When the glass shortage was at it’s peak in terms of media coverage last year, I spoke to a friend of mine at one of the biggest IGU suppliers round here about what has caused such a thing to happen.
He went on to explain that issues such as float line closures and factory shutdowns certainly hasn’t helped the situation, the bigger game at play here is suppliers making commercial decisions as to who to supply. The UK fenestration industry has run glass prices down so much that our market is no longer profitable. So when the big companies are deciding who to give their glass to, they are now looking at other markets.
It’s our own fault. And it’s happening across other sectors of our industry.
He also told me that certain glass products being made now can be bought cheaper than 30 years ago. Just think about that for a moment. Glass made now is cheaper than three decades ago. It’s madness. Our industry in this country has for so long decided that price is the only option to sell on that we have built our own platform on which to hang ourselves from.
So if I ever get asked as to why we have/had glass supply shortages, I will simply say it’s our own fault because we didn’t know how to sell on quality and service. It’s not just glass though where this insane attitude has caused damaged. You can see it happening in other product areas as well. Aluminium bi-folds are a good example. Once hailed as a high-end door product that could bring both installers and fabricators good profit margins, we now see hard advertising of aluminium bi-folds being sold cheaper and cheaper per leaf.
Why? There was no need to. Home owners fully understood that they would have to pay more for an aluminium bi-fold in comparison to it’s PVCu counterparts. Installers knew that too, and could command good prices for them. It worked. Then, in true UK fenestration industry style, the race to the bottom began, and we started to see sale prices from all sorts of companies offering prices per leaf just that little bit lower than their competitors. So the conversation moved from solid areas like quality, choice, security, design etc to price. Whenever price becomes the key selling point, all the other USPs get put to the back of the line.
I feel like the same thing is happening to solid roofs. When they first arrived on the scene prices were at the heavy end. As you would expect for anything that was new. Plus, this was a much more substantial product than a glass or polycarbonate roof. So it could easily command higher prices and better profit margins for installers and manufacturers. Their popularity has since surged, and more companies have joined the growing field of choice. Now, I am getting leaflets from installers of said product advertising solid roofs at lower and lower prices. Granted, they look cheap, certainly not the quality of the higher end options that are out there. But the race to the bottom has already started in this sub-sector too.
It’s important to note that not every installer and fabricator is in a race to the bottom when it comes to price. Some pride themselves on products that are far better in quality and build, designed to last, and sold at a price where everyone can make a bit of money. They should be applauded for doing so in my opinion. But when such a large portion of the industry sells based on price first and everything else second, it creates a strong overall drag on industry prices across the board, which makes selling our wares at a profitable rate much more difficult.
Be more like Europe
That’s not a Brexit reference by the way. When I speak to people about how our industry goes about selling, I am often told that we need to be looking at countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden. Attitudes towards building and construction are totally different to what they are here. They consider the quality of the building first, then price second. That means the windows and doors going into those buildings have been considered on their merits of quality, security, design and energy efficiency, before price. Which is exactly as it should be. I have been told there are barns in Scandinavia built better than some of our own homes in the UK.
Surely this is what common sense would have us think like anyway? If we are building a home for someone, or even just renovating one, is it not right that the first priority is quality of design and build, then price? It makes sense to me. Yet, here in the UK we like a bargain, and seem happy to sacrifice other important factors so long as we don’t have to fork out as much money. You can see that in action on new-build estates across the country. The term “thrown up” is about right in some cases. There are builders, and there are builders. There are whole estates near where I live that are new but are lacking so badly in genuine quality it’s baffling. We have houses now that are 120 years old that are built better than the brand new ones being built now, and we know full well that they won’t stand the test of 120 years anywhere near as well.
It is this attitude towards sales and our products that mean the UK window and door industry will always make life hard for itself when it comes to making money. Remember, profit isn’t a dirty word. Making money is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But the way we go about selling makes it impossible. If you’re an installer or fabricator whose sole aim is to make sure you’re cheaper than the other guy, the profit is going to elude you. Breaking even might be your best achievement.
This isn’t a rallying cry for change by the way. I have been in this industry long enough to know that we’ll never change on a wide scale how we sell our products to each other and the general public. It will be invariably by price first, everything else second. Then we’ll all look around at each other and scratch our heads wondering why we aren’t making more money than we should be.
Take a look at the glass situation one more time. Do you think if the UK market was a profitable one for glass makers that they would have to look elsewhere when prioritising supply?
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