As expected, the stand-in PM Dominic Raab confirmed that the UK lockdown would continue for at least another three weeks. We presume that is from today, which would take us to Thursday May 7th.

He confirmed that in three weeks they would review it again, and decide at that point whether to relax some measures, strengthen them, or perhaps leave them as they are for another stint.

This is what we know, and what it means for UK fenestration.

What was confirmed

We know its going to be another three weeks at least. They said “at least”, leaving the door open to further extensions or strengthening of some measures, dependent on the data and information they have collated at that point. We may well see Boris Johnson make that statement. All being well in three weeks time he will have recovered enough to make that address to the nation.

We know that the number of cases are flattening off, but the number of deaths are continuing to rise after the Bank Holiday weekend. Perhaps not as much as was feared, but rising. The peak appears to be close, if not already here, but passing a peak takes time, weeks in fact, not a matter of days. Over the next couple of weeks we may well begin to see the progress being made in a bigger way.

What this means for fenestration

For many installers, they will no doubt decide to remain at home, working remotely offering quotes and still contactable via email and phone. The chances of home owner demand swelling to the point of installers needing to reopen is at this point a fantasy. We have to remain realistic about the levels of home owner demand at this moment in time.

That being said, there is a chance that at the point of the next review, we could look forward to a point where some restrictions could be lifted. We could be told, for example, that we can see family and friends again. Non-essential business could be told they could return to work, so long as they implement strict new social distancing measures in places of work. If that turns out to be the case, then the fenestration industry can look at the potential to return to work.

So when could that happen? Three weeks today makes it Thursday May 7th. The next update will be at 5pm that day. There’s no point in opening up on Friday, so the next logical starting date for opening would be Monday May 11th. This is all very much subject to Government believing their criteria for relaxing measures have been met.

These are the criteria the Government stated that had to be met before lockdown measures could be relaxed:

  • Making sure the NHS can cope
  • Evidence showing a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates
  • Reliable data showing the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels
  • Being confident in the range of operational challenges, like ensuring testing and the right amount of PPE, are in hand
  • Being confident any adjustments will not risk a second peak

Should the evidence tick all those five boxes, then hopefully we will get a shred of good news on the relaxation of some restrictions. But lets be up front and honest, even if we do feel as though the time will be right to return to work, it will be a very different place and how we all operate will be vastly different from before. This is a subject I will explore in future posts.

Between now and May 11th, there is a lot of work to be done, and in particular, for fabricators.

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All parts of the supply chain have to understand each other

Its been quite clear over these past few weeks that communication between various parts of the supply chain hasn’t been what it should. And this is what is contributing to the confusion and frustration at installer level.

Over these next three weeks, the area that is going to be the single most important facet of our industry are the installers. There is a portion which is new-build, where the picture is different, but I want to focus on residential installers for now.

I’ll be blunt, home owner demand, from the various group calls I have been in over the past couple of weeks, emails that have been shared, conversations with other installers, is hugely depressed. I saw reports over the past couple of days over Google Trend charts which showed a rise in search terms relating to our industry. I would heap much caution on this. Many people are at home, bored, pondering what grand plans could be put into place for their homes. That does not mean sales. Indeed, I have searched for new cars, holidays and landscaping ideas while in isolation, but that doesn’t mean I’m imminently going to go buy a new car, book a holiday and get my garden done. Trends in search terms won’t translate into direct sales on the scale we would like.

Fabricators over these next few weeks need to undertake a huge fact-finding mission with their installers. They need to ring them all and ask questions such as:

  • have you had any cancellations
  • how many orders are you sat on ready to go
  • are you in a position to pay invoices

Most residential fabricators will be sat on orders that were paused or ready to be delivered just as we went into lockdown. It appears installers are likely sat on a couple of weeks worth of orders ready to be placed when fabricators reopen. So perhaps there is 2-4 weeks worth of work in the pipeline. What happens then?

Home owner demand is widely expected to be largely down upon reopening, and will take months to recover, providing that there are no second waves or further lockdowns, which cannot be guaranteed. A Cebr report a couple of weeks ago predicted that household spending would at least be 15% down in Q2. Add to that 2m+ set to be unemployed, UK GDP expected to drop 15-30% in Q2 and economists now warning recession could be worse than the Great Depression and last into 2021. We have to be realistic about our expectations, and fabricators have to start speaking to their installers now so they can understand better what the levels of demand are likely to be.

Once the backlog of orders are cleared, and it won’t take all that long to do so, there is then likely to be a lag which follows, where very few orders come in once installers have got through any remaining work. Factories cannot run on such low numbers. To break even many will need to be operating at at least half, if not two thirds capacity. Truly how confident are we that with such damning forecasts there will be enough demand to keep factories operating profitably?

Fabricators have to shape their businesses around installers, now more than ever. They need to be flexible and open to new ideas. Perhaps three-day weeks, altering shift patterns to work around lower volumes, up marketing support to installers, hold more regular communication events. Installers are the absolute key to all of this as they are the ones talking to the people that matter: home owners.

Installers are the most important part of the supply chain right now. We need to listen to them. Ask questions. Understand what they need and learn as much as we can about expected levels of demand.

Fenestration installers – take part in the DGB COVID-19 and your future survey:

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