November 5th, 2020 - Beth

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Covid-19: the best excuse for years….

Danny Williams, MD of Pioneer Trading, says that while delays are currently inevitable for installers, they shouldn’t become the norm. He also adds, that the industry should take a moment to realise just how good it has become…

I think we need a new spin on the old joke about the world’s three best lies: ‘The cheque’s in the post’; ‘of course I love you darling’; replacing the classic punchline with ‘Everything is delayed due to the Pandemic’.

Of course, there are delays and interruptions caused by the disease; and many are justifiable. But we are now honing our BS detectors to sense when we are being fobbed off ‘due to Covid’. And enough is enough. With this in mind I have read fabricator Euroglaze’s Martin Nettleton’s widely published letter in which he asks: “Should the market learn to accept longer lead times?”. And although I pride myself on being nothing if not direct, in this case my answer is: “Well yes and no.”

Martin accepts that there are supply issues, in all of the product groups that I myself have experienced delays in. And just one of these elements holding up an order means that the delivery will be either delayed or incomplete, or both. There is nothing that can be done about it, no matter how good the fabricator is. Martin may therefore be ultra-efficient but as he accepts, his three-and-a-half-day lead time is stuffed if the handles haven’t turned up, or the coloured profiles are out of stock for another week.

However, even if all the products are available all the time Martin is operating at 100% or below in order to offer this turnaround as normal. Because a large proportion of the industry is operating at 130-150% of capacity and at those volumes, all ‘normal’ lead times are knackered. It’s simple maths…

The calls for understanding that I have read and that Martin interprets as being acceptance of a general reduction in service levels, are understandable and wholly justifiable; installers have to accept – and plan for – such incidences which, whilst improving, remain an issue in today’s market. Any amount of chest-beating ain’t going to make the missing glass appear any quicker or volumes reduce overnight.

On the other hand, I totally agree with Martin that neither should such delays become the norm even after component supplies have returned to normal. I return to my point about Covid being used as the arch excuse for simply not trying hard enough. Having said that, I do believe that the efficiencies Martin’s company offers – and they are not alone in this – do paint over the cracks of many installers’ weaknesses. When fabricators can be relied upon to remake a frame in 24 hours due to a mis-measure, where is the incentive for installers to improve their systems and procedures to ensure such things don’t happen? And whilst the vast majority are pretty good, it is the same old suspects that repeatedly offend, because they know we will help them out of it.

But perhaps it is time to consider this from another perspective: just how good our industry has actually become. The British home improvement window and door industry offers bespoke products for every single installation; there is no such thing as a standard window in home improvements. When we consider other industries that compete for the home improvement dollar, kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms for example all use standard components such as carcasses and doors, that are adapted for each job. Obviously, there are exceptions with upmarket installers: but I am talking about the mass market.

Our window and door retail installers measure up every job for the homeowner, have the windows made specifically which are usually delivered ready for installation within around a week; every window and door is then installed, sealed up and signed off, with minimal disruption to the customers…and at prices that are lower pro rata than they were 30 years ago. A few hundred quid installed for an average window and a couple of grand for a decent entrance door, which will dramatically change the appearance and performance of the property.

And if the average Joe doesn’t really appreciate the finer points of how our industry works and the slick operations by which their new shiny windows and bi-folds get to them, they are aware that replacing their windows and doors is amazing value for money. We are bloody good at what we do and we should bear that in mind: most homeowners won’t mind waiting a couple of days longer for their installation.

In the red? No problem sir….

Another bit of ‘news’ has appeared in the press warning us that ‘…the coronavirus is continuing to disrupt the glazing industry.’ The information, issued by industry data collectors Insight Data, says that their analysis of the financial information of 9,075 fabricators and installers found that 1,038 companies had poor or very poor credit ratings. 12% of fabricators were deemed as ‘high risk’ and a similar portion of installers had ‘poor’ credit ratings.

My initial reaction was: “Is that all?!” To be honest, despite the post-lockdown boom that we have enjoyed, I would have thought the numbers of companies in the financial brown-stuff would have been far higher; and I wonder if these figures are significantly worse than a year ago?

Of greater concern are the venture capital owned businesses that have royally screwed hundreds of suppliers and employees this year alone, through their emotionless and blatant manipulation of a system that allows them to pre-pack and walk away from their debts. Initially I scoffed at the advice given by Insight Data that “Doing business with companies that seem keen but have been hit hard by coronavirus may be a risky strategy.” But if anyone was that concerned, the big-name firms that Phoenixed in the past few months would never have got away with it.




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