Yesterday I explored five products the industry should be keeping an eye on in 2018. If you haven’t read that yet, click here to get yourself all caught up on that.
Whilst there are opportunities to exploit this coming year, there are also some very fundamental issues that the window and door industry needs to address this year if it is going to find itself making more money and being more productive. This is my list of five major issues we need to get ironed out this year.
I cannot remember a year like last year where there were so many public and private complaints about the quality, or lack thereof, of the products we were producing and installing. Up to now I have been in this industry nearly 13 years and by my own memory 2017 was very, very poor in comparison.
I put that down to a combination of two factors: too many new products and not enough people at fabricator level to make a success of it. In the past few years our industry has diversified and expanded greatly in an effort to keep evolving and keep home owners interested. Generally a proactive and positive move. However, I don’t believe that staffing levels within the production part of our supply chain have recovered properly since the 2008 meltdown.
There is only so much a small staffing crew can be asked to do before morale drops and mistakes start to be made. Last year I believe we saw the culmination of that, with the end results being poorly made and poorly delivered products, ending with very unhappy and vocal installers.
This year, I would like to see the whole of the production side of our industry investing heavily in people, equipment and training. Without that, and with the industry not letting up on the gas peddle, we’re going to see a year just as bad as last, or even worse. That is going to cost us all a lot of money and hit productivity badly.
One of the biggest comments I had from installers throughout last year was that 2017 was by far the worst year for rogue customers. Home owners deliberately making things difficult for installers, being unreasonable, hard to work with and withholding cash for frankly ridiculous and spurious reasons.
Help isn’t coming from anywhere right now, and nor will it in 2018. The climate out there is very anti-business and it has become very popular to bash business of all kinds in general.
So we’re going to have to help ourselves. Installers may have to change the way they take payment from clients. They could increase the deposit amounts. They could introduce stage payments across the board so that home owners can’t hold them hostage with a big withheld balance at the end. They could start asking for payment prior to installation, as other industries do.
Either way, we’re going to have to do something, because the law is so heavily weighted in favour of the consumer, businesses of our kind have very little protection and certain types of clients know that and know how to land a company in a very sticky situation.
Some companies have really embraced technology within their business, transforming how they operate, market themselves and allow their customers to interact with them. Especially in the fabricator/installer realm.
Some however have not. Faxes? Paper order forms? Old habits die hard, I get that. But these are archaic technologies that are not fit for 2018.
Take Solidor for example. Their cloud allows installers to price online, get a quote emailed back to them in 90 seconds and the installer can then get on with the job of quoting their customer. They’re launching their Cloud 2.0 this month, which will take things up a level further. They have an extremely effective online lead generation system, one of the leading composite door websites, a great online door designer and very high quality imagery. If you are looking to step your IT and online game up, this would be a good place to look.
Those who are burying their heads in the sand risk being completely drowned out and sidelined by companies who are willing to invest the time and money into high performing IT and tech services. I would go so far as to say that some companies could go to the wall if they continue to shun progress. For installers, they are much more likely to use and keep using fabricators and suppliers who make it as easy as possible to deal with them. I know I do. We’re a Solidor installer and it’s the easiest product for me to price up and create a quote. It takes minutes. Keeps me far more productive and increases the chances of a sale.
A little out of our hands this one. UK GDP growth has been predicted at 1.5% this year by many. It’s not exactly booming figures. It is still growth, still far away from recession. But it’s still slower than we have been used to in the past few years.
While Brexit negotiations continue, while UK politics remains in flux in general, home owners are likely to remain a little more cautious than normal when it comes to spending the bigger bucks. It hasn’t helped that inflation has risen faster than wages for a strong minute either. The sooner that trend inverts the better.
Still, we can’t be negative about it and wallow in what is. The best and only thing we can do is to market our industry strongly to home owners, showing them clear and commanding USPs that convince them that new windows and doors are a positive investment in their homes that has to be done now.
Last year we saw a very high number of price increases across all parts of the supply chain, be it glass, hardware, profile and anything else in between. In all honesty I’m not sure why we had so many. Currencies remained stable, with Sterling actually gaining against both Dollar and Euro during 2017. Commodity prices did rise, with copper being particularly steep. But the very high number of glass price increases, as an example, didn’t make any logical sense.
I don’t see that price pressure being eased this year, in fact it may only get worse. Just about all suppliers at the very top of the supply chains seem intent on powering through with prices increases. I understand completely that margins have to be maintained or recovered. However, a series of overly steep increases that filter down the chain can quite easily put a number of companies under pressure, leaving them either raising their own prices and risking losing business, or allowing it to eat into what is left of their profit margins and risk going out of business anyway.
This year the industry has to find a balance. I have written in the past that it’s probably time to raise prices to home owners anyway, as we have kept them artificially low for far too long thanks to poor sales tactics. But we also have to ensure that we don’t raise them to the point where installers and fabricators can’t operate profitably and that home owners still feel they can afford our products.
2018 will be by no means plain sailing. There are a number of issues, not just limited to the ones I mentioned here, that we will all have to navigate if we are to make a success of the next 12 months.
What are your concerns for this year? What major obstacles can you see coming? Let us know via the comments section below.
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