The industry gathered for three days this week at the NEC in Birmingham for the 2019 FIT Show. The industry’s show came against a backdrop of political uncertainty, a stagnant economy, a chronic skills gap that only continues to grow, and the new issue of sustainability.
This is my review of the 2019 FIT Show, and what my takeaways are from the three days.
Before I went to the show, I spoke about two major issues that I hoped would be the big focus, that being the skills gap and the sustainability of our industry, especially in the PVCu sphere. To be honest, I wasn’t overwhelmed with what I saw in terms of the industry approach to sustainability. There were some clear exceptions, which I will mention specifically in a moment. But I left wondering whether the industry actually appreciates the gravity of the situation that is on the horizon.
The skills gap was a theme which was present during the show, which was more promising to see. There were plenty of seminars throughout the three days which took a focus on the issue. I was kindly invited to take part on a panel discussion on the Wednesday on the subject of upskilling and how to attract new young people to the sector. The panel was expertly run by Joanne Taylor of Fit For Trade Ltd. I know she was nervous about hosting the panel in front of a live audience. I’m not a huge fan of public speaking myself, but she handled it like a pro and I watched her do another on Thursday with similar confidence. On the panel with Joanne and myself was Tracey Jackson of Howells Patent Glazing Ltd, Lee Welsh of YES Glazing and John Ogilvie of GQA Qualifications and Building Our Skills. It was a relaxed format and I think we all managed to get across the urgency and opportunity the gaps in the market provide for potential new entrants to the market.
Back to sustainability. During my discussions with various people on the stands I brought up the subject of the PVCu sector and sustainability. As we know there is a strong anti-plastic movement right now, which you can appreciate considering the damage single-use plastics have done to the planet. However, as an industry we are at great risk of being dragged into that spotlight, despite PVCu not actually being plastic. That’s what the “u” stands for. The issue is a fairly new one for the industry to get to grips with, but I would have thought I might have seen a small effort being made to try to combat that narrative before it sets in. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean some companies aren’t doing anything about it.
Thermocill, the new internal window cill invention that uses convection currents from radiators underneath windows to keep heat inside and is made from recycled plastic is a good example of that. Those who went on the Camden stand would have seen it, and heard from it’s creator Keith Rimmer. Their Inliten range is 80% recycled, it’s worth noting.
Generally though, whilst companies are aware of the need to use more and more recycled products within their ranges, there was no big push to illuminate that message to the rest of the industry.
I would say easily the biggest theme for me would be technology. Brisant Secure launched Ultion SMART. Avantis had a major presence with their Kubu Smart Lock. Smart Ready had a stunning Apple-esque stand showcasing their Smart Ready tech, which was also on products on other stands. MILA had their new Avia smart door lock.
This has been the first show where I have seen the industry genuinely get to grips with smart tech for windows and doors properly. There have been smart door locks on the market for a little while, but with mixed results in terms of uptake, quality and reliability. We appear to have now reached the stage where the industry is properly getting it’s teeth stuck into the opportunities they can provide for home owners and installers alike.
I have to say, of all the tech that was there, I thought the Smart Ready, Kubu and Ultion SMART products stood out for me. Simple in their ideas and working, branding was clear and on-message, and the pricing points at which they will be sold at will genuinely make smart window and door tech available to consumers on mass.
I still think this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tech for windows and doors. I think others who are watching on the sidelines might be looking on at these and will wait to see what kind of a success they make of it. Eventually, in the same way everyone has a flush sash window option, everyone will have a smart tech option too. We’re at the start of that journey at the moment, but in a few years time I expect major industry adoption.
The show itself
“Steady” would be my word of choice to describe footfall at the show. Wednesday, as it always is, was the busier day of the three. Thursday was most certainly hangover day, as it was for me, who didn’t follow my own advice as closely as I should have done! Some I spoke to would have liked it to have been busier, who perhaps have been to previous shows where they found Tuesdays generally more energetic than this Tuesday.
It has to be said though that some stands did pull in more visitors than others. They tended to be the larger, more colourful of the lot. As I walked past there was definitely some stands doing better than others. I would put that down to better designs enticing people over and simply having the products exciting enough to grab people’s attention.
The show was spread across three halls this year for the first time at the NEC, which allowed for wider aisles between stands and more open spaces at the sides and the fronts of the halls. So if you weren’t a fan of having to side step everyone and apologise for brushing shoulders with other visitors every two minutes then this was good news. Did it need to be three halls? I’m not sure. I think if it could be done in two halls the next time, it would create a closer, more intimate atmosphere which I think would bring an energy and atmosphere that many who exhibited at the Telford location always liked.
