We waited in great anticipation for Sunday night, in which the Prime Minister would address the nation to update us on the progress on the fight against COVID-19. Underwhelming is the word.
As an industry, we have been in great pains to understand what we can and cannot do. This is how I interpreted what was said by Boris tonight. Remember too that further guidance is going to be published during the course of the week.
Before you get the pitchforks out, this is an opinion piece. Not instructions telling you what to do or not to do. If you read it and agree with it, great. If not, don’t worry about it and get on with your day.
Lockdown extended until June 1st
For me, not much has changed. You can exercise as much as you wish. You can sunbathe in parks, play sports socially that are done socially distant. Construction and manufacturing has been told to go back to work. People who cannot work from home can go to work so long as it is safe.
The latter point has always been. If you look back at the guidance it has always stated that if you cannot work from home and you can go to work safely, then do so. Last week Certass and the GGF issued new guidance on the position for installers:
Replacing windows and doors in occupied homes should not be undertaken at this time as this is discretionary rather than essential unless required to repair damage to ensure the building remains safe or warm.
As I understand it, this remains the case until new guidance is published tomorrow. As soon as that information becomes available I will try to disseminate it and post on here.
But the reality is that not that much has changed across the board. The Government in the past few weeks have been encouraging construction sites and manufacturing to reopen, and that in the most part has been happening. Window fabricators who supply into new-build sites have begun to reopen to deliver frames.
For me, the landscape remains much the same until the start of June. This, however, is the problem. The statement was not 100% clear, and there is still room for interpretation. So, some installers will remain closed, some will decide to reopen. We will remain closed as a family business next week and will study the new guidance in detail being issued tomorrow. From what I am told from those with connections to Government, we’re unlikely to hear that we’ll be allowed to carry out window and door replacements in peoples homes.
The PM went on to say that shops may be able to reopen from June 1st. There is absolute importance in definition here. This is a retailer/shop: a person or business that sells goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption rather than for resale. Residential installers would fall in that category. We are not in construction. The CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) does not class windows and doors as part of construction. So as I understand it, installers who sell windows and doors to the general public would be classed as a shop. Again, my opinion.
Some may want to argue personally on whether we’re construction or not. But if boards like the CITB and others do no class fenestration as construction, I think we have our answer.
In his statement, Boris said that if you can go back to work safely, then you should. This all hinges around new procedures and most crucially the supply of PPE. For both fabricators and installers, PPE is going to become commonplace. PPE is likely to be the cornerstone of new health and safety procedures for every company in our supply chain.
The problem is going to be those in our industry who don’t have enough PPE yet to be able to put those procedures in place. Until they do, its likely they’ll hold off on reopening until they do. If so, that is the right and responsible thing to do. Staff need to feel as safe as possible in going back to work. Now more than ever, staff need to feel looked after and valued.
As is being pointed out by unions, there is no guidance on this by Government. I think most employers accept that PPE is a must to be able to operate a safe working environment, but without specific guidance on PPE by Government, confusion and uncertainty will rein which will only delay any decisions on when to reopen.
UK going in different directions
The devolved nations have not been happy about the new messaging from the UK Government. And you can see why. “Stay alert” is vague. Most people are alert to most things most of the time. Stay 2 metres apart, where possible. An immediate caveat which gives people an excuse not to stick to it. We have gone from an absolutely clear as day message to one that is open to interpretation. That is where you are going to encounter problems.
Its clear that the Government now wants to hand the responsibility of living with the disease to the public, which considering the R rate could still be nearing the 1.0 level (anything above 1 indicates exponential growth) is dangerous.
In the past couple of days, in advance of tonight’s address, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland formally extended their lockdowns for another three weeks and kept the “stay at home” message.
England is now going in its own direction. This worries me. A mixed message at this stage in the crisis, when there is still a real risk of a second wave quickly taking hold is way too risky.
Major fabrication dilemma
For fabricators, tonight’s address isn’t likely to send installers back to work in the droves. Some will, some won’t. Even if half went back tomorrow they’re going to be faced with a major part of their client base remaining closed for at least another three weeks. This is going to be disappointing for those hoping to see much of the sector going back to work.
For those who have been back a few weeks already and deal mainly in residential work, waiting until the end of May is going to make it an extremely twitchy few weeks. Back orders may already be being worked through. If installers aren’t sending enough orders in to actually make money, then there may come a point in a few weeks where the lag in demand hits hard.
Personally, for what its worth, it would have been better for fabricators and installers to open up at the same time, or close to the same time, to prevent a lag. As it is, thats not been the case.
The danger for business isn’t actually now. Its in the weeks and months ahead, especially the back end of Q2 onwards. Furlough support is likely to be phased out, and if installers can go back, volume is going to start from a very low base and take a while to recover. For high-volume reliant businesses, that model is going to be severely tested.
What will fabricators do? The tone has to be right. To be seen to seek to force installers back to work before they are comfortable in doing so will look very bad. Everyone is short of cash right now, but to alienate relationships at a time when the value of a customer has never been higher would not be advisable.
Should you go back to work?
If you’re a fabricator or systems company, then yes. Boris gave a direct instruction to do so. If you do, all I would say is think ahead. Not just to the next couple of weeks but the next three months. Look beyond the burst of back orders and paused orders from installers. That business will come and then go quite quickly. Look for the lag and beyond it.
For installers, that decision is up to you. I’m not going to tell anyone what to do. If someone asks my own personal opinion, and what we’re planning to do for our own family business, we’re going to remain shut. We are going to review the guidance as and when it comes forward, but as it stands right now, we’ll remain in lockdown and operate sales remotely from home. As a side note, the conversations we have had with customers during this lockdown period has been positive in terms of being happy to deal with us like this. Perhaps an early sign of change?
I refer back to the top of this post when Boris said that shops could reopen from the start of June. The definition of what you do is important. Residential fenestration is not classed as construction. And installers who don’t make anything are not manufacturers.
New guidance is being released tomorrow, but its already been announced on the Certass TA Forum that whilst outdoor work like roofline and conservatories would be OK to proceed, indoor work with windows and doors in occupied residential homes is not. For most installers that might well be enough to keep closed for just a little bit longer.
The right marketing message
Generally, there has been a lot of grandstanding on social media from those reopening. Some have kept it sober, which has come across better. Some have been a very noisy deal about it, which I’m not sure will age well if we end up with a second wave sooner than we would like.
What I have been particularly impressed with is a small number of manufacturers have been using the tagline “ready when you are”. I like it. No pressure on customers to return. Acknowledging of the tone of the situation. It sounds, and is, more sympathetic than most messaging I have seen.
There is a lot of guidance about to be dropped this week. So if you’re an installer and waiting for more information before making a decision, perhaps wait until its has all been published and interpretations given by the trade bodies you belong to.
Again, this is an opinion piece and not an instruction. Merely my take on tonight’s statement. More information will follow in the coming days.
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