Can you feel it too?

There is a buzz around this year’s FIT Show that is reminiscent of the event’s launch, reflects co-founder Paul Godwin.

There is an air of optimism going around the window and door industry that is quite at odds with the political crisis that pervades our every waking moment. Of course, the mood is helped by many businesses reporting buoyant retail sales of windows and doors in January through February that, at the time of writing, are continuing way ahead of expectations.

This was confirmed towards the end of January when I hosted the Fabricators’ Forum organised by the British Fenestration Ratings Council. When I asked the question “how is business?” the consensus was that it was pretty good, a view that has prompted me to ask the same question whenever possible, ever since. And the answer has always been positive.

The most popular explanation for this phenomenon is the British homeowner’s typical improve-not-move response, the default position when house sales are slow. And currently house sales have fallen off a cliff.

Home improvement sales are an excellent barometer of the economy, and one that sends signals far quicker than the Chancellor ever offers. If Mr and Mrs Jones-at-home are feeling bullish enough to splash out on a house-full of windows or those natty new bifolds, is a mood that can change by the day, which can be felt instantly along the supply chain. But the Joneses, and their neighbours, are buying, and buying very well.

We are in the run up to the FIT Show, an event that my launch partner Matthew Glover and I can be blamed for, but which thankfully is well received and now an established part of the glass and glazing industry’s landscape.

Those early days, when Matthew and I first started knocking on doors telling people about this idea that we had for a new industry trade show, reminds me of the mood that pervades right now.

We first began talking to potential exhibitors in the autumn of 2011. And the response we received was way more positive than we could ever have hoped for. On paper it was hardly the best time to make such an announcement as the industry was suffering not only poor sales, but also a crisis of confidence. It was as if it had run out of steam, had become stale. But instead of being turned away, we were greeted with open arms and, by the time we formally launched the FIT Show in February 2012, we had signed contracts for more than 50 exhibitors. And the atmosphere at the launch was electric.

What I believe happened was that our industry was tired of pessimism, of having little on the horizon to believe in. Its long-established trade show, Glassex, had failed over a period of several years acting to emphasise the rut that the industry found itself in. The announcement of a new, exciting forum offered hope, something to plan and build for; the lifeblood of the entrepreneur.

I believe that we are encountering that spirit once again as, faced with two years of negative uncertainty, our industry is collectively saying: “We’ve have had enough! Whatever happens, our industry will not only survive but it will continue to prosper, because we will fight to ensure that it does.”

That is why we are enjoying what I believe is an exceptional air of positivity, even by the usual standards of a run-up to the FIT Show. I have often described the window and door industry as a village. And just as when a village faces adversity, its residents come together to overcome the common foe. Our foe is the uncertainty caused by Brexit. And the message being sent out is that, collectively, we will overcome it.

Masterframe’s Alan Burgess is a seasoned campaigner and veteran of many trade shows and ups and downs in the window and door industry’s fortunes.

“The country has risen to far greater challenges in its history,” he said. “The real question is, will we be ready to do business in the new world (whatever that looks like)? It may be bumpier for the supply chain, but whatever the Brexit outcome, everyone will be in the same boat. All we can do is adopt sensible strategies to remain competitive.”

VBH business development director Simon Monks maintains an equally positive attitude.

“As for the market currently, we noted back in autumn 2018 when asked about Brexit that we projected a continued upturn in aspirational products,” he said. “Homeowners are making significant investment into existing properties.

“We have seen this through the early months of 2019 and our customers remain optimistic to see this part of our market remain buoyant even in uncertain times. Our hope is that once again our industry as a whole makes a fantastic statement of strength and stability as it has done in previous years.”

Selecta’s Mark Walker is equally positive about the importance of appearing at the FIT Show at this time.

“The last two years have been very industrious and progressive for Selecta, a period of which has seen highs and lows for all areas of the industry,” he said. “At a time where there seems a lot of uncertainty – with Brexit and even within our own government – it’s not a time to purely speculate or worry about what may or may not happen. It’s a case of ourselves carrying on what we’re doing, keeping our name out there, and taking opportunities that come along.”

Steve Hudson, managing director of Alutech Systems, said his clients are reporting a positive market experience.

“The market in the UK seems relatively buoyant, with many of our clients reporting record months,” he said. “Brexit is a concern for the uncertainty it creates. For Alutech specifically, it’s less of a worry as we import from Belarus where there are already a variety of tariffs paid to enter the UK/EU. This insulates us from unknown tariffs that someone who imports from Belgium or Germany may face. It’s a bit like when we voted to leave the EU – it all seemed doom and gloom, but we adapt. It will all be ok in the end.”

Giovanni Laporte of Smart Ready reaffirms the need to be positive at this time.

“The window and door industry is a resilient one and is good at powering through economic uncertainty,” he said. “But this can only happen if it continues to embrace new innovations.”

And referring to the preponderance of smart hardware at this year’s event, Giovanni added: “FIT Show 2019 is going to highlight a time of epic change for the industry with the launch of a new concept that will make all fabricators, installers and hardware suppliers modern overnight.”

One would expect exhibitors at any event to be positive and upmarket. But I sense an additional desire to communicate a common message: that as an industry we will not be cowed, that we stand together in these uncommon and uncertain times.

And in this I believe the UK window and door industry provides a perfect simile for how and why a post-EU United Kingdom will not only survive, but will actually, prosper.

Those taking part at this year’s FIT Show are making a statement: “This is not the time for a bunker mentality; there will be life after Brexit and we will make sure that we are there, taking our share.”