With the UK garden rooms industry still in its infancy, it is interesting to note the increase in companies outsourcing their entire product range and the impact on manufacturers. From the point of view of a customer, searching for a good quality and value garden office, why need they be concerned with the status of their chosen company? It comes down to ecology and environment, value for money and corporate social responsibility.
Most manufacturers of garden buildings produce both the panels and some of the joinery while others just produce the panels alone. The remaining components required for the finished product are ordered from other manufacturers or suppliers. Factories require significant financial investment to set up a production line for one product so manufacturers are, by nature, limited in their flexibility. They are understandably reluctant to upgrade to more environmentally friendly methods, change to responsibly sourced materials or create new designs because of the extra capital investment required to support such changes. This is particularly true in our current economic climate. Furthermore, manufacturing is dogged by health and safety requirements, iso certification, monthly rental and payroll costs, insurances, infrastructure boundaries and that refractory reluctance to provide the best quality eco garden building. To survive this downturn, the balance of cost versus environmentally friendly is often weighted in favour of least cost to produce.
Ultimately, manufacturer dominated markets lead to less choice for the customer.
Accepting delivery of such a major purchase with a significant carbon footprint history is far from ideal and does not address our countrys need to reduce the emissions from our buildings. UK government is working towards meeting its target for emission reduction and looks like it may achieve this, unlike other European nations. Car scrappage and boiler grant schemes have been popular and successful in removing inefficient transport and heating mechanisms. The new building legislation currently in process is another positive step in the right direction.
The garden buildings industry is still growing. With the economic downturn, many new companies have launched their copycat products, claiming to provide more choice to the consumer. Economists do say that the best time to start a business is in a downturn so it is no wonder, really, that the UK market is fast becoming flooded. It certainly does provide the customer with a larger range of companies to choose from but the products are largely similar to the contemporary office and studio styles of the market leader in 2007.
Outsourced garden building companies do not manufacture the buildings themselves. They enjoy the flexibility of being able to base themselves anywhere and pick the best supplier local to their customer. This is a significant environmental benefit which reduces the secondary carbon footprint of the product due to the distance between supplier and customer. A simple analogy can be supermarket fruit: it is environmentally more favourable to buy locally grown apples rather than apples flown or shipped in from distant shores. The apples incur less carbon miles on their journey from tree to fruit bowl. Similarly, it is better practice for the outsourced garden room company to find a good quality supplier local to their customer, rather than insisting that their product has to come a distance from one particular manufacturer.
Such business models have few allegiances to manufacturers; an attitude which results in an ability to search for the best solutions and the most modern and responsible materials. Interestingly, they are able to cherry pick the manufacturer with the best waste management and recycling history – to further benefit the environment.
The better outsource – businesses take time and care in preparing their own designs in conjunction with extensively researching the industry for the most environmentally friendly, low-carbon materials available.
Manufacturers will always be needed, even if outsourcers are more popular with the customer.
Customers shopping for a garden room are free to question all aspects of the build, demand higher values and encourage companies to be green by using digital media and carrying out remote site surveys instead of incurring travel emissions. In terms of creating low energy buildings, this shift in customer expectation is important. In the past (but also largely true of the present) high value purchases such as garden rooms have been sold with full colour glossy brochures, free home visits, flyers, follow up mail and free branded goods by staff in branded uniforms.
Whilst there is obvious value in branding, there is unnecessary carbon expenditure in all that ink, paper and plastic production and the resultant waste. On the other hand instant digital downloads of brochures, pricelists, special offers, quotations and a freshly updated website constitute relatively carbon free media, by comparison. However, while the consumer demands a hard copy brochure most companies will, I fear, lack the courage to refuse. There is a paucity of corporate responsibility.
There are an increasing number of entrepreneurs who have leapt into the growing garden buildings industry, becoming the inexorable middle-man between the manufacturer and the customer. Unless they have personal experience in this field, the value they add to the manufacturers offering is questionable. Clearly, a growing market will attract a certain number of entrepreneurs eager to make money while the sector is on the rise. Perhaps the companies using mostly 3-D CGI marketing images have only created their product in the virtual world. Sadly, there is a lack of commitment to environmental issues and raising the game in that respect.
Whichever company the customer chooses to buy from, they would be well advised to realize that a 10 year Insurance Backed Guarantee is hopefully becoming the industry standard. The value of this is that even if the company goes into liquidation or bankruptcy, the garden building will still be insured against defects. Several organizations offer this warranty service.
In summary, an outsourced garden office company who allow customer access to their designer will have more flexibility and will be able to provide the most up to date, thermally efficient build possible.
Their garden rooms will arrive with the smallest carbon footprint. Purchasing from a manufacturer may cut out the middle-man but will almost certainly restrict choice and probably increase the carbon emissions of your building before you even receive it.
As an insider with a wealth of industry knowledge, I have been involved with both a manufacturing and an outsource business model. However, this industry – like all industries today – would be able to reduce toxic emissions further if consumer expectation changed to accomodate environmental ethics.