Keep talking

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell reflects on a year of lockdowns and trading restrictions, arguing that we may be stronger for it in the long run.

A year on from the start of the first lockdown, and I thought I would go back to what I wrote in the days following the prime minister’s instructions to stay at home.

The comment I wrote was split into three separate parts: yes, this is not a great situation to be in; don’t worry, things could be worse; and together we can survive.

Since then, I have been amazed at the resolve shown by our industry. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: one of the impressive winners of the last 12 months has been communication.

After the letting the dust settle on the first few weeks (during which time we hoarded loo roll and made bread), private conversations became more public and more vocal. In hindsight, some of it was a little bit messy, but we were sharing ideas, discussing the restrictions, and looking ahead to reopening. The understanding was that in order to get the industry restarted, it had to be done together, otherwise it would falter because of supply issues.

As it happens, supply did become a headache – and it still is – but this actually led to improved conversations between suppliers, customers, and end users. I was told several times over the last year that the most valuable commodity was truth. Even if you’ve got bad news, tell me straight so I can accommodate it. If you don’t, then it’ll be worse for me in the long run.

This has led to (in the most part) greater collaborative working and openness on site between the different parties.

Some companies have actually excelled during this otherwise difficult time. The boom in homeowner demand has been widely reported on, and those companies that have bypassed the showroom and home-based sales visits, using software and imagination instead, have reaped the rewards. Several stories have crossed my desk in recent weeks of record sales months. The philosophy has definitely been ‘if the road is blocked, take a different route’.

I don’t think the face of sales has changed completely, but technology has opened up new ways of communicating with homeowners, which will result in more sales opportunities after the Covid threat has fully subsided.

And finally, a year ago I set out Glass Times’s aims: “Glass Times, for our part, will work as hard as we can to make sure that business messages continue to be circulated to your customers. We are still working on ideas on how best to do this, but we’ll keep printing the magazine, and we’ll increase our presence online.”

And we did. Apart from a short delay with the May issue (timed to land at the end of the first lockdown), we have continued to publish as normal.

I asked the publisher Andy Westhead why he was determined to keep the presses rolling, and he said: “It would have been better for our bottom line to do what others did, and stop publishing, but we kept on going through the toughest time to get companies’ stories and product information out there.”

A year ago, I concluded by saying: “Covid-19 may have put the brakes on our normal day-to-day lives, but life will continue and we need to be ready for it when it does.”

I think I set my sights too low. I don’t think we are quite out of the woods yet, but for the most part companies have not been beaten by the pandemic. Instead, they have invested in processes and are prepared for a considerable uptick in new business that looks set to continue for the next 18 months at least.