Innovation awards: Bloc Blinds gives new life to roller blinds

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Anyone who has ever had roller blinds installed in their home will be aware of the problems that arise when they start to age. You can’t really take them down to wash them and the only solution for worn or discoloured blinds is to replace the complete unit.

But you can’t just do it for one window, the whole house needs to be done at considerable expense.

Changing the blinds themselves isn’t an option either, the whole mechanical assembly for each one must be replaced as well.

A simpler and much more cost-effective solution is now at hand thanks to an invention by Belfast based Bloc Blinds. The company is responsible for a number of patented and patent-pending products since breaking into the window blinds market but its most striking innovation is the fabric changing roller blind.

This clever design allows the user to swap the fabric of the blind as often as they like without replacing or even removing the complete system from the window.

The barrel, fixtures and fittings of the blind all remain in situ, only the fabric is changed.

This has considerable advantages beyond simple cost savings as Bloc Blinds marketing manager Kiera Scullion explains.

“The ease with which fabrics can be swapped means that consumers no longer need to think of their blinds as stagnant pieces in their room which can only be of neutral colour so as to match all possible colours schemes over the coming years,” she says.

“This means that consumers can be as daring as they like with their colour and pattern choices, safe in the knowledge that if they redecorate or have a change of heart down the line the fabric can be quickly and inexpensively swapped.”

As well as increased design flexibility there is also the practical element with the option to replace tired or worn fabrics as needed without replacing all the other elements of the blind which are still perfectly functional. “The components used to build our blinds are extremely hard wearing so that they will last for many years, and fabric changes to come,” she adds.

The blind has been designed with simplicity in mind. Users can swap the fabric of their blinds in seconds by simply hooking off one and hooking on another.

“The re-ordering process has also been simplified. By scanning the QR code on the barrel of the blind the customer is taken to the reorder page on the Bloc Blinds website.

“The measurements from their original order are already stored so all the customer has to do is choose a fabric and wait for it to be sent out to them ready to be hooked into place.

The blind’s origins date back some years to when Cormac Diamond, inventor of the fabric changing roller blind, was working in Poland for window manufacturing firm. He realised that there was a gap for high quality and visually appealing blinds.

Easily interchangeable

“As a solution to this gap, you could say the ‘lightbulb’ moment came when he looked at other household items which were easily interchangeable such as printer cartridges and razor blades,” says Scullion.

“Cormac wanted to offer this same level of flexibility to window blinds and as a result move them into the home accessories market.”

The blind was launched in 2014 and was quickly picked up by the John Lewis Partnership. It is currently available as a category brand product throughout its nationwide network of stores in the UK and on its online platform. It is also available and selling well throughout Europe and has recently been launched on the US market.

“It has been really well received with 10 per cent of customers reordering fabrics to date as well as several recognitions for design innovation both in the consumer and trade sectors,” Scullion says.

“Given that it is an environmentally friendlier option which reduces the amount of aluminium going to landfills, the fabric changing roller blind has been particularly well received by the public sector as well as environmentally and sustainability aware consumers.”

Founded in 2006, Bloc Blinds originally manufactured skylight blinds, with a handful of people in Diamond’s father-in-law’s shed.

“We have come quite a way since then with over 100 employees and a recent move into our new, custom-built factory,” she says. “We now design and manufacture a wide range of award-winning window dressing options and deliver them all over the world.”

Continued growth is very much on the agenda for the future. A new factory was completed at the beginning of this year and the company is engaged in an ongoing recruitment drive to increase staff numbers by nearly 50 per cent over the next two years.

“We have worked hard to expand our retailer network in the UK and Irelandand will continue to do so in the coming years. We have recently opened our first office in the US, in Boston, to service our US website and customer base.

“We hope to increase consumer sales as well as exploring long-term growth plans in the market. The overall goal is to increase the number of our products in the market so that we can subsequently increase repeat fabric sales.”

BARRY McCALL

http://www.irishtimes.com/business/innovation-awards-bloc-blinds-gives-new-life-to-roller-blinds-1.2728306

Bloc Blinds custom designs make for good times

  By Scott Campbell  9:00PM BST 02 Aug 2014
blocblinds

 

While Bing Crosby may be dreaming of a white Christmas, Cormac Diamond’s list for Santa contains a somewhat different desire – to print mince pies on blinds.

“You never know what a customer might want,” he says, laughing. Despite having no background in the lucrative window industry, Diamond, 36, a former mechanical engineer, set up Bloc Blinds five years ago, and business appears to be booming.

After spotting a gap in the market during the credit crisis, he developed an interchangeable roller blind system – installable with just four screws – that lets customer easily change the fabric without having to remove the whole frame. It has proved so popular that when the Northern Irish company, based in Draperstown, County Londonderry, launched a Christmas-themed blind in December last year, customers were keen to buy.

“It gave us the courage to invest in a printing machine so we can really go to town with new designs this year,” says Diamond. The company, which has 42 employees, is now planning to launch a service that lets customers design their own fabric.

“If, for instance, you had green cushions, and wanted to match a blind to them, we can now easily replicate the exact colour rather than travelling the country to find a suitable fabric,” Diamond explains.

“It’s a quirky thing, but in the past people would have ruled it out as being complete nonsense, purely from the cost of the fixture.

“But now, with the advent of an interchangeable blind, you can cheaply print whatever you like, even ‘happy birthday’ blinds, and hang it up for a few hours then take it down again.”

After being spotted at a trade show in Germany four years ago, Bloc Blinds has been selected by John Lewis as a category brand, meaning it will have dedicated areas in stores.

