A redefined relationship?

Is Covid’s legacy a permanent shift in the dynamic between fabricator and installer? Jody Vincent, sales director at Emplas, discusses.

There has been a massive shift in how we and our customers do business, and at times it hasn’t always felt like those changes are for the better.

That’s because there’s going to be a legacy from Covid. Some of it good some of it bad. But what is certain is that things are going to be different.

Installers are going to dual source, and we understand why.

We understand that installers have been put through the millstone, and don’t want to go through it again.

Single source supply delivers many benefits, for example: single orders and single deliveries. Our success has been built on that combined offer and it will remain our preference that customers come to us for all the products they buy.

But if we don’t have it, we understand that customers are going to go elsewhere. That’s not about us throwing in the towel. It’s about being realistic. If we don’t have the product, our customers can’t fit it.

We’re continuing to invest in our infrastructure and the robustness of our supply chain to make sure that customers don’t source product elsewhere. But if they do, we’re going to be grown up about it.

Cash is – was, and will always be – king.

There have been installers who have got caught out by disruption to supply, trying to juggle deposits to keep cash flowing but unable to submit final invoices because the job isn’t complete because product isn’t there to fit.

Unfortunately, some installers will go in the months ahead because they have over traded and haven’t been on top of their cash flow.

However, we’ve seen our customers adopt a far more strategic approach to cash management.

At the start of Covid, people were ordering everything they could as early as they could, so that they could have increased flexibility in fitting. But that tied up a lot of cash.

We’ve seen an adaptation of approach since then, with more installers shifting to a just-in-time model.

That’s done three things: it’s given us more time to forward plan and deliver a better service; it’s released cash, which means our customers can manage cashflow more effective; and it’s meant stock isn’t kicking around our customers’ warehouses for weeks on end, getting damaged or lost.

Information is power.

To manage cash effectively, to place orders just-in-time, you need information about your operation, forecasts, and installation schedules – and from your suppliers.

Emplas’s customers can access real-time updates on our manufacturing capacity by product. If we can’t get a window to you for three weeks, or foil for five or six (lead times we are working to bring down), our customers know in advance.

They can make an educated choice about whether those lead times work for them, or if they don’t and need to source elsewhere.

What they do know is that they will get those orders in those time frames and on those dates. That makes a just-in-time delivery strategy work.

If you’re managing your business more effectively, lead times aren’t so critical.

There are some areas where shorter lead times are, and will remain, more critical. We understand some jobbing builders are going to want product when they need it, and so trade counters need to be competitive.

That’s the exception. Newbuild has always operated to a just-in-time model. Bigger developers know what happens to product that gets to site too early, or don’t want the additional complexity of longer-term storage.

Retailers though – the good ones – are recognising that they don’t have to operate on a seven-day lead time; that forward planning, that the confidence in their suppliers’ ability to deliver, and that product will turn up – not only in time but at the right time – supports them in staying on top of cashflow and simplifying handling and storage.

That’s going to change how retail installation looks. Permanently.

Covid accelerated our use of digital sales tools. We offer our customers access to WindowCAD, which means that they have been able to sell remotely, showing the end user how their home will look with different product and colour combinations.

We’ve gone further to offer a unique integration with Window Designer, which allows installers to place orders directly from those inputs, creating a seamless sales and ordering process.

For me, however, the bigger change is about transparency and information exchange between us as a fabricator and those installers who recognise and embrace change in that relationship.

It empowers installers to run their businesses more effectively, to use cash to invest and to grow, and not to tie it up in their stock holding.

And we can provide installers the tools to help them to run their businesses more effectively, from lead generation to sales and order management. It is not about changing your proposition, it’s about how the wheels of your business turn, because it’s going to define how hard you’re going to have to pedal.