Here, ERA's new Commercial Director Helen Downer talks exclusively to GGP about her new role at ERA.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I started working for ERA in Spring 2019 and I’m really enjoying my new role. My background is in commercial and general management focussed largely in the Construction and Home Improvement product industries. I developed my career within Tarmac and Tarmac Building Products and then spent a few years with a large privately‐owned Dutch business as their CCO working across Europe. My new role as Commercial Director at ERA sees me responsible for both sales and purchasing and I am also MD of the Group’s most recent acquisition, Zoo Hardware. Outside work, I enjoy spending time with my family and fitting in sport when I can. At the time of this interview I am just about to
start training for the 2020 GM Fundraising – Peak, Paddle, Pedal challenge in order to raise money for Hope House Children’s Hospices.
Wish us luck!
2019 has proved to be a challenge for a lot of companies in the industry, would you agree? And if so, how has ERA responded to help fabricator/installer customers stay competitive during these challenging conditions?
Yes, I would definitely say that 2019 has been a challenge for the industry. We have seen a lot of inconsistency, which has made demand forecasting very difficult. Certainly the ‘two goes’ at Brexit have not helped, combined with low consumer confidence which of course greatly affects our fabricator/installer customers. It’s interesting that the aluminium market is growing, nevertheless.
This is a market that is traditionally the domain of higher income end‐users; perhaps we can infer that the lack of consumer confidence is being felt less in higher income households.
To tackle the uncertainty of the past twelve months we’ve made new product development an even bigger part of our strategy in order to help fabricators and installers differentiate themselves from their competitors. This now forms 12% of our total revenue. It’s very important that we renew and refresh products and continue to provide the best quality options. In addition we’re continually looking at ways to improve our service offering for fabricators and installers to help steer them through these challenging times. Part of this involves the training we provide. We launched smartware training in October 2018 which has continued to go from strength to strength. Alongside this, we launched the ERA Installer Scheme in 2019, this was aimed at helping installers capitalise on the homeowner need to identify credible security installers. We now have over 400 installers registered; there are no fees for the installer to join the scheme, this is 100% about creating a handshake between the
homeowner and the installer.
We need to make sure we’re simply better than the day before in order to help our customers remain competitive. This is why it’s so important that we listen carefully to our customers, and try to adapt accordingly. That’s not to say that we only react to customer requirements, increasingly we’re leading the way in blue‐sky product development as well. We’re regularly asking ourselves ‘how can we make peoples’ homes more secure, more aesthetically pleasing and generally safer?’ If our products are answering these questions, then we’re on the right track to doing a good job for our fabricator/installer customers.
As we head into 2020, what are your plans for ERA over the next 12‐18 months?
A key element of our strategy will be to continue to improve our customer service even further. Smartware will continue to be a big focus for us. In addition, we’re repositioning the Vier brand in the Zoo Hardware side of the business by launching a series of new designer led interior door handles with the Vier Premium range. In general we will continue to refresh and develop product designs to ensure that our customers can remain competitive.
Smart hardware products made a big splash in 2019. Are you experiencingreal demand for smart window and door locks yet – how do you see this sector developing in the future?
We are seeing huge demand for smart security products in general and we are trusted as a major provider in this area. This was reflected at the FIT show where we had a big emphasis on smart security and that part of our stand was by far the busiest and remained a huge talking point all week. Personally, I think this is a complementary product area that will not necessarily take over from all traditional solutions, although certainly fabricators and installers do need to be able to offer smart options. We’re very proud of our range, particularly with some products having been awarded the IoT (Internet of Things) BSI Kitemark. In fact, we’re the first to have achieved this accolade and we’re the only company with smart security products recommended by the Neighbourhood Watch as well. Our aim here at ERA is to go beyond ‘gadgets’ and be able to offer a whole smart security ‘eco system’ as befits our role as security experts. As testament to this, we will soon be launching the new ERA Protect range which includes alarm hub, sensors, siren, outdoor cameras, indoor cameras and a floodlight camera, all controllable from a single app.
Can you predict any other new products, trends or areas of growth in hardware for 2020 and beyond?
The aluminium sector is still growing, and we’re looking to develop our hardware ranges to reflect this opportunity. This is also the case with regards to flush PVCu systems, and we are already developing products which address the requirements of this product area.
What impact are you anticipating from Brexit (should it ever happen)?
We’re hoping to see a bit of a Brexit bounce when it does happen. In other words, we’re hoping that people’s confidence will return and that this will reinvigorate the market. Here’s hoping!