You thought it was busy in 2020? It appears 2021 is trying very hard to make last year look like a breeze. To say things are busy right now would be a vast understatement. Installers are reporting crazy-long lead times, the supply chain in parts is starting to crumble under the pressure, raw material prices are out of control, as is transport, and the general public shows no signs of any slowing of the appetite to spend on their homes.

Great news for installers. And now showrooms have reopened, it appears to have given some a nitro-boost which could see yet another surge of sales in the coming weeks.

To back that theory up, a quick search on Google Trends shows us something fairly dramatic.

Higher than 2020 levels

Last night I used Google Trends to view the search activity for three generic industry terms to see if the levels of interest in things like patio door and bifold doors was as high as in 2020. These were the results:

Not only were levels in search activity around these three products higher than in 2020, but bi-folds are also all on an increasing trajectory. You only need to observe the commentary on social media, or have a few conversations with installers to understand that demand so far this year seems higher than in 2020. And we all considered 2020 to be an exceptional year, especially considering that was the year we saw the start of the pandemic and lockdowns.

Even though we’re slowly progressing through a period of easing out of lockdown, the current landscape doesn’t look so much different from last year. Foreign travel remains highly uncertain, even if people have booked on mass since Boris made his speech in February. Testing, red and green lists, vaccination progress are all making the idea of travelling outside the UK not overly appealing. It means money will be held back for other big-ticket purchases, like home improvements. The pubs are back open, but only for outdoor dining. The shops are back open, but online retail is still likely to be king. The current economic environment is still favourable to anyone in the home improvement sector.

In a previous post I was exploring the idea of whether the bubble we’re in will burst at some point, or whether the pandemic has caused a fundamentally positive shift in attitudes towards home improvements. At the moment we’re nowhere close to this bubble bursting. Last year I was of the opinion that maybe in 2021 we would see some sort of levelling off or fall in demand as economic realities began to bite. But I am now more of the opinion that we have seen a more permanent change. Add in the reports that the public is now sat on £150bn of spare cash to spend, there is huge scope for this boom to continue.

Crumbling supply

This week saw the reopening of showrooms in England and Wales for installers. A joyous day as companies get back one of their most useful tools. I have already read of reports of extra sales being done in the showroom simply by being open. This is great news for installers.

How welcome this will be further up the supply chain right now I am not sure. Before the reopening of showrooms installers were busier than ever. Manufacturing has struggled to keep up with demand, and quite frankly in some places the supply chain is beginning to crumble. I’m not convinced that a further surge in sales as a result of showrooms being open is going to be able to be managed by the supply chain.

It’s not bad everywhere. I have had a couple of companies email me to say they are OK for supply. But there is a significant proportion of suppliers out there really feeling the pressure right now. I do not see demand calming down. Indeed, I think over the next couple of months it could forge even higher.

There are two reasons for this. The first is showrooms. We have had ours open a couple of days and it’s clear there is a section of the public who have waited to be able to see what they want to buy before they commit. Now they can, those people will now place new orders. Second, I think the news about longer lead times is going to drive people to rush to place orders sooner rather than later. We are now fitting into July, with a lead time of 12 weeks. You can sense when you speak to homeowners that they know lead times are long and they don’t want to risk having work done in the colder months. It is weird to be thinking about the bad weather when we have only just had Easter.

The manufacturing part of the supply chain is going to have to figure out fast how to ramp up supply. If that Google Trend chart above is any indication, the public has no intention of slowing down.

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