe and North America. Mr Patterson said it was incredibly beneficial to have a good network of team members globally who understood how to alleviate supply chain logistic headaches.

“During this time, we had to make sure we had stock to sell and builders had locks to complete their lock ups. I think another challenge for us is that our products are utilised right at the end of the building phase. So, if there is no concrete or timber or bricks to build the houses, consumers will not want door hardware anytime soon,” Mr Patterson said.

Allegion also used this time to substantially review its Gainsborough portfolio and establish the Gainsborough brand as more of a style leader within the industry.

“We spent a lot of time engaging with our customers last year and gaining an understanding of what they needed and what they were looking for in future door hardware, whether this be electronic locking, finishes, designs, or building compliance. The Gainsborough brand has a strong 50-year heritage and we really wanted to respect this while also moving into a new space,” he said.

“The three pillars of the Gainsborough brand are based around trust, style and making life easy through innovation, so we wanted a brand that represented this. If you look at shows like ‘The Block’ and see what they do with finishes and design, we understand how the Gainsborough brand fits into this space. Then when it comes to technology, our electronic and smart locks continue to gain traction all the time. We just wanted a brand that reflected this as well.”

“Several other industries have successfully transformed their brand really well and you see some amazing brand positioning in plumbing and light fixtures where they have really transitioned that brand to be trendsetters. We knew Gainsborough always had the potential to do this but needed more investment to develop this further. Changes we made included introducing new brand colours to reflect current design trends, softening the logo using a new font that was a little bit more modern, while also looking at the digital customer experience and how our trade customers, our channel customers and end users engage with the brand,” Mr Patterson said.

The Gainsborough brand was also extensively rationalised to make it a lot easier for the consumer to understand how things fit together and achieve the ‘whole of house’ experience including matching finishes and designs throughout the entire home. This rationalisation will be progressively rolled out throughout 2021.

Looking ahead….

Current market growth from the pandemic is expected to push into 2022 and 2023, according to Mr Patterson, who said there are many factors attributing to this on-going growth. 

“Now that the international borders are opening and Australians are returning home, including migrants and international students, I think the growth will be a bit lumpy but it will be good growth all the same. There are people around the globe who have made a significant amount of money throughout the pandemic and they will be looking for a safe place to live. Australia would be a destination high on their list of priorities, similar to what we saw after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, which is why I believe there will be a migration boom over the next few years. This will in-turn assist growth in construction.”

“DIY will also be an interesting space over the next few years because we have a lot of first home buyers who might be purchasing older properties as the price of new home builds increases. There will be a boost in DIY as these first home buyers upgrade their homes to include more modern technology and style,” he said.

On-going trends within the door furniture space will also be based around environmental sustainability, particularly when it comes to packaging and the use of single use plastics. Allegion has already made big moves to ensure its packaging transforms to a more environmentally friendly space in the near future.

“Something we will focus on in the next two years is improving the user experience with packaging while also removing non-recyclable material when we can and being more environmentally considerate with some of the packaging as well.”

Mr Patterson said it was a privilege to work with an organisation who is working on ensuring its packaging remains environmentally friendly “because in the end it is the right thing to do for the consumer, for the environment and for our future.”