I am currently running a poll on DGB at the moment asking installers to let us know what their current lead times are. These are the results so far:

It’s only been live for a short period, but the first early votes gives us an indication as to how installer lead times are shaping up. The majority of companies voting are saying their lead time is at least four weeks or more. This is great, it shows that there is plenty of work on the books of those who have voted so far.

But it does beg the question, if companies have an eight week lead time for example, do we really need lead times where products are made and delivered in less than a week?

What’s caused the situation?

One of the biggest battle grounds between manufacturers in our industry right now is in reducing lead times. Every year manufacturers are shaving their lead times further and further, seemingly with the aim to claim that they have one of the quickest lead times in the whole industry. It becomes a stick to beat everyone else with.

Unwilling to be known as the manufacturer that takes two or three weeks to make their windows and doors, many suppliers have worked on reducing their lead times to something under a week. Impressive from a manufacturing point of view. But is it really necessary?

Massive disparity

Right now, many of the votes being cast indicates that that current lead times for a lot of installers are 6 weeks and above. Yet suppliers find themselves being backed into a corner to make their products and have them delivered in a matter of days. Why has this huge disparity between fitting lead times and manufacturing lead times come to be?

One reason could be the way installers order their products. For example, if an installer has an eight week lead time, but the products they order can be made and delivered in ten working days, that installer will be tempted to hold off ordering those products until much nearer the time. Fine for the installer, who won’t be invoiced for that sale until much later. But that puts pressure on the supplier to make the product much closer to the proposed installation date, without making an error. If there is a problem with production, it leaves little time to rectify it and get the product delivered on time.

Not that every installer does that. I know at our place we order products in advance and ask for a later delivery. This gives our suppliers time to make the products, and then if there are issues in the factory, they can be rectified without upsetting our fitting schedules.

Expensive for the manufacturer

Not that installers probably care all that much, but sitting on orders and sending them in at the last minute is expensive for suppliers.

It would be much easier for installers to order their products as and when they get their orders from home owners. It means suppliers can run their production lines much more efficiently, rather than erratic lines that vary from week to week.

You do wonder then, if installers did order everything as soon as they received the order from the home owner, allowed suppliers to run a more efficient, better planned production run, perhaps costs could be trimmed and passed on to the installer. This however is a very unlikely scenario.

When are short lead times useful?

For those installers with 4-12 week lead times for fitting, a three day door turnaround isn’t going to be all that useful. They’re either going to have to order their products and ask for a wildly delayed delivery time, or just sit on the order until much nearer the time of fitting.

But not every installer has such a healthy lead time. There are some installers still scrapping around for work on a couple of weeks lead time. The poll above does show that some installers are working on fitting times that short. So when they sign up a contracts for a couple of doors for example, it suits them to order it straight away, have their supplier make it straight away and get it delivered as soon as possible to fit ASAP.

Overall, I have never really understood the importance of such short lead times. It has become a vanity race that in reality doesn’t benefit either party. Will the trend ever reverse? No. The new benchmarks have been set, and you generally don’t go backwards from those benchmarks.

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