Q&A with Roger Hartshorn, Managing Director of HL Plastics

1. In October 2011 you and Martin Randall invested in Zoom Conservatory Roof Systems. What’s happened since then?

Martin Randall and I bought Zoom because we saw a fantastic opportunity to invest in a technically-advanced but under-promoted and relatively under-developed conservatory roof. Zoom had the solutions to common problems that other roofs still don’t have. Problems like leaking roofs and glazing slip. Conservatories that are fiddly to put together or never give the perfect fit make selling conservatories difficult for installers – and Zoom solves that.

Martin quickly developed the conservatory roof kit side of the business, Zoom Ready, with a fresh marketing campaign and “21 Brilliant Ideas” to put Zoom on the map. Behind the scenes, the team at Liniar began looking at ways to make Zoom even better. After extensive research and development, we’re now in a position to launch these new products.

When Martin decided to concentrate on his other business, Crystal Direct, which is growing fast with a number of big contracts coming on stream, HL Plastics bought the remaining 50% of Zoom. We now own 100% of the company and Crystal will remain a Zoom customer and continue to sell complete conservatories to its customers. We’ve rebranded Zoom as Liniar Zoom, because it is a key part of the Liniar family and its innovative suite of windows and doors.

2. Conservatories have been a declining market. Why invest in a roof system now?

I think the evidence shows conservatories have declined for a reason. If, for ‘whatever reason’, suppliers stop developing products and don’t help their customers grow the market with innovation and marketing, the market is likely to languish. Which it has. But if you look at the fundamentals, the need for conservatories is still there. More than ever, people need habitable living space, and in most newish homes they don’t have enough room. In fact, most people need more living space. Conservatories should be giving them quality, attractive, comfortable and affordable living room. By listening to customers and developing conservatories in sensible ways, we will help our customers grow the market and help the homeowner.

3. What are your plans for Liniar Zoom? What do these changes mean for existing Zoom customers?

Firstly, we are fully supporting existing Zoom customers. Production has moved to a new 25,000 sq. ft. facility near Liniar’s factory in Derbyshire. Zoom’s General Manager and other key members of staff have relocated to Derbyshire to ensure a smooth transition with no break in service for customers.

We have big plans for Liniar Zoom – we’ll be taking on new staff and extending the manufacturing facility to increase capacity and give the best possible service. At a time when some suppliers are struggling to meet the demands of a growing market, we aim to provide reliable Liniar-levels of service to our customers.

We’re also putting the final touches to new products which we’re launching in the New Year. These include thermally efficient twin-wall Top Caps, which we have designed to make compound mitre-cutting easier too. The result is a better-looking roof with level bars. We’ve redesigned Liniar Zoom’s Box Gutter so it’s wider and more substantial. It’s also easier to fabricate and allows for bespoke applications. For example, it can be used to join two roofs together.

Liniar Zoom will be available to Liniar Window customers as ready-made roof kits, and in bar length for Liniar fabricators who want to make their own roofs. We’re also colour matching the roof to the colour range for Liniar’s suite of innovative lead-free windows, doors and bi-fold doors, giving our customers a seamless one-stop shop for windows, doors and conservatories. I expect this to be really popular.

4. Do you have any other product developments in the pipeline?

Yes – lots! In the immediate term, we’re working on a new Jack Rafter fixing, a new Transom Bar fixing, Twin-Stud roof bar fixing, horizontal Cleat Plates, and Eaves Beam Cloaking too to make installation even faster and easier than before.

The conservatory market has huge potential. The way we use conservatories is changing – they’re no longer just an occasional-use room or a sun room, they’re a real way of adding affordable extra space to the home. Conservatories come into their own when they incorporate bi-fold doors which look good. They open out the conservatory when the weather allows and provide similar insulation performance to the rest of the house when not in use. So we have more plans to stretch Liniar Zoom’s technical advantage and are working towards some exciting medium term developments.

5. Orangery style and solid roof conservatories have entered the market in the past few years. Do you have plans for any of these types of products?

Orangeries are attractive as a niche at the top-end of the market, and solid roof conservatories are an interesting development. But Liniar Zoom’s focus right now is to provide the premium-middle mass market with a well-insulated quality roof that looks great, doesn’t leak or suffer from glazing slip, goes together like a dream, integrates seamlessly with a quality window and door system and can be used in comfort all year round. That’s not much to ask, is it? But most of the market is still waiting! We reckon if we get that right – and we will with our launch in the New Year – we will have our hands full for 2014!

6. Where do you see Liniar Zoom in two years’ time?

Liniar has grown fast to become one of the leading window and door systems companies, and it is still growing fast. We’ve done this by listening to customers and giving them what they need to do well, with constant innovation and product development. We’ve invested in new capacity and tooling, and extensive new warehousing so we can supply our customers without a hitch. We’re now focusing on providing Liniar fabricators and installers with the marketing tools they need in order to grow their businesses alongside Liniar. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with Liniar Zoom and we’re quietly confident we will do that.

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