As you may have seen on the DGB home page, I have now added a dedicated section for the 2019 FIT Show, along with a countdown clock. Everyone loves one of those.
The UK fenestration industry is facing a number of fundamental problems right now. And I think in some quarters it’s fair to say that it’s pretty chaotic. So, it makes sense to me that at this year’s FIT Show we use those three days as a platform to work together as a sector to come up with some concrete ideas, solutions and new relationships to help tackle our array of problems head on.
These are my five big issues to tackle at FIT Show 2019.
Believe it or not our next exhibition is going to be after the UK officially leaves the EU political union. As to how orderly that happens and what the new relationship with the union looks like remains to be seen. No doubt that as the clock continues to tick down to Brexit day, I have a countdown for that on the home page too, there will be frenetic political and diplomatic activity on both sides of the channel to ensure that chaos doesn’t reign come March 31st.
The reality is, Brexit day isn’t that far away. October is the real deadline for getting a deal with the EU in place in order for there to be enough time for both Parliaments to be able to ratify whatever is suggested by the end of March. Remember the EU has 27 nations to please, we have just one Parliament. That being said, UK politics has it’s own issues right now.
For the window and door industry this is going to spell problems for the start of 2019, even the last quarter of 2018. As we have seen when other major votes have been cast, or major political shifts, it does have an impact on spending from the general public. There was a clear slowdown in the run up to the EU referendum, and the 2017 General Election. What we will probably find is that as the focus on Brexit becomes even more intense at the end of this year and the start of next, the public may once again put the caution breaks on and decide to hold back on major home improvement works and purchases until they know the lay of the land after March.
This could be a potentially damaging few months for our sector, and at a time where our industry is naturally quieter anyway. From the end of November to the start of February business levels really do drop off in comparison to the rest of the year. Any slowdown in spending from the public on things like windows and doors at this time could be disastrous for the sector.
I suspect that Brexit will be very much at the top of most visitor’s agendas come the FIT Show, and with the hundreds of exhibitors there and the personnel they bring, this seems like a very good opportunity to me to help galvanise the sector and make an outward push towards home owners to encourage them to keep investing in their homes. There will be no better time than to have such a big section of the industry all in one place to come up with initiatives and programmes to make that happen.
If we don’t, and we become complacent, expect Brexit to give us a right good kick in the backside.
The skills gap
I say gap, it’s more like a crater. It’s become a national joke how badly supplied with skilled labour UK construction as a whole is, never mind the window and door industry.
There have been various industry gatherings upon the matter in the past year or so, groups of people getting together and saying the right things, committing to this and that. Unfortunately these tend to lose steam as the people who get together get bogged down by work and other things. It’s the nature of business unfortunately.
For me, perhaps the only tangible way forward would be for the window industry to engage directly with schools and colleges directly and set up apprenticeship schemes for installers, surveyors etc. We cannot rely on the Government and it’s various promises and plans to put this into action, so we have to do it ourselves.
Unfortunately I don’t think we actually have the intention to do this either. We are happy to complain about it, but I only see a few companies, and only the biggest, actually making the effort to go and get this done. The truth of the matter is that the education system is utterly broken when it comes to trades. It is so heavily weighted towards funnelling pupils through to University thanks to a monetary rewards system that promotes nothing else. For so very ling various Governments have completely ignored the importance of finding and training the next generation of builders, plumbers, electricians, window installers etc that we are probably two or three decades behind where we should be. That is a now impossible task to overcome and we can all see this now medium-paced train wreck happening in front of us.
Much has been made about the need to improve productivity rates in the UK if we are to continue to compete in the global economy, and our industry is not excused from that.
Part of the problem of the mass diversification our sector has gone through in the last decade is we have become bogged down in so many new products and options that our whole operation has slowed down and productivity has suffered as a result. At least from what I can see.
I would like to see fabricators and indeed systems companies announce ways to make the jobs of their customers easier, so that they can get more work done and sell more product further down the supply chain. If we’re not going to be able to expand the sector via people power, then the least we can do is attempt to make the existing jobs easier and more productive!
Really invest in tech
Whether you’re young or old, love tech or hate it, the world of technology, AI and all other manner of innovation is transforming the working world. And whilst some in the industry have been early adopters of the internet and tech age, Solidor/TruFrame/Listers just a few examples, there is still much more to do.
If you look at how the car industry has integrated itself with tech, it has transformed the buying experience for the public, as well as vastly improving the production systems and R&D. If our industry is to really tackle productivity and start attracting talent again then this has a big part to play.
In my three days at the show I’ll be looking out for companies who look to be making a real effort towards integrating technology in the aim of improving their business.
In the past few weeks I have had conversations with industry friend who have told me that in the arenas of glass, PVC resin and aluminium there are some rather big price increases coming. This is down to a number of factors, all external of the sector. Aluminium was hit a couple of months ago by the Trump tariffs and again a few weeks ago. Both Russia and the EU have been hit in the metal markets which has sent aluminium soaring. I was told that the price of resin, the material before it becomes tangible raw material, has shot up. To add to that, five European float lines have reportedly closed, which is causing all sorts of export issues. European growth is slowing it seems and it was deemed necessary to close them. As you know, when you close a float line, it’s closed. These are mile long production lines that cannot be stopped.
The upshot of all of this is that our industry is at some point soon going to be feeling the effects of this in the pocket. Prices are going to be rising, and I suspect fairly sharply. These effects will be felt in the months to come. I also suspect that we will see plenty more in the run up to the 2019 FIT Show. With Brexit becoming a reality by then, this is going to be a subject that may well be frequently talked about.
I would like to see the industry use the FIT Show as a way to discuss keeping supply chains open, running smoothly, and keeping a balance to costs so that home owners still find it affordable to invest in their homes.
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