As we navigate our way through the very first few weeks of this year, it’s natural to look back at the year just gone and reflect on the last 12 months that have passed.

2021 will live long in the memory for many reasons. But the past is the past, and nothing much can be done about that. What you can do is take the last 12 months, learn the key lessons from that year and apply them to this new year and what you do in your life.

This is how I will look back at 2021 and what lessons I have learned which will make my time in fenestration more productive and enjoyable.

Limits stretched in 2021

UK fenestration went through perhaps its toughest year in 2021. We began the year with lockdowns across the UK, with Scotland’s tradespeople unable to work in people’s homes and England and Wales very nearly following suit. People stayed at home, schools were closed and non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors.

Window and door showrooms across the country shut their doors to customers which provided a huge challenge to installers and how they were able to carry out their business with clients. Thankfully, demand was so high and so strong that the closure of showrooms never really mattered as installers were able to build up order books that stretched into months. Something that had not happened for a very long time in our sector.

With that incredible demand, however, also came supply chain disruption. The second half of 2020 was good, 2021 was even better. But it caught the entire sector unaware and we were unable to scale up to be able to meet this higher demand. The result was a shortage of products across the board. These included, but were not limited to; White PVCu profile, toughened glass, laminated glass, tinted glass, door handles, window handles, spacer bars, bevelled glass, timber, insulation, tiles. The list could go on.

The supply chain disruption truly tested us all to our limits. Whether it was systems companies pressing hard to keep up with demand from fabricators. Or fabricators busting their backsides every hour of every day to make deliveries to installers on time. Or installers trying regularly in vein to maintain fitting schedules that had to be rearranged every week due to a plethora of factors out of their control.

It made running a fenestration business incredibly difficult. Yes, the revenues were up sharply, but so was the stress and mental health problems. I saw people all around me hit rock bottom over the stress of running their businesses. All I could think at the end of the week was “is this really worth it?”. Pre-pandemic the industry was ticking along at a steady pace, managing supply chains and generally keeping on top of things. Then there was a pandemic-induced boom and it became painfully clear that the industry was not ready for a sustained period of increasing demand.

Throughout the year there were various predictions about when this bounce-back might fizzle away. First, it was Q1 of 2021, then that was pushed back to Q2. Summer vacations weren’t really happening so that kept spending on other big-ticket items higher, like windows and doors, so nothing really dropped away in Q3 either. Basically, any prediction that at some point in 2021 business activity would slow was wrong. The only hint that I thought that things were waning was in December as there was a reported sharp drop in sales activity. I have a feeling this was more to do with usual seasonal habits than anything else. We’ll see what happens in January and February of this year to see if that was the case.

I know 2021 was hard. We had to deal with navigating a pandemic, as well as trying to work in a sector that was being overrun by demand and a crippled supply chain. But we made it through to Christmas and we all had two weeks of perhaps the most well-earned downtime we have all had. During that time I was able to reflect on the sheer amount of work we all put in and realised that despite how truly hard everything was in the world of business, we more or less managed to pull through. We were able to make it work in the face of all that was going wrong. We were able to grow our businesses, hire more people, boost revenues, improve more people’s homes than we ever have before. And for that, we should all be very proud of the work that we put in during the last 12 months. It is a genuine, epic achievement.

Better together

As I said at the top of the article, what we can do with the last 12 months is learn some lessons and apply what we have learned to this year to make sure whatever it is we do, we do it better.

First and foremost, we have to learn to take better care of ourselves and our mental health. How many times were you looking at a screen or a pile of quotes last year, and despite how much you wanted to get that list of work done, you just sat staring at a screen unable to get yourself going? I had periods like that, and it was really rough and was a signal that my own mind was not in the right place. You are more productive and achieve more when your mind is in the right place.

Getting to that point is a lot easier said than done. It requires work, commitment and acceptance of the situation you’re in. That in itself is a tough thing to do. I have had to battle to get myself to a point where I know things need to change and need to get better. I have a second child on the way and I need to be in a much better place in terms of both my physical health and mental health. Since New Years Day I have been at the gym once a day. I have decided that exercise is my way to being better, and I am already now looking forward to waking up in the morning. I am feeling more focused, more disciplined with my diet and I already feel better in myself. I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes a lot to get out of bed when it’s pitch black and three degrees. But knowing that that hardest part of the day is done before you start work is a good feeling. I would recommend it.

The second is that when we work together we are so much better for it. Last year put a strain on business relationships up and down the supply chain and it was clear to see from social media that quite a few were at the end of their patience with each other.

As tempting as it might be to vent and fume on social media and start laying out blame, it doesn’t solve anything. Whether you’re a supplier or a customer, in 2022 we have to make sure that we all communicate better with each other. If there are problems, pick up the phone or email and talk about them and find a solution. Remember that businesses are run by people and not robots. Actions and words at each end of the conversation have reactions and can either make things better or make things worse. So let’s try and make things better where we can. We get so much more done when we work together.

Where we can, let’s give praise to those who are working hard to make sure that you’re able to do your job. A few kinds words every now and then goes a long way to make people feel appreciated for the work they’re doing, especially under exceptional circumstances such as these. I find that things run a lot smoother when people are happier and more focused. In 2022 we should try a bit harder to be better to the people around us.

After the year that was 2021 and the incredibly hard circumstances many of us had to work through, be them personal or fenestration related, 2022 can be the year where we can all be a little bit better to others and ourselves. And if we can do that, we’ll find that no matter what bumps in the road lie ahead this year, we can navigate them a lot smoother and be a lot happier.

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