This was a week in which almost every single one of us will have never experienced in our lifetimes. The tone and atmosphere at the end of the week was very different to that at the start. By the weekend a grim reality feels as though it has set in, as we come to realise that positive thinking/words and the typical British stiff upper lip mentality isn’t going to remedy the situation.

As we start the second half of the weekend and look at a new week just on the horizon, its time for UK fenestration, indeed every single one of us, to face the reality of the situation.

This is bad

This was always going to be a long crisis for UK fenestration. At the start the problem was very much the supply chain as China was in a state of lockdown. Factories were shut and people forced to stay at home. This was bad news considering China is the world’s factory, so if they’re not producing, we’re going to run low. Those fears have eased to some degree, although they have not gone away. But now we face a new phase of the crisis, one on our shores.

COVID-19 is here and is spreading rapidly. And before you all start shouting at the screen “its just another flu”, please read this very useful explanation as to why it is not and why the few people left trying to paper over the crack with that kind of rubbish will only make things worse. I’ll also add, that whilst the media do almost always hype most things up, this is not their fault. I have seen on social media that TV news channels are being blamed for all sorts of things around the pandemic. They’re not the ones spreading the disease, and its the only outlet we get important information from. We can turn off the TV, even our phones and laptops, if we think everyone is overreacting to a situation no one has ever been in. But will that keep you informed on the single most important matter in a century that changes every day?

Whether you approve of the way the UK Government is handling the situation, they have admitted that we can only hope to slow the spread. They have admitted that we’re going to lose loved ones. We know that daily life as we know it will change, perhaps for quite a long time. Yes we will worry about it over the coming weeks, but we should also be as prepared and as calm as we can be. Easier said than done, considering the last time this happened was 102 years ago, the Spanish flu.

From a fenestration industry point of view, we’re going to have to look at ways of working differently. For installers, that is likely to mean working from home. Speaking with customers remotely over the phone or email. Quoting via email. Maybe even stopping home visits and asking home owners to email in their sizes and specifications to obtain quotes. Much of what an installer does can be done online and over the phone, both with home owners and suppliers. The case for manufacturers however is a lot more complicated. Their office work can be done from home, but the factory itself is another matter. Whilst the workforce remains healthy, orders can be processed, products made and delivered. However, should even one member of staff test positive for the virus, it could result not only in that one person being forced to isolate themselves at home, but also the rest of the workforce, for at least a week, if not more. Production would shut down, deliveries could stop and cash flow problems wouldn’t be far behind. This will be playing on the minds of owners of manufacturers in our industry I am sure. I would urge every single one to put in place as many precautions as possible to hold off any possible cases for as long as possible.

You only need to spend a few minutes considering the impact of what is about to unfold in the coming weeks to understand the gravity of what is happening. This is bad. The health crisis is one thing, the economic impact is going to be something we haven’t seen, maybe ever.

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Economic impact like no other

We’re still at the start of this crisis, and already the global economy is being hit hard. The stock markets have entered a bear market in the quickest time on record, putting an end to a 12 year bull market in just three weeks. Hotels, bars, restaurants around the world are reporting huge drops in the number of customers. Airlines this evening are asking the UK Government for a £7.5bn bailout already, as customers cancel flights and holidays, countries close borders, airlines shut down routes and announce massive job losses. Cruise lines are being crippled, ski resorts closed, schools and universities closed and cash flows drying up.

Central banks around the world are starting to pump money into economies and lower interest rates. Questions are starting to be asked about the health of the banks as there are now signs liquidity is starting to dry up due to the volatility in the stock markets. City centres are quieter than normal, the roads are starting to look less busy.

From a fenestration point of view, installers are starting to report showrooms being quieter and new leads dropping off. I can vouch for that. We’re all in the same boat here, so if in a few weeks time there are installers on social media boasting how busy they are, chances are they’re lying.

These are just the initial impacts. As we move into the next week or so, global air travel will almost completely grind to a halt as most countries will cancel travel and close borders. More countries will impose lockdown measures and stop movement of people unless for specific reasons. The sporting calendar looks set to be cancelled for months. Anyone thinking that football will resume at the start of April isn’t rational. Euro 2020 looks set to happen in 2021 now. Local elections in the UK are postponed too. Mass gatherings are going to be banned next week, following on from almost every other country who has been hit with it.

Consider this: the peak is 10-14 weeks away. The measures being put in place now are to slow the spread, not to reverse it. This is not going to be a short, sharp shock. Even if by July/August the rate of infection and death rate falls back and restrictions ease, the after-effects for the rest of 2020 and even 2021 will be immense.

This is not the same as the financial crisis. Back then we kind of knew what the lay of the land was. A major bank went under, dragging the rest of the financial system with it. Governments around the world stepped in with massive borrowing to prop up the entire system, and its taken over a decade to recover from that. Whilst we’re still only at the start of this, and the effects still to be known, I believe that this is going to have an impact on us all far greater than in 2008. Governments around the world are going to have to pump inordinate amounts of money to support economies, and even then it might not be enough. For countries like Italy, who were on the verge of going bust before this happened, well lord knows what is going to happen to them and across the rest of Europe.

The prospects look grim. It doesn’t take much pondering to understand the potential scale of what is down the road. All of the above being taken into account, not a single person or business, be it in our industry or any other, should be rolling over and accepting of the situation. This is a once in a lifetime event that is going to change how we live and work, potentially forever. It means that in a short space of time we’re going to have to adapt to new ways of working to ensure some amount of money is earned and some businesses can remain open. Thanks to technology and the internet, it is very easy to now work remotely. I know much of what I can do can be done from home. I appreciate not everyone will be in the same position.

There are always opportunities as well, no matter how big the lockdown. Windows and doors that are tired and on their last legs will still be on their last legs during and after this crisis has passed. We have to work hard as an industry to remind home owners that this is a transitory crisis, their homes still need looking after. Indeed, come the back end of the year when (hopefully) the worst of this is over, pent-up demand for home improvement work could result in a boom at a time of year when we don’t usually see one. As an industry we have to remain active in terms of advertising both on a B2B and B2C level, to keep the subject on people’s minds. Given that its cheaper and easier to manage and obtain data from, digital advertising could actually see a big boost as companies seek to get in front of more eyes as people are forced to stay indoors.

On a personal level, we all have to stop playing this down. I am sure that if you are guilty of playing it down, and then found out that a loved one was in a very serious way due to the illness, or even worse, that your opinion would very quickly change. Remember, what is being done now is not to prevent the young and the healthy from the illness, but to help protect the elderly and the vulnerable. Think about those people who are in a less fortunate situation before you complain about having to work from home or you’re sick of the news on TV.

This is going to require a national effort. A major change to our way of life to try and protect those that need protecting. We will need to adapt to continue to earn money and pay bills. We will need to be patient and considerate towards others. This is not going to last forever, but the more we do right now to limit the impact of what is coming, the better off we will be when it passes.

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