Just before the end of the year, I wrote about how I thought that the first quarter of this year could be a total car crash. I was basing my opinion on the conversations I was having with other key industry leaders, my own thoughts and predictions, as well as observations on the wider global economy and politics.
I also said that I was happy to be proved wrong as well. Three weeks into 2019, I (hesitantly) report that I could indeed be wrong.
I appreciate that three weeks into a new year isn’t exactly much of a strong signal. It’s not as if we haven any solid figures to go on. But I do use my own family run installations business as a bit of a bell-weather as to how things are in the wider industry.
I will be completely honest, I was fully prepared for a slow start to the year. Personal debt continues to climb higher. Christmas always puts a strain on home owner spending in the weeks after it. Brexit remains unsolved and no one really knows what is going to happen next. In any other year that grotty mix should make for a pretty tepid start for installers.
However, I am happy to report that up to press I have been utterly wrong. So far. We went back to work on Thursday 3rd January, expecting a quiet start. That was not the case. Phones were ringing. New appointments were being made. People were coming into the showroom. Orders were being placed. It has continued like that up to the publishing of this post. It’s been a brisk start. I’d even say probably slightly better than that even.
Still, a swallow doesn’t make a summer, as the saying goes. A few weeks doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole year is going to outperform. We all remember how dramatic 2008 was for the sector. I hope though that the gloomy predictions from business leaders, economists and even myself continue to be proved wrong. The longer the better!
But what is the cause behind the strength at the start of this year?
Getting on with it!
As we ended last year, business activity really dropped away for us. It normally does near Christmas. But this felt more dramatic than normal. It was clear that the hype around Brexit and general political and economic uncertainty was weighing heavy.
Christmas and New Year came. Everyone had a chance to step away from work and engage in things far more fun and entertaining than work and politics. It was a chance for people to recharge their batteries and get a fresh perspective on things.
So as we seem to have started the year with a bit of a bang, what could this be down to? Personally, I think it’s a general fatigue of the gloom and doom around Brexit and other things, with home owners deciding that life has to go on and other things still need doing.
We have discussed at work that it feels as though there has been some pent up demand now coming through from home owners. It makes sense. No matter what happens with Brexit, the door that is falling off it’s hinges still needs replacing. No matter what happens with the global economy, a home with cold a draughty windows still needs upgrading. A conservatory that is too cold to use in the winter still needs a better roof installing so it can be used throughout the year.
The reality is, homes still need improving. Perhaps home owners have been sitting on their decisions for a little while until they know what is going to be happening on the political front. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to be resolved any time soon. So, life has to go on. Work on homes has to continue. When existing products really are at the end of their life, they have to be replaced, no matter the current situation.
The other thought we had at the end of last year was that smaller ticket items, like doors and windows in small numbers would be mostly unaffected by the situation in the country right now. We thought that we might see a slowdown in the larger projects such as self-builds, solid roof conversions, whole house replacements etc. But again, that has not been the case for us so far. We really have had a mixed bag. Solid roofs, full house replacements, bi-folding doors, roofline, plans from architects for new developments and an absolute boatload of door enquiries. Pretty much the full buffet.
Do I think we’ll end the year with growth? Yes. Do I think it will be a booming year? No. I still think that as we head towards the end of March and if there still hasn’t been a resolution and uncertainty remains, then I think we could still see a dramatic slowdown in business activity until after the month ends as home owners hold on tight to their spending decisions. The poll I have been running at the start of the year asking people their outlook for 2019 remains a mixed bag too.
So, a better than expected start. A sign perhaps that spenders are more resilient than we thought. I wouldn’t relax just yet though. With the climate we’re in right now, literally anything could happen, and it will always have an impact on the UK window and door industry.
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