Second wave?

By Neil Cooper-Smith, senior analyst at Business Pilot.

The latest Business Pilot Barometer shows that window and door sales bounced back from the decline seen December with a 34% jump in sales.

More promising still: new leads more than doubled, up 111% in January on December. Conversion rates remained more or less static, hovering at around the 42% mark.

This bounce in demand for windows is in stark contrasts to forecasts for the wider economy. This includes the consumer confidence index from market research firm GfK, which recorded a drop to -28 from -26 in December, when it jumped by the most in eight years on the back of news about Covid vaccines.

This may be in part driven by growing concern about the impact of increased hospitalisations, and the knock-on effect of how and when the UK will come out of lockdown. This has also prompted a downgrading of economic forecasts in the first quarter of this year: KPMG, for example, suggested UK growth for 2021 could oscillate anywhere between 2.2% and 5.6%.

The million-dollar question is: will the home improvement sector remain immune, as it did last year, to wider concerns about the economy?

We can draw confidence from the start that we have seen this year, especially when we consider that a number of retailers came back later in the month, following extended Christmas breaks.
As we have highlighted in previous editions, the housing market remains active while we should expect completions in March ahead of the stamp duty holiday deadline to convert into new business in April and May.

Forecasts that unemployment will peak at 6%, while significant, could also have been very much worse given the size of the shock to the UK economy.

January 2021 was the first month in which we can draw a year-on-year comparison. This was obviously a time when Covid appeared a far and distant problem.

Although, given the unique set of challenges the UK has seen in the last year, we should need to resist the temptation to apply too much weight to the figures, a comparison of leads from January 2020 to 2021 shows new business enquiries were down year-on-year by around 8%. Sales were 25% down.

The caveat is that in January 2020 we weren’t in lockdown and conversions were far easier to achieve.

These are perhaps the learning points for all of us. We need to make sure that our businesses are ready for whatever we don’t see coming next. Business Pilot mobilises cloud-based technologies to give you the ability to run your business from anywhere. Just imagine how much more ready you would have been for Covid with the ability to switch and keep your teams connected, from your sales and admin office to your spare bedroom, kitchen table, or garden office, instantly?