But prospects have not always been so rosy. Bloc Blinds launched at the height of the credit crunch, when consumers were watching their spending. Amid the frequent redundancies of the financial crisis there was no shortage of workers available, but none of them had the right skills.

“One major challenge we had was finding staff – there were lots of workers, but none of them were blind makers,” says Diamond. “A lot of people thought I was mad for starting a business at that point.”

With training, the workers soon started production, but finding clients was an entirely different matter – Diamond hadn’t hired a sales team.

Despite his relatively limited business experience, he visited prospective buyers alone with a suitcase full of samples. He says he regularly used gut instinct to make business decisions, and it paid off; once retailers saw the product and its potential and its uniqueness, they started to buy into it. “It was a steep learning curve,” he admits.

Indeed, squeezed by the credit crunch, the company’s customers had been trying to improve their margins by buying cheaper products, but quickly realised that quality was more important to avoid complaints and returns.

Fortunately, Bloc Blinds wasn’t overly affected by the financial doom and gloom hurting many British industries. Rather than getting capital from banks, most of the company’s funding instead came from family members.

“It stood us in good stead. Every pound and every penny is still looked after,” explains Diamond. “When it’s from people you know and not a loan from a bank, you really have got a greater feel for the value of the money.”

The constraint on funding meant that the company’s expansion was cautious, and largely funded from profits, which is still the case.

“The ethos of the business is that it must be sustainable. We must take our growth seriously, and the expenditure involved in that must be well thought out,” he explains. “Those early years really taught us to know the value of money and investing our own money.”

Within a year, Bloc Blinds moved from producing five blinds per week to 100.

Now the company is planning to expand into the American market, where Diamond thinks that seasonal blinds – such as for Halloween, as well as Christmas – will be particularly popular.

“It’s going to fit their market well. Our ethos will chime with the Americans, as we have a strong success story behind our products,” he says.

Although the firm has meetings set up with two large US retailers, the stateside launch will primarily be on the internet so that it can target consumers directly – a strategy that is already working wonders in Europe.

“The medium of the internet is perfect for us to get the product out to new markets.”

In the UK, Bloc Blinds currently works with 500 independent retailers, a number that it plans to increase.

However, Diamond plans to expand the number of trade partners during the next year, so that Bloc Blinds becomes a household name “available in every town and city across the UK”.

He adds: “We would like to become the new Dyson.

“They’ve got something unique – people associate the bagless vacuum cleaner with Dyson and that is what we want to do with interchangeable blinds.”

Far from the days when finding skilled workers was the biggest challenge, now Diamond says that it’s managing the growth of the company.

Bloc Blinds is in the process of amalgamating multiple production facilities into a single site, which he hopes will further spur growth as it moves into new markets.

But Diamond has not lost touch with the company’s roots.

“If you start off with a hands-on approach, it’s very difficult to get away from it,” he explains.

Indeed, while the entrepreneur has had to reduce the time he spends on the factory – or house – floor, he says that sometimes “you just have to get your hands dirty”.

“There’s nothing like going out and fitting blinds yourself to get a true feeling of what customers think,” he concludes.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/festival-of-business/11008484/Bloc-Blinds-custom-designs-make-for-good-times.html

Bloc blinds have done the maths.

Bloc Blinds has a BBA certificate to prove the insulation properties of its blinds, making them even more attractive to specifiers, writes Charlie Mainwaring. Bloc Blinds, the UK designer and manufacturer of simple, clever and innovative blinds, is ensuring that its product offering is targeted to all decision-makers including those that have the ability to specify their products at the initial stages of the planning process.

Architects, specifiers and developers are all increasingly trying to ensure their buildings meet the necessary green regulations and at Bloc we understand the need to make our products accountable to the standards set within the industry. The subject of thermal blinds has become very important over recent years as heating costs have increased and blinds companies are focusing on the power of this factor in promoting blinds.

In short, all blinds types are thermal blinds and all blinds will help reduce heat loss to a certain extent, but where the subject starts to be confusing is when the customer asks, ”How much will I save?”. The answer to this question is almost impossible to give, as each project would need to be analysed in detail to assess the heating input, the cost of fuel, the heating cycle and dozens of other structural factors that determine heat loss.

BlocOut blinds offer the highest thermal performance of all Bloc’s blinds by technically sealing off warm indoor air from the cold surfaces inside the window recess. This is only made possible by the presence of the side channels and the rubber gasket seal which runs along the bottom of the handle. Brush seals built into the side channels  further reduce airflow around the fabric.

To architects, specifiers and developers, all elements need to be measured and quantified and at Bloc we are the only blind system that can provide a British Board of Agrément (BBA) certificate proving its insulation properties. This helps our products to be specified at the outset of the project as values for heat loss can be calculated in the overall performance of the window cavity.

The BBA certificate provided against the performance of the BlocOut range has shown heat loss reductions of up to 43% on single-glazed windows, 33% on double-glazed windows and 12% on triple-glazed windows. This system also has the benefit of being total blackout, and so has the sales advantage of being top of its class in both the summer and winter seasons. Manual and automated control systems are available across the range as well as child-friendly design features.

At Bloc we believe we are innovators in this industry and are constantly looking at ways in which we can challenge the norms within it. Our sales and marketing team is now dedicated to working alongside architects and developers in ensuring that our products are accountable and on budget. As we develop our relationship with architects and designers we are ensuring that we are doing everything we can to maximise our impact within the industry from the ground up.

devablinds.co.uk  are suppliers and installers of Bloc blinds.  Please contact us for further information.