Back in COVID times (remember that?) much of the industry lauded Google Trends as an indicator as to how the market was performing. Indeed, data from Google Trends for search terms like “patio door” or “French doors” showed that there was a significant spike in interest as we were all spending a lot more time at home and people wanted to make the most of their outdoor space.

That seems a long time ago now and we are all well aware our fortunes have spun just as quickly into reverse. I plugged in those same search terms the industry used to quantify it’s trajectory and the results are pretty clear.

Below pre-pandemic levels

Using Google Trends, I used the following four terms:

  • patio doors
  • French doors
  • sliding doors
  • bifold doors

A lot of people still refer to sliding doors as patio doors so I included both terms to get as broad a picture as possible. I took the timescale back to when data was first collected by Google to give the fullest picture. This is what they came back with:

The peak couple of years post-lockdown are obvious to see. Then you can see a persistent slowdown in search traffic as more of the economy opened up, inflation and then interest rates began to bite and people restricted their spending once again.

If you trace where we are today back to find the same levels of search interest it will take you back to 2016 which is well below pre-pandemic levels and back to the Brexit referendum. If you cast your minds back to when that particular event happened it caused a dip in business activity levels in the aftermath of the vote.

My own personal view is that it feels very much like the wilderness years post-2008 and the financial crisis. Speaking with an industry connection last week they too compared the current climate to that of the period of austerity that followed the financial crisis, with the number of company bankruptcies also showing similarities to that period of time.

Bigger mouths to feed

If we are looking at signs of interest in our products being at 2016 levels, then that is going to be a problem. COVID was actually a boost for our sector. The cash that landed in people’s pockets due to furlough and vacation refunds was spent, in large part, on home improvements as these were the only sectors able to open while many were closed. We all remember the massive strain our supply chain was under as people rushed to spend their money on new windows and doors and all things home improvements.

It caused the size of companies to grow in all parts of the supply chain. Extra staff were hired, new storage facilities were bought or rented, machinery was purchased to make more frames per week, wages rose to keep existing talent and attract new key people. A lot of companies had record years for two years on the trot. Times were good.

But it raised the bar and it meant that there suddenly bigger mouths to feed. Then inflation came and people started to pause their haste to spend. Then higher interest followed to try and kill inflation which in turn depressed the economy and brought things back down to earth with a bump. Larger companies need that continuous flow of revenue to maintain the new heights they scaled.

As we well know, that demand has melted away very swiftly and the companies that took on debt to facilitate that growth are finding keeping the lights on hard work. As the saying goes: Only when the tide goes out do you learn who has been swimming naked.

Turns out there’s quite a lot of naked going on, and if the Google Trends data is any kind of semi-accurate indicator, we’re going to be partying like its 2010, which will be less party and more like an afternoon trip to Blackpool in the middle of November.

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