European Hardware Enjoying Increased Interest

Manufacturers and distributors can find new opportunities with higher-end niche products
By Dan Gray, Roto Frank of America
March 15, 2009
FEATURE ARTICLE | Design & Performance, Materials & Components, Aesthetics & Style

Today’s economic climate has window and door fabricators and suppliers alike searching for new strategies to acquire additional market share in order to survive the financial turmoil. No single approach is likely to enable companies to reach that goal, but one area of the market that appears to be a target opportunity is the growing niche for European-style window and door products.

These products, manufactured with European-style hardware and functioning in different ways than traditional North American windows and doors, have been available for many years. Recently, however, there has been marked increase in demand and interest in tilt/turn windows, as well as lift-and-slide and fold- and-slide doors.

Before looking at the demand side of this equation, it might be helpful to look at what makes these products different, notably the “European hardware.” In most cases, European hardware requires a euro-groove in the sash or door panel profile to accommodate the installation of the hardware. This euro-groove accepts a metal bar, typically 16 or 20 mm wide, which connects with the operating gear and the handle, thus allowing activation of locking points and/or other functional components located around the perimeter of the sash.

Some of the terminology is quite different for basically the same parts. For example, with European hardware, what North Americans might call a faceplate is called an espagnolette. Another part that has interchangeable terminology are rollers, otherwise known as bogies in Europe. Otherwise, many key parts, such as keepers or strikers, have common names both here and abroad.

In addition, the profiles are generally thicker and stronger than the traditional profiles necessary for North American hardware, such as casement, sliding patio door, and sash locks. Fabrication tooling and machinery required for the application of European hardware is typically more intricate and expensive. And without a doubt, European hardware and the fabricated products to which it is applied are more expensive for the fabricator and the consumer.

Tilt/turn windows
Why is there a growing demand for European products in the marketplace during a difficult financial period in our history? For one, security is becoming more important to consumers looking at doors and windows. Tilt/turn windows provide a range of security levels, which are unparalleled versus traditional casement and in-line sliding windows. The hardware required to operate a tilt/turn window encompasses the perimeter of the sash with multiple locking points for the utmost in security. Some suppliers of European hardware offer concealed hinges to provide the window with a clean, aesthetic look; the only piece of hardware that can be seen is the handle when in a closed position.


In the tilt position, tilt/turn windows
provide both ventilation and security.

Functionality is also a driving factor when consumers select tilt/turns. The window can be tilted into the interior of the dwelling for ventilation purposes, or the unit can be opened up to 180 degrees to provide full access to the outdoors, without disrupting the curb appeal of the home. Arrestable stays are available to control the degree of opening, if desired.

Given the potential for tilt/turn windows to completely open up and provide access to outside, child safety windows are available in the marketplace that “lock out” the turn function and only allow the operator to utilize the tilt function only. As the name indicates, this type of tilt/turn unit typically finds a place in children’s bedrooms.

Security and functionality are important features of tilt/turn windows, but equally so is their capability to provide expanded options in the sizes and shapes of operable windows in residential or light commercial projects. Tilt/turn hardware is generally very robust, and significantly increases the size potential for window openings. Higher load can be achieved with these units, which enables builders and architects to satisfy the desire for larger openings and still meet code requirements. Traditional North American operable windows are mostly limited to rectangular shapes. The flexibility of tilt/turn hardware in specialty shape products also factors well into the plans for many architecturally designed homes.

Larger and larger doors
When it comes to European doors, the name of the game is “large.” No matter what the type of door, engineered quality and functionality are essential ingredients in the hardware used. One of the most popular types of European door hardware is called lift-and-slide. This hardware is designed to support extremely large door panels, primarily wood panels, that slide open, and in some cases, slide into wall pockets creating an environment where the interior of a home closely overlaps with the exterior and nature. Hardware to support the ease of movement for these large and heavy panels must function smoothly, making operation by the homeowner almost effortless. In addition, flush mount handles are extremely important, especially in pocketing applications.

Based on observations at the recent International Builder’s Show in Las Vegas, along with customer requests in the market, there appears to be a significant spike in demand for multi-panel, fold-and-slide doors in North America at the moment. A large percentage of this demand is being generated on the West Coast, for both high-end residential dwellings and light commercial applications. As the name indicates, the sash or panels of these doors are conveniently opened and folded to the side. Hardware for these types of fold/slide doors is available for wood, PVC, and aluminum profiles. Both lift/slide and fold/slide doors can be used to create the large openings that serve to expand the “living space.”


Large doors that can effectively join interior and exterior spaces are enjoying a "spike" in
demand that has translated into greater interest in European style hardware systems
that can accommodate the large panels and assure they function smoothly.

Another style of European door that more closely resembles North America’s standard sliding patio door is the tilt-and-slide door. The sightlines of the two doors are very similar, but the functionality of the hardware to operate the doors sets the two styles worlds apart. Tilt/slide hardware utilizes tilt/turn window properties to activate the movement of the door. In a closed position, the two sash or door panels are “flush” to one another. The sash can be tilted into the interior of the room for secure ventilation with one motion of the handle, and then with a second motion can slide into a parallel position with the fixed panel.

The Opportunity
Operating in the current market conditions means adopting a philosophy or strategic effort that will set a company apart from the competition. The overall market for European windows and doors is still quite small in the U.S. and Canada, but there are many window and door fabricators and dealers that are consciously moving a portion of their product offering in this direction. European-style products offer window and door companies a means to provide customers with added value and themselves a point of differentiation. A shift to add these products, of course, can also add enhanced margins to the bottom line.

Making the decision to add products incorporating European hardware will certainly benefit many window and door companies, but an equally important decision to assuring success is the selection of the right hardware supplier. To satisfy the security, functionality, size requirements and aesthetic properties demanded in European products, a hardware supplier needs to offer much more than product. A window and door fabricator will need to find a supplier that can provide effective product support in both the technical and marketing arena. Most of this type of hardware is manufactured in Europe and other countries around the world, so it is important that sufficient inventory levels are here. Finally, it is important that the hardware supplier has a long-term commitment to the North American market. This is easier said than done, and some suppliers accomplish these tasks better than others. Aligning with a strategic partner that can satisfy all these requirements is key.
 

Dan Gray is director of sales & marketing for Roto Frank of America, the supplier of European and North American hardware based in Chester, Conn. With the company for the past two years, he oversees its sales, marketing, forecasting and applications engineering functions. Roto recently celebrated its 30th anniversary in serving the North American market. Its parent company, Roto AG, is a global supplier of window and door hardware products based in Germany. More information is available at www.rotohardware.com or by calling 800-243-0893. Questions can also be emailed to dan.gray@roto-frank.com.