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When Life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade.

When Life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade.

It’s one of my favourite sayings, however this year the lemons are stuck on a container ship circling outside Dover with the resin, the semi-conductors and the hardware, so the lead-time on the lemons has increased to 4 months and they will cost twice as much when we get them!

As I watch our Industry slowing down to a crawl due to tight cashflow; global product shortages; demand outstripping supply; and almost comical monthly price rises, it’s hard to think of a comparison to draw from and in reality there is no comparison to what we’ve gone through over the last 20 months. The Rules of Engagement haven’t just changed, they’ve been ripped up and thrown out of the window and as we look round at our customers, all of them are in the same boat – feeling bruised and a little confused too.

Adapting to the challenge

Newview has been an installer for 17 years and in January this year made the decision to go into fabrication to try to ease the supply issues we were facing. We haven’t had the ‘luxury’ of being able to tell our clients to buy elsewhere or to pay upfront as we’re contracted up to the eyeballs with all of them – we do a lot in Aviation and New Build –but still, I can’t help feeling that after the first 9 months of the pandemic, this could all have been a bit ‘less bad’ and as other contributors have said in recent months in our Industry, the supplier/client relationship seems to have swung through a full 360.

That’s all well and good, but we are in a small (£9bn), maturing Industry that has had to grow up big time in the last 2 years and which has been forced to look over the parapet at the big wide world out there, rather than just inside the cosy world of glazing. But, for a manufacturing Industry predicated on Just–in–Budget, Just–on–Time, the pandemic has been a disaster for the ‘silent partner’ in this tripartite business model i.e the installer. And being an installer, I have seen that there is a divide between the Haves and Have Nots that isn’t always fair.

Where’s the collective voice?

The unfortunate drawback with so many one man bands and smaller companies is that there is no collective voice; no PR agency to issue a press release on our behalf and ergo, we have no or little power, even though we have to be on our customers’ speed dial for the next 10 years. In other Industries there are co-operative independent member associations but there isn’t one currently in glazing.

There are literally thousands of companies out there, mainly owner-managed, that have had to re-invent themselves several times over the last year and I am sure lots have considered going into manufacture. It’s an expensive investment and not for the faint hearted and it certainly won’t solve all of the supply issues we are facing, let alone the fact that you need to be making at least 250 windows a week to break even in today’s labour and rental market. Honestly, we had no idea quite how hard it is and we take our hat off to all of the UK’s glazing fabricators. But isn’t everything harder these days?

So, we have taken the view that our ‘old’ business model of buying in what our customers ask for and not switch-selling or being underhand; maintaining honest relationships with our suppliers, many of them friends, and paying in a timely fashion will continue, and so now we describe ourselves as an Installer that makes its own windows , as opposed to being a factory selling at the gate. We have no aspirations to be a super factory – I take my hat off to you guys and gals, but we do want to make a quality product, sell it a quality price, and not be ashamed to do so or forced to constantly justify the price.

Back to the lemons…

Now back to those ‘lemons’. I am going to put this in print – I am actually glad prices are going up. Yes, GLAD. We in our Industry make and install an extremely complicated, inter-dependant building product that has to: be secure, long-lasting, thermally efficient, noise reducing, watertight and safe, as well as look good and be carbon emission reducing and sustainable. That’s a big ask and the product shouldn’t come cheap. Nor should the installation. Nor should the compliance to building regs. Nor should the H&S standards or the Environmental connotations to working in plastic that we also have to get to grips with. Let’s be proud of that and own it and charge accordingly!

Another take out from the pandemic is the desire to once more ‘Buy British’ and also ‘Buy Local’. The increased prices of shipping containers and worldwide delays have helped make British manufacturing more competitive and attractive again. The way we do business with China is coming under scrutiny, plus the climate impact of being in a Global Village is changing how we view potential long term partners and suppliers from around the world and the costs, not just financial, associated with dealing with them. Newframe have joined Made in Britain for precisely that reason and we can see a shift in perception with regards to what people are prepared to pay for something now, as well as moral and ethical imperatives taking precedence – another outtake from the pandemic has been Climate Change taking centre stage, topped off by the recent COP26 conference and the pledges made by the participating countries.

The Industry is rapidly consolidating and inevitably becoming more vertically integrated through strategic acquisition, but our business models all need to change to absorb all of the learnings from recent months (we have learned something, right?), whilst working towards a return to a less stressful work environment where we all make a decent margin and we have an understanding of our stakeholders (e.g. customers) needs too.

Would we do the same again? I hope not. Will we have to? I really hope not, but when life gives you lemons…

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