In my 16 years in the fenestration industry, plus some knowledge of years prior to that, I have never seen a situation where our industry is that busy suppliers are turning away new business. It’s an odd proposition, as the natural reaction to anyone wanting to buy from you is to say yes.
But in this climate of extreme demand and a supply chain that is struggling to cope, companies are having to make decisions to focus on their existing client base. For those that are at, or close to capacity, to take on any more new customers may mean service to their existing base is sacrificed. Something which should never happen in any business.
To ensure that happens, the single biggest issue for the fenestration sector right now is securing materials and product. The second is recruitment. Everything else is flat bottom of the list right now.
Fenestration’s sole priority
Every time I speak with a manufacturer, which is a lot right now, the same themes crop up each time we speak. First is the focus on securing the supply of product and ensuring deliveries to customers. The second is recruitment. I want to explore the first theme first.
Whether it’s fabricators or systems companies, almost all I speak to say they are not looking for new customers right now. I cannot recall a time in this industry where suppliers were in a position where they were turning work away. Such has been the surge of business, sustained and at record levels for such a long time, fabricators and systems companies find themselves full to bursting. It’s worth noting that there will be some out there that could take on new business, but given the extreme demand pressures, they won’t be making up the majority of the sector.
All this demand has meant immense pressure on the supply chain. Prior to the ending of lockdown in May of 2020, the best the fenestration sector could have hoped for would be to return to pre-pandemic levels. Instead, it looks like we’re operating at least double the amount of normal volume according to the various people I have contact with. As a result, suppliers are struggling to keep up. Lead times are extending by the week. Stores are full. Prices are rocketing every month. And it’s not just in the UK. Around the world, countries are opening up and the money injected by Governments is being used to fund construction and infrastructure projects, as well as home improvement works.
The level of demand in the UK and abroad is putting major strains on the supply chain. Resins are running low for the production of laminated glass products. Resin for PVCu is patchy at best. The composite door sector is in a really rough spot. Commodity prices are out of control. In short, the supply chain was not meant to manage this level of demand. But there is no end in sight, and consumer demand only looks to be increasing.
Right now, product supply in fenestration is the single biggest priority. As soon as something is made, it is shipped out and delivered. There is no time to build up stocks like we used to be able to. It’s a precarious situation that leaves a company vulnerable to any further shocks which could affect supply. It is understandable, therefore, that the supply chain and securing raw materials is the single biggest priority for many companies. Nothing much else is on the radar for manufacturers, as disruption to product and the inability to deliver can cause immense damage to a company.
Judging by the conversations I have had over the past few weeks, many expect this level of demand to continue, perhaps even increase, for at least the next 6-12 months. So pressure on the supply chain is only going to grow further. Companies are going to focus solely on this and nothing else and that is quite right. Customers want to be seeing their suppliers doing everything they can to ensure a solid supply chain and make sure deliveries arrive on time and in full. Nothing else matters right now.
Other than perhaps one other crucial area…
The other big theme that crops up in my conversations with suppliers is the inability to hire enough people. I spoke to one company that had gone on what I would consider quite a substantial hiring spree, but I was told that they still needed more people and that they were struggling to find enough ideal candidates to fill the various positions that were open.
As well as high pressure on the supply chain, the other problem we have is hiring enough people to manage the workload. Every day on the Facebook forums installation companies are posting in high volumes asking for fitters. Fabricators are also posting regularly on social media for vacancies at their company. The same goes for syscos. I’m not sure as to whether installers are indeed finding the fitters they need. If everyone is busy, there isn’t going to be an abundance of spare workers ready to fill the gaps. If everyone is busy, everyone will be in work. Your best bet for immediate relief is to poach from other companies. The longer-term solution is in apprenticeships and training.
This is not a short term bubble. Demand could be this high for the rest of this year and perhaps Q1 of 2022. Therefore fenestration companies are going to need to expand their workforce to be able to grow sustainably.
These two problems, product supply and recruitment are going to be the only key areas of focus for the fenestration sector for the rest of this year. Nothing else is going to hit the radar. This is how high the pressures are right now.
To help, we all have to do our bit. Communicate well. Order in plenty of time. Work with each other. This is a very stressful environment right now, but also a perhaps once in a generation opportunity too.
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