Andy Jones, Group Managing Director, Victorian Sliders
Even when everyone in Britain has been vaccinated, and the worst of the coronavirus crisis is behind us, I suspect we’ll still find that some things have changed for good.
Personally, I wonder whether full-time office working will become a thing of the past, whether we’ll see far fewer face-to-face meetings in situations where Teams or Zoom calls would work equally well – and whether, in our industry, we’re seeing the beginning of the end of the era of the ‘one-stop-shop’ fabricator.
Since the turn of the millennium, more and more fenestration firms have tried to cover all the bases. Businesses that might have started with a few core products have since branched out into all sorts of other, more niche offerings.
For a time, it was an understandable move. The home improvement boom of the 2000s, driven in part by the enormous popularity of aspirational TV shows like Grand Designs, created massive demand for products outside the mainstream – bifolds, rooflights, sliding doors, glass balustrades and more.
If you wanted to capitalise on that demand, the obvious course of action was to clear a section of your factory, and start fabricating these niche products alongside your bread-and-butter windows and doors.
But in the last year, coronavirus has suddenly made that approach much more difficult.
While fenestration has been much less severely affected than many sectors of the economy – in fact, the last six months have seen one of the busiest and most successful periods in the history of the industry – there have undoubtedly been impacts.
Fabricators have been able to continue operating throughout the crisis – but it’s been far from easy.
The need for social distancing has disrupted factory layouts, and reduced the number of staff who can work at the same time, with knock-on effects to lead times and overall productivity.
Many businesses are now constantly understaffed, as employees are either off work with coronavirus themselves, or are forced to isolate because someone they’ve been in contact with has it.
At the same time, companies have been faced with a host of supply chain issues, the result of both coronavirus-related disruption and a long period of consistently high demand.
2020 saw shortages of a whole range of vital materials, and companies continue to experience major issues with international deliveries – at the time of writing, space on vessels coming from China is extremely hard to come by, and even then, Felixstowe Docks is often turning ships away.
What’s more, after a long and torturous negotiation process, we finally have a deal on Brexit – and while it’s better than nothing, firms in all sectors are now having to get to grips with substantially more red tape when dealing with Europe.
All in all, we’re very lucky compared to a lot of other industries, but doing business is much harder than it used to be.
In the light of all this, it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see fabricators turn away from that ‘one stop shop’ approach.
When it’s hard work just getting your core offerings out the door, do you really want the added hassle and expense of making a few bifolds, rooflights or sash windows on the side?
Or is it a distraction you just don’t need at the moment?
When it comes to sash windows, our own area of expertise, we think there’s a compelling argument for not making them yourself, but buying in from a dedicated manufacturer instead.
Working with a specialist, who makes sash windows and nothing but sash windows, you’re guaranteed a level of consistent quality that you’d never get from making a small number yourself as a side-line.
What’s more, after spending millions on maximising efficiency in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, we’re confident we can sell you sash windows at least at the same price it would cost you to make them yourself, if not even less.