Ever get the feeling that running a business in the window and door industry only gets harder? Each year there seems to be more and more issues for our industry to have to deal with.
GDPR, lack of skilled labour, price increases, skewed consumer protection law, poor product quality, poor supplier customer service, masses of red tape. I could go on. There are more than what I have just stated here.
Of late, I feel as though the industry is becoming a more frantic, disjointed, bad tempered industry that is lacking patience, vision, guidance and any sort of leadership. And I think that if there isn’t a fundamental change pretty much immediately, our industry may never recover from the coming crisis.
Lack of skills
I think one of the most pressing issues for the sector, and the one that causes the most stress is the dire lack of youth and skilled talent coming into the industry. You hear anecdotal storied about installers and fabricators not being able to find anyone decent to do the jobs they need doing. Speaking as a person who has a family run installations business that has been going for 37 years, I can vouch for that entirely.
We’re not a big business by any stretch. We have a small team of people on a single, modest sized site, but we do over seven figures a year so you can understand that we are busy pretty much all the time. During the Spring and Summer, as we get busy, we regularly have to start looking for more fitting crews as the work starts to pile up. So, as many of you will do, we go to a variety of outlets to advertise for quality installers. What we get back, frankly, is total dross. So many installers out there still don’t have the right qualifications. Some still don’t even know you need one! We have had electricians phoning saying that they can “fit windows”. I’ll address product quality in a moment.
Of the ones we hold our breath and give a shot, more often than not they disappoint and we have to let them go. What we end up with is a core crew that have worked for us long term, but no new crews that have the skills or work ethic to stick around, so they have to go. Often it is the lack of quality workmanship. So we end up with a remedial list longer than we’d like because of said poor work, which affects cash flow and the overall experience for the home owner. Not to mention our stress levels go up accordingly which doesn’t help productivity either.
In our particular scenario, these issues are made even worse when others go on vacation. These past two weeks have seen my parents, also the Directors, go on holiday. They’re back to work next Tuesday. That leaves me and my brother running the place for a while. Not that we mind, we enjoy it. But as fate would have it, these would be the weeks where we are bombarded with all sorts of issues. Extra skilled hands would of course be very much welcome, as we could do with a refresh on a number of fronts. And it would have helped if the product quality would have been as it should have.
Back to the lack of skilled workers though. There just seems to be very little genuine talent out there. We have been very lucky in the last few weeks to welcome on board a new surveyor/service engineer who has been putting in some absolute shifts these past few weeks. But apart from that, we’re left scratching our heads wondering how we’re going to facilitate our growth if we cannot find the right people to carry out our work. Long term, this isn’t sustainable. It’s not sustainable now to be completely honest, and it’s a monumental effort some weeks to even keep to schedule and keep everyone happy all at the same time.
After what I would think is at least two decades of all kinds of trades being ignored by the education system, I do actually think we’re now way beyond the point of no return. I know there are a number of efforts being made in various quarters to at least restart the process of encouraging young people into our industry. But that hill is so steep to climb, and with an economy that is demanding of a different type of workforce, coupled with automation in some areas, I hold no hope that there is going to be any sort of turn around on this front.
Poor product quality
I have been having quiet little conversations with various installers over the past few weeks to try and gauge the opinion of product quality in our industry right now. It doesn’t sound promising.
Last year I wrote about how poor product quality was one of the window and door industry’s biggest and most costly problems. New product saturation in the market, a lack of suitable marketing and technical knowledge, badly adapted factories unable to cope with the pace of change have all contributed to what was one of the defining negatives of the industry last year.
I also wrote at the start of this year that this needed to be addressed immediately if the industry was to be spared further financial and organisational disruption. If my anecdotal stories are anything to go by, this hasn’t happened. And if you’re an installer, it’s one of the most frustrating things you have to come across.
Most installers are SME’s, too busy, not big enough to individually unwrap, check thoroughly and re-wrap each and every item that gets delivered to their yard. So, they take delivery of their products, which their installers then load on to their vans to go to site. So imagine turning up to start fitting a house full of new windows and doors when you find that some of the frames have been damaged. Or the wrong handles have been provided. Or the glass is scratched. Or there are missing items completely. Trust me, it’s infuriating and incredibly deflating for the installer, as they now have to start putting problems right before they have even removed a single old window.
Installers have to be able to rely on supply of quality products, made with care and delivered on time. Take that away and all they get is stress, delayed fitting schedules, reduced cash flow and unhappy staff and home owners.
I may do a poll of readers asking for their opinion on the general quality of products being made in our industry right now. The results could be interesting.
The other things
GDPR. The four letters you’re probably sick of hearing about by now, and seeing in your inboxes. I’m not going to wax lyrical about that in this post, but if you have tried to look into it, and you have by 25th May to make sure you’re compliant, you’ll know it’s about as clear sandblasted glass. So, imagine the task for the OMBs and other very small installers who run websites that collect data when trying to generate leads. They have businesses to run, and many will likely see the task of trying to understand GDPR and what level of implementation applies to them an inconvenience.
Red tape. Think we all know about that one.
Poor customer service from suppliers is another. That sort of goes hand in hand with poor product quality and I know that remains an issue for many installers out there.
The current consumer protection laws are also so heavily weighted in favour of the consumer that even if there is no tangible issue with an installation, a home owner who knows enough of the law can play on the regulations as they are and hold an installer utterly over a barrel without reasonable cause. If you doubt this, go check it out, it’s something we should all be very clear on.
Price increases. Never ending. Always happening. It’s hard enough to maintain profit margins as it is these days. Good luck to anyone starting a new installations business in this industry.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Overall, I sense no real leadership in our industry right now. The existing trade bodies and organisations lost their influence long ago. There are one or two individuals out there that stand out for their industry influence, but on their own would not be able to turn around a whole sector. The issues I have addressed have lead to an industry that is increasingly fractured, disorganised, in conflict with itself and without any sort of plan to rectify some of the most fundamental problems. We’re probably beyond the point of recovery.
Agree? Disagree? Have an idea on how to change things around? Get involved in the conversation via the comments section below.
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