How best to sum up this year? There could be a dozen ways to describe 2013, but I think the best way to describe it is progressive.

What I mean by progressive is that the industry has made a lot of positive progress over the last 12 months which has seen it move into full recovery mode, away from consolidation and safety mode, brought on by the recession. I don’t think it is too grand a statement to say that 2013 has been the most positive year in about 5 years.

Record Snowfall

We started off the year regularly digging out our cars, driveways and yards. The winter of 2012-2013 was one of the longest and coldest on record, with snow lying in some areas for months. I think we all remember the terrible scenes on Easter weekend when some of the worst snow I’ve ever seen hit, and buried many areas in snow drifts deeper than houses. I really did feel for all those farmers who had to dig their valuable livestock out of the snow. They were tough times, and it was tough for many business, including the double glazing industry during these initial months. No one can say they weren’t affected in some way by the disruption.

Still, the snow came and then it slowly went. And as we all thawed, so the customers began to emerge from their houses ready to start on the home improvements. The cold was quickly forgotten about and we all started to power up through the gears ready for what we all hoped would be a strong year, building on the signs of positivity seen in 2012. And we certainly got it.

FiT Show Success

I’ll come back to general business later on. But a yearly review cannot be complete without a mention of the FiT Show.

It had been very long in the planning, in fact it was announced 14 months before the actual event. After the failure of Glassex, many wondered if there was any enthusiasm left for an industry exhibition. But the organisers definitely thought there was. With an industry value in the billions, it seemed rather odd not to have a showpiece event where the best of us could go and exhibit the best and newest products coming to market.

The hype was big. But then again so was the turnout. When the doors opened in Telford in April the reaction was better than expected and over the course of the three days thousands upon thousands of the industry’s hard working and brightest people came to support an event many thought would fail.

Despite a couple of hitches with the Wi-Fi and the parking, this inaugural event went very well, and everyone who exhibited and visited agreed, including myself. Hats off to Mr Glover and Mr Godwin for putting on an event which looks set to have another strong showing in 2014.

For an industry which can be valued in the billions, it would have been a great shame for there not to be a showpiece event. Though I believe there shouldn’t be one every year, just to make sure people don’t tire of the idea, there should be a time where for a few days, everyone can get together and network around great products and great people. This is a void the FiT Show managed to do very well this year.

Product Shift

Close to the end of this year, we saw the release of Insight Data’s excellent and very comprehensive infographic and industry report, which can be seen here. Amongst the plethora of information that the reports held, one of the most standout points made was how more and more PVC installers are turning to other materials in search of new markets. 47% of PVC installers now offer more than just one material, that being either aluminium or timber.

What that report highlighted, and what I think most of us knew anyway, was that PVC as a material isn’t as untouchable as it once was. The market really has diversified over the last 12 months and the industry is probably at it’s most mixed as it ever has been. For me this is a good thing. As the consumer becomes more and more educated about the products we sell, installers have to been on hand to be able to offer what the customers are asking for, whether that be one specific materials or three. We all have to adapt as an industry to changing consumer appetites and that is what we have seen over the past 12 months.

More Social

If 2012 was the year where people started to get to grips with social media, then 2013 was the year where companies started to put it to good use.

Twitter seems to be the social media platform that our industry has chosen. Facebook still seems to be the more teenage, immature platform. Twitter has become a very slick and simple place to connect with others on a B2B basis.

We have seen much more in terms of images of company’s works being posted online for people to see. Also, mini competitions being held specifically for Twitter users. Social media in 2013 has become cemented in the way companies in our industry do business and it has been great to see.

But what has still surprised me is that I continue to see people in our sector doubting the influence of the internet and the benefits they bring. One simple stat comes to mind: over 90% of people do research online before purchasing anything. If you ignore that stat and still refuse to embrace new technologies, then you’re just plain stupid!

Awards, And More Awards

2013 saw the launch of something new, the National Fenestration Awards. These awards were created by myself and original founder Nick Dardalis, author of Aluminium Trade Supply. We saw the reaction to other awards schemes and we thought that we could come up with a different platform which aimed to reward other under-represented parts of our industry that continue to do great work. It is worth saying at this point that Nick left mid way through the year due to personal circumstances, but was replaced by Lee Clarke, MD of MyTradeTV who has done a sterling job so far!

The idea was simple: provide a place where people from all parts of the industry could (fairly) put people and companies forward that they thought deserved to be recognised. There would be no judges, secret or otherwise. The shortlists that people could finally vote for in the end would be comprised of finalists decided totally by the population of the industry.

The first year was very much an experiment. Firstly, to see if it would be something people would actually be interested in and take part. Secondly, to see if the format we came up with would actually work. On both counts, although neither were perfect first time round, seemed to go very well.

Participation in both the nominating and voting phases was great for a first year, proving that the platform we created seemed to work. We intend to learn from what we did well and not so well this year, so that we can unveil a bigger and better National Fenestration Awards for 2014. We believe that the NFA’s have created a great way for people to take part in something fun, free, and that rewards some of the best people and companies in the industry.

2013 also saw the annual G Awards take place in London. This event always brings in mixed reactions, and this year was no different. As many of you will know, I have my own conflicting opinions of the whole thing. But one point I would mention is that any event that aims to promote the hard work our industry does is a good thing in the end.

Installations On The Up

The past 12 months have seen quarterly figures released from FENSA which show a marked improvement on 2012. Each quarter of this year has seen strong rises in the number of installations being registered with FENSA, which indicates a significant boost in business.

Many of us can report strong sales figures this year, with 2013 being one of the best years in recent times. With the economy getting back on track this year, the good news has certainly streamed through quite strong over the last 12 months. Though I would still advise a degree of caution.

No business is going to say that they’re not doing well. For example I ALWAYS see companies boasting about record this and record that – but with very little context to explain. I’m not saying that every business saying they’re doing well are lying, but I am saying that there will be some painting a distorted picture to save face.

Although we’re on a stronger road to recover than last year, all is still not perfect and there are pitfalls that still remain.

In Conclusion…

To try and sum up this year in one word or a short sentence would be difficult. But if I were to describe the last 12 months I would say that they are 12 months in which the industry has made significant progress in rebuilding a solid foundation from which to grow in 2014. We have a set of tools which if we make the most of, can exploit the opportunities that will come in 2014.

Later on in the week I’ll be posting an article looking forward to 2014 and what type of year we might have.

If you’ve read all of this, well done and thanks for being patient!