Cod wars and red herrings

The UK’s exit from the single European market is just a few weeks away but is the industry ready? Mike Parczuk, managing director of Sternfenster, discusses what should we should be planning for?

Since fishing accounts for just 0.12% of the UK’s GDP, which is nearly 60 times less than that of financial services, you’ve got to ask: are we focusing on the right things?

Similarly, when you have Michael Gove, who is very much pro-Brexit, writing to the Road Hauliers’ Association warning that Kent is going to turn into some kind of giant lorry park from January 1, I’d suggest we all need to be at least a little concerned, regardless of how we voted in 2016.

Yeah, I know you’re sick of Brexit, but we do need to be planning for it, and that goes right across the industry. Yet I don’t see anyone talking about it?

Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities that exist within our supply chains. There are universal warnings from all sides that Brexit will introduce new disruption, for a time at least. The industry’s key suppliers need robust strategies to manage change.

It doesn’t matter what component it is, if you can’t get it, you can’t make windows and doors, and that clearly impacts on your ability to install them.

We are at a point with the coronavirus pandemic where we have started to return to a slightly more stable position. But while we have changed how we work (and we have been very agile in doing so) there are still component products in short-supply, and the supply chain remains disrupted, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Can we absorb two- to three-day delays at channel crossings? Of course we will, even though it’s not, in my view, what anyone wanted or was promised.

The biggest influence on our ability to get through this period effectively will be our ability to manage lead times.

We’ve seen in the last few months is that where fabricators work closely with their customers and their suppliers, things run far more smoothly. That means visibility on orders, which starts with the installer.

We have moved our customers onto marginally longer lead times to allow us to plan production more effectively and to give our suppliers greater visibility of demand. If we get more time, we can organise better and our suppliers can organise better.

Carrying this through into the new year will help us and the industry to bring more control and reliability to supply as we adjust to new import and export controls.

Glass has been a particular pinch point and, with cold maintenance planned in the UK in 2021, there are going to be further challenges ahead. We’re not asking anyone to do anything that radical, we’re just saying if your order book is 8-10 weeks, let us know what your glass requirement is in the first couple of weeks, so we can make sure it’s ready for you.

We’re working to build our own capacity to bring the maximum flex to our own operations going into the new year. We took delivery of a new Schirmer ALU BAZ Composite Orbit-C machining and cutting centre in October and we’re expecting the arrival of a new FOM Ever Theta Corner Crimping Machine.

They’ll give us increased capacity and improved consistency in manufacture through increased automation of process.

While disruption to supply is going to be a part of life for a little while longer, I do believe that demand will continue into the first half of next year. Housing completions driven by the stamp duty holiday this side of Christmas should translate into new business in early 2021 and again in the early summer.

With much of the UK spending time on lockdown throughout this autumn and into winter, it will continue to give focus to home improvements, and should be expected to continue to drive demand this year.

What I can guarantee is that we will be working as hard as we can to support our customers in maximising the opportunities that lie ahead.

We’ve continued to refine our lead generation programmes, including those generated through our own website and customer support programmes.

This includes our lead and CRM dashboard which, accessible by phone as well as laptop or desktop, pushes leads to our customers in real time.

And while I have focused on the critical part installers have to play in upwardly managing their supply chains in the next couple of months, I would hope that suppliers are doing the same: increasing stock holding and modelling how disruption could impact their businesses.

The reality is that one way or another everything is connected. If you’re extruding in the UK you’re still purchasing polymer or raw materials from Europe. Steel supply, aluminium, hardware, glass – there’s no getting away from the interconnected nature of the window and door supply chain and its links to the other side of the Channel.

We know delays are likely – we would be foolish if we now ignored them – but with or without a deal we need to be prepared.