Are four-day lead times a thing of the past?

IGU suppliers have pushed out lead times, but will they go back? Mark Norcliffe, joint-managing director of Cornwall Glass Manufacturing, discusses.

Rapid lead times, which have almost universally been pushed out by the entire window and door supply chain – from profile, to frames, to hardware and glass – appear less important than reliability and quality, leaving many manufacturers asking why they ever were?

We never offered four-day lead times. We were determined not to drop below five-seven days because it places too much pressure on operations.

Since coming back from lockdown we’ve had to extend our lead times initially to 10 days and now to 15 days. Has that impacted our customers? Have we lost business? No, we haven’t. We have gained customers and, more importantly, seen significant organic growth from within our customer base in that time, because we’ve still been reliable.

That’s far more important: installers need to know that they’re going to get their order when they’re expecting it.

If our customers are running an order book that’s full into the new year, they don’t need a four-day turnaround, and they don’t want it. They don’t have the storage.

Also, is it unreasonable to wait 10 to 15 days for someone to cut, arris, wash, toughen, manufacture and deliver an IGU? I don’t think so, when installers are operating on far longer lead times and, in our experience, most are willing to accept it.

Most installers are managing their businesses differently anyway and working to longer lead times.

What they are rightly less willing to accept is non-delivery or the unavailability of product, notified at short notice. That’s a much bigger problem than a marginally extended lead times on IGUs.

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. We have those same challenges to contend with but with a stronger regional focus; we’ve been able to be more agile in our response to the glass shortages or extended lead times in our supply chain.

That includes some customers who we had previously lost on lead times and on price. Now, there’s a far greater appreciation now of service, quality and partnership.

We’re running some very advanced and hi-tech lines; we have volume and capacity but quality comes with process and control. We can deliver a better quality product to our customers if our lead times are sensible.

As our own glass supply lead times are now much longer we need to have visibility over a much longer period to anticipate forward orders so the longer lead times we are now applying enable us to do this, which makes us more efficient and effective in dealing with our customers’ orders.

So, will the industry revert to type next year with lead times edging downwards? I hope not. And I don’t think it will.

I see little sign of demand slowing down in the high-end domestic aluminium and PVCU market. On top of that, some float glass manufacturers have cold maintenance scheduled for next year, which is likely to impact on product availability and continued disruption to supply.

As long as that demand is still there longer lead times will also remain with us. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, and it allows us to deliver improved quality and service.

The bigger challenge is reliability in supply, something we will continue to deliver to our customers through our own supply partnerships.