As you may well now know, it’s going to be held every year, instead of every two years. This took many by surprise, just as the show was about to open. To be honest, there were quite a few questioning the decision during the three days. Do we need one every year? It will depend on how much “new” can be produced and brought to market every 12 months. Personally, I think a dedicated area where new products can be showcased and introduced would be a way to encourage companies to sign on to exhibit. Speaking from the point of view as a visitor, the biggest pull to any kind of exhibition, be it windows, cars, home renovation etc are the shiny brand new products. It’s a huge pull and companies know it, so would perhaps be persuaded to do this yearly if they knew they would get high footfall to a new product dedicated area. Did I think there was a whole load of new this year? 2017 was the year of new, this was the year of tech for me.
On Tuesday, as was done last year, the halls were kept open for companies to host parties and drinks events on their stands, European style. There was a good atmosphere for most of the day, with companies hosting gin evenings, German beer, a fair bit of which I managed to sample on my wanderings. I think the only thing I would caution is that when it comes to drinking, Brits are not Europeans. We’re a nation of binge drinking, we don’t really do the relaxed, slow boozing that Europe does. There was a lot of drinking this year, more than previous years. We need to ensure that our trade shows remain professional, next time round I would perhaps scale back the drinking. Plenty of places in Birmingham to do that let me tell you!
Speaking of being professional, I saw no “booth babes” at the show this year for the very first time. In my previous comments on shows gone by, I have mentioned that if we’re to be seen as a progressive industry that takes seriously the need to diversify and attract more women to the industry. That means losing the models and “booth babes” if we’re to try to achieve that. Looks like the message got across this year and it was refreshing to exhibitors focusing on their stands and products. It felt far less seedy and much more 21st century.
I would also like to make a few personal thank-yous. Firstly, to all the stands that invited myself and Lee to join them Tuesday evening for drinks on their stands. I enjoyed them all! Then to the Solidor team, who I always get on very well with, who were very kind with their hospitality on Tuesday evening. It was much appreciated. Hopefully some of you got chance to take a look at their new Contemporary Range of composite doors.
I want to thank the team at Camden Group and Keith Rimmer for their time on Wednesday evening. After a productive meeting at the end of the day on Wednesday on their stand, we enjoyed some proper Northern Irish banter and hospitality and made some new friends.
Standout product – MACO
I did my best to get around the show and see as many of the stands and the products on them. The smart tech really took my eye, as I mentioned above. All of those products are on the market and available to buy now. The product that stood out for me was one that was currently in testing but showed the potential window hardware and smart tech had when combined and pushed to it’s engineered limits. Check this out from MACO:
Smart window fully closed
Smart window in the top tilt position
Smart window in the bottom tilt position
This is a timber window overclad in glass externally which made for a heavy window overall. The opening positions of the window are app controlled. So, if you’re in the garden, in another room or just nipped out for ten minutes and needed to close the window you forgot before you went out, or needed to get some fresh air in, at the click of a button you have various different open positions in which to do so. It did look pretty cool watching the window open to various positions via a phone.
The window can be released to open up properly like a casement window. But because of the hardware used on this sample timber window, the size of the openers can be much greater than normal.
This is a product that is currently in development right now, and applicable for timber windows. However, I was told by the MACO team that they see no reason why it cannot be used on PVCu windows in the future. The hardware needed for this product is minimal, so it should be an easy sell for both fabricators and installers when the time comes.
Stand of the show
There were some good stands throughout the show. Some companies had clearly put a lot of effort into them. But there was a clear winner for me and that was the Smart Ready stand:
Set out to replicate an Apple store, it made the biggest statement for me. Clean, spacious, to the point about the product, it caught your eye every time you walked past it. The Apple of the window and door industry? If that’s an aim of theirs, then this was a pretty good way to kick things off!
Overall, this was a show to take stock of where we were as an industry. We weren’t reinventing the wheel with this one, rather, reinforcing and building on trends that we know are going to be productive and profitable for the sector in the next ten years. There was a big aluminium and flush window presence, as you might have expected, for example.
Much will be talked about going yearly and whether the show can sustain such a regular timetable and healthy footfall. And that outburst from the guest speaker at the Gala Dinner. Ultimately though, these shows need to be a place for companies to show off what they have that is new. So long as companies have the time and money to develop new products for the industry, they will go.
All in all, a show that was well organised and provided a platform in which to discuss some of the most important issues facing our industry. If the skills gap and tech was the theme this year, I want to see recycling and sustainability as the major theme for the next one. I cannot tell you how important this is going to be for the industry over the coming years, and the FIT Show should be the platform to bring this into focus.
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