Next year’s FiT Show is the biggest meeting of the industry’s people, companies and those with power to make changes. It is the single most important three days in our calendar and therefore is the three most important days in which to enact those changes and tackle some of the biggest problems our sector faces.
Exhibitions are of course good ways for companies to launch and show off new and existing product lines, create leads and strike up new relationships. All of that is useful. But we’re at a pinch point in the window and door industry right now. A unique moment in time where we face a large number of threats, that if we fail to effectively tackle, we can expect chaos in the near term.
This is my list of ten topics that I want to see discussed at the 2019 FiT Show.
1. Brexit – labour
I’m not talking about the Labour party and their stance on Brexit. I’m talking about any potential labour shortages as a result of Brexit. What I don’t think is helpful is to spend the exhibition talking about the referendum, getting bogged down in tribal politics and letting it turn into the kind of fruitless chatter than much of social media turns it into.
I personally don’t think that there needs to be a shortage. The Government, whether you believe in their politics or not, have outright said on a number of occasions that anyone from the EU living here right now will absolutely get to stay. No one therefore is at risk of being kicked out. That being said, someone will feel a natural reaction is to go back to their country of origin, despite that guarantee.
What I see being more of a problem is future growth. Most manufacturers will be planning for growth in the coming years, as most good companies should. The problem I see is companies being able to attract the staff to do the work. Human beings will be required to produce the windows and doors, deliver them. Who is going to do that? There’s a good chunk of Brits who believe that work to be beneath them, so they won’t do it. Therefore we’ll have to rely on outside help.
I want to see our industry tackle this head on. Discuss tangible, actionable plans and help the whole sector get to grips with what could be a major issue in the years to come.
2. Skills shortage
The first topic nicely segways into this one. This country is woefully understaffed when it comes to trades-based jobs. Our education system has for decades now neglected this area of employment, and encouraged as many as possible to go through the University system. What we have now is a situation where more people than ever before have degrees, and the least amount of skilled workers for a very, very long time. I don’t see those degrees building the homes and commercial spaces that are in very high demand.
I want to see much more of the industry coming together to create plans, real plans and real schemes to help the sector attract more youth. To come up with ways to demonstrate to the outside world that good money can be made from a career in fenestration. The 2019 FIT Show shouldn’t be an exhibition of nodding heads all talking about how bad the problem is. We know it’s bad. It’s been bad for years. This very moment is the time to actually do something about it. The FiT Show seems as good a time as any to do that.
3. Tackling product quality
I am running a poll at the moment which paints a pretty poor picture when it comes to the general state of product quality and customer service within the industry. This, after 2017 was one of the worst years in a very long time for such things.
This year seems like it’s no better. There are a number of reasons, all of which have combined to create the situation we are in now. Personally, I think parts of our industry are in denial as to the severity of the problems. Part of it I think doesn’t really know the best way in which to reverse the situation.
But, there are going to be a lot of smart people and resourceful companies all within the same space for the best part of a week. This seems like as good as time as any to talk about it. Find out what are the root causes, and then come up with tangible solutions. There will be a lot of installers attending as visitors, where they will see a lot of their own suppliers. My guess is they will want to see actions and not words when it comes to things like product quality and customer service.
4. Solid roof legislation
I was shown a picture the other week where a conservatory had collapsed under the weight of a solid roof. I suspect that there might be one or two more out there when this kind of disaster has happened.
I have long said that this is a part of our industry that needs regulating. Some companies go about solid roof installations the right way, following Building Control guidance and rules from their local council areas. Some however, it is clear, do not. I have seen too many conservatories all too quickly converted to have a solid roof where it is clear checks on the existing structure, foundations and frames have not been done. They have just had a roof installed and the installers walk away with the money.
The solid roof market is filled with way too many gaps and lack of accountability. Given that there is a percentage populated by cowboy outfits, it seems only common sense to me that the industry as a whole gets together and tells itself that before any more collapsed conversions occur, this is a sub-sector that needs regulating.
We really need to have a very open, honest and frank discussion about what we pay for our goods. Brexit is going to have an impact when we leave no doubt. But overall, the longer term trend is for higher prices across the supply chain.
That is all well and good. But those rises tend to be in quite sudden and dramatic jumps. There’s no one or two percent on a semi-regular basis. It tends to be double-digit rises on a frequent basis throughout the year. For the installation and fabrication part of the markets, these kinds of rises make it very hard to plan ahead and can put real pressure on the lower ends of the supply chain.
We are also in a situation where IGU makers can buy certain glass products cheaper now than 30 years ago. Utterly crazy. We have ruined many parts of our industry with this insane obsession of undercutting each other on price, forcing the industry-wide prices to remain artificially low. What we should have been doing is paying a fair price, that rises in line with inflation over time, focusing more on the quality of the product and future development. We haven’t, and the glass supply shortage problems we have seen recently are a symptom of that.
As there is a dedicated glass show within FiT Show in 2019, this seems like a very good time to be honest with ourselves and to admit that we have to adapt to a very different pricing scenario in the years to come.
Those are my five major issues that I want our industry to tackle next year. But there are of course more than just those five topics to cover. So here are five more that I would like to see. Perhaps not as pressing or important, but worth covering nonetheless.
6. Integration of smart tech
We’re already seeing it with doors. Can windows be next? And how do we ensure that hackers and cyber-thiefs don’t make these their next viable targets.
7. Green policies
I would have included this in my top 5, but I know that there is still a large amount of the industry that either isn’t in tune with current changes, or just doesn’t care. Still, we cannot ignore the changing attitudes towards plastic. We have to talk about this next year.
8. Future product development
I feel as though we’re coming to the end of this current product development cycle. Many of the products that could be classed as “new” we have had for a little while now. It might be time to start thinking beyond the products we have now.
9. Getting rid of high pressure sales
It’s 2018, and I cannot believe that hard-sell tactics are still a thing. We should be ashamed that we have allowed it to foster this long. FiT Show 2019 seems like a good opportunity for the industry to announce a solid pledge to outlaw it completely.
10. Communication to home owners
I still feel like our industry has some progress to make when it comes to communicating with the public and with general education of our industry. There are a handful of businesses that have done a sterling job in bridging that gap. The rest have some catching up to do.
These are of course my top ten topics to be discussed at the 2019 FiT Show. I would hope that at least the top 5 topics get an airing, they’re all pretty pressing.
I will be covering FiT Show 2019 in-depth throughout the three days. There will be the DGB Live page, constantly updated to give all those who cannot make it a sense of what is going on. I’ll be live on Twitter, and I may even have video for the first time, which could either be fun or very much a one-time thing! There will be plenty of product reviews, polls and all the other good stuff that these events create.
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