Whose supply is it anyway?

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell asks if everyone should shoulder the burden of supply shortages.

Mila’s Richard Gyde highlights a significant potential problem for the UK fenestration industry this week.

He describes a ‘perfect storm’ of demand and restrictions, including (but certainly not limited to) Brexit, which could negatively affect hardware supply in the UK.

While I appreciate the pressures that Mila faces on a daily basis when it comes to shipping product to the UK from across the globe (and the company has been very candid in the past, including making its own processes as transparent as possible), I’ve actually seen a changing attitude among the supply chain when it comes to lead times, product quality and customer service.

David Thornton (who’s been a very good boy this year) certainly fights Richard’s corner, highlighting the shortages within the supply chain of resin, hardware and glass, and the subsequent problems faced by installers.

However, I’ve been having an increasing number of conversations with people who are taking shortages in their stride, and are increasing lead times (with consent) as a result.
Some people are looking at the situation and asking why we have painted ourselves into a corner with four days or less. I know it’s a great selling point if you have the infrastructure and ambition to promise such a quick turnaround, but it really shouldn’t be necessary.

For example, Mark Norcliffe, joint-managing director of Cornwall Glass Manufacturing, said: “Ultra-short lead times, along with highly competitive pricing, have been driven by one or two key national suppliers. This high-volume model may not be as attractive given the current challenges in both supply chain and demand. We have picked up business from some competitors because that model has run into a number of problems.”

I interviewed Neil Evans, the incoming managing director of Veka, recently (which you can read about in the December issue of Glass Times) and he explained that the pressures felt by the fenestration supply chain once lockdown was lifted – and as demand went through the roof – encouraged suppliers and customers to be more open about order volumes that were expected in the coming weeks.

He discovered that if suppliers were given more detail early on, so they could prepare for when the orders were actually needed, then otifs of 98%-99% would be at the lower end of what could be achieved.

For example, one reason why some systems companies were concentrating on the most popular products was because it was difficult to factor in the more specialist items if they didn’t know they were coming. However, if those same suppliers were warned weeks in advance of specific orders, then they would be able to prepare with more certainty.

Therefore, while Richard Gyde is preparing his customers for possible delays to supply, it is probably a little bit unfair to expect suppliers like Mila to shoulder all the responsibility.

Maybe supply is should be something we are all responsible for, and maybe the pandemic has finally got people talking about it.