How are you? Genuinely. That’s not a generic greeting. I want to know how you are. We’re back at work, continuing to learn to live and work around a virus, against a backdrop of intense demand in UK fenestration as homeowners and businesses seek to make up ground and lost time.

Whilst it’s nice to be busy, and busier than we thought we might be, its clear that the supply chain for many of us is creaking and has been for some time. You can see from the social media commentary and the conversation I have with others in the sector that stress levels are quite high now.

Reality check

We know that things aren’t easy right now, even if plenty of business is being done. Lead times are longer, communication channels are breaking down, deliveries are coming late, items are being missed, homeowners are getting demanding. All this and much more has ramifications up and down the supply chain. It’s not the same everywhere. Some are very happy with service levels right now, and some manufacturers are going to the media to demonstrate that they have no shortages of their product.

Still, we’ve never really had to deal with such a sharp increase in demand. It really has been going from 0-100 and has caught many by surprise. We have heard talk about shortages of all sorts of raw materials, be it glass, profile, foils, hardware. How true some of that talk is I’m not sure.

One thing that is concerning me is that it’s becoming fairly obvious that stress levels are on the up. It’s great that there is plenty of business to do and homeowners are quickly trying to make up for lost ground during the lockdown period. But we have to consider the mental health and wellbeing of our staff and workers. We’re all under immense pressure to deliver on time, install on time, get things right the first time. That is extremely hard when demand is how it is right now. I think we need at this point to take a step back, take a bit of a reality check and take stock.

By all means, make hay and make the most of this glut of work. But there is also no point in running ourselves and our staff into the ground and damaging our mental health and wellbeing in the process. To sacrifice that for windows and doors doesn’t make sense, no matter the business targets.

I think communication continues to be a major problem-causer. We’re all guilty of it, even me. Putting off an email or phone call to get another piece of work done. If we can make improvements to the communication channels up and down the supply chain that may go some way to release some of the pressure at the installer level.

I would also urge everyone to remain patient. Again I have fallen foul of frustration myself in the last few weeks as our installations business continues to be busier than we can realistically cope with. But its people that run businesses up and down the supply chain, and whilst we all find it difficult when things don’t go to plan, the chances are the person on the other end of the email or phone are just as stressed or more so than you are. Keep the communication polite and to the point.

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Longer lead times

The pressure on the supply chain is clear. Reports of certain materials running low, deliveries not on time or missing items, quality standards dropping. Is all this worth it to get a door in three days?

For me, its time we accepted longer lead times for the time being, or at least for however long this purple patch lasts. I’d estimate a good chunk of installers has a fair few weeks of work already booked in advance. At our place, we’re well into November and could be into December in a weeks time. We’re able to place orders well in advance so that our suppliers know they have time to process and put into production with time to spare. I would advise installers where possible to do the same. Give your manufacturers as much notice as possible. So if there are any problems at the manufacturing stage there is plenty of time for those to be rectified before you need the product delivered.

When it comes to homeowners, I have found that the majority we have spoken to are accepting of longer lead times. If they like what we do and are prepared to pay for it, then more often than not then they’re prepared to wait for it as well. That might change mind you if we start signing people up in the first half of September but cannot fit until 2021!

For now, we should be operating on longer lead times. We need to take the pressure and stress off suppliers who are trying to keep to their previously advertised delivery times. These are unique circumstances we’re operating in and I think the logical thing to do is to work to longer lead times, whether we like it or not. This won’t last forever and the work will even itself out as we progress towards the end of the year and the furlough scheme ends and changes the outlook.

I would also advise employers to put measures in place to look out for the mental health and wellbeing of staff. As well as being busy, we’re still living through a pandemic and there will be plenty of people out there who are still worried about the virus. These are tough times and we should be doing what we can to look out for each other.

If you are struggling with stress or depression, take a look at these ten helpful tips from the NHS on how to reduce stress:

If you feel like you need more than the above, please seek help. There are a number of places to reach out to find help, but Mind is a good place to start:

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