If someone had told you in March or April that by the time we got to the end of September that we’d have installers that were already fully booked for fitting until the end of January 2021 I think most of us would have laughed that away. As it is, its the end of September and indeed there are many installers out there full for the year and nearly full for January already.
Hell, I’ve been that busy that I’ve not been able to write as many new articles this month as I would have liked! So how have we got to this point, and how long could it last?
The way I see it, we have the immense demand we have because of a number of different factors all coming together at the same time. First, I still believe there is a backlog effect caused by the lockdown earlier on in the year. Yes I’m sure we have now worked through the orders that were put on hold during that period. But with an industry unable to produce or fit, installers would have been sat on a glut of new orders that they simply would have been unable to place until the sector reopened again.
Second, there is a large portion of the public simply rushing to make up for lost time. A lot of people, especially those shielding, have been unable to enact their home improvement plans for longer than lockdown restricted our sector. Millions of people, now with more freedoms, have been able to start their projects with businesses again, and as you would expect, they’re all hoping to get them done sooner rather than later.
Third, millions of people have spent a long time at home this year and in their gardens. That’s a lot of time to spend looking at things you don’t like and for the mind to dream up new plans for those spaces. I have had a number of homeowners sign up with me in the past few months who mentioned that after months of looking at their worn-out windows and doors they couldn’t stand them any more and had to have them changed.
Fourth, no holidays. Whilst it’s still technically possible to fly abroad, there are few viable places left you can go without having to quarantine at home for two weeks. Realistically it makes the prospects of flying abroad impossible for many millions of people. Add to that many are still staying away from pubs, bars and restaurants and other things in the hospitality sector. It doesn’t leave many other places to spend your money, other than on your home. Which is resulting in lots of people using the cash that has been refunded to them for holidays or at least earmarked for that on their homes, buying new windows and doors. I had a client last week tell me they had 5 holidays refunded back to them and that they were spending the money on their house instead.
Fifth, I believe the pandemic has engaged people when it comes to decision making. A crisis can often focus the mind and encourage people to be more decisive about certain things. I firmly believe that the pandemic has had that effect. The reason I say this is that as I send quotes out to customers, the rate in which they are responding and going ahead with us is far quicker than it was pre-crisis.
If you take all of the above and consider that its all happening at once, its no wonder we’re all busier than we can cope with. The question I’m being asked is: “how long will it last?”
The new long term view
Even up to a few weeks ago, if someone had asked me how long this glut of work would last, I would have said perhaps mid-October. The reasoning being the end of furlough coming up, a possible second wave of the virus (which is already here along with extra restrictions) and the financial realities of a massive recession hitting us.
A couple of things have changed. The Chancellor has revealed a new jobs plan to replace furlough. The initial reactions are mixed and the feedback I have read doesn’t bowl me over. Many predict a big swathe of job losses at the end of October. The other thing that has changed is that the onset of a second wave is perhaps sooner than people would have thought.
But despite this, I have changed my outlook. And the reason is because of the variety of causes of the glut of work right now. I personally believe that we could be looking at very high levels of demand, at least at the premium end of the market, for the long haul. Let me explain why.
The reality is that foreign travel is off the table for a lot of people for a while now. This is a big-ticket purchase and that money is not going to be spent. Many people will continue to shun hospitality for health concerns which isn’t unreasonable given the circumstances. The upshot of that is there is a lot more disposable income available for spending on our most important thing right now, and that is home. If we didn’t before, many millions of us appreciate our homes more than ever and after spending so much time in them we want them to be as nice as possible.
One caveat I would add is that areas in local lockdown might find that business slows down during the course of those restrictions. A friend of mine in one of those areas did say to me that things had slowed a bit, but that is was nice to catch a breath for the first time in months! So I guess the one thing to keep an eye on is if any more restrictions come into force and how they would affect business operations.
But that aside, I believe that our industry could see these higher levels of demand for a while to come. At least whilst other big-ticket industries are put on the back burner. Essentially this is going to be dictated by the success of a vaccine. The longer it takes to get one the longer areas like travel and tourism will be depressed, but the longer home improvements will be buoyant. There could well be another 12 months of this. If so, our industry needs to have a think about its staffing levels and finding ways of hiring more people whilst still maintaining safe social distancing measures.
The only other thing I would add is this; whilst its great its busy, I would urge us all to take a moment to look after ourselves and each other. There are a lot of stressed people out there trying to do a lot for a lot of people and there is immense pressure in trying to keep everyone happy. It’s not always going to be possible. So think about our mental health. Be supportive, be helpful, be understanding. So long as we do that, we can make sure we make the most of what is the most epic opportunity we have had put in front of us for a very long time.
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