The future is bright

The market is learning the hard way that booming sales are being tempered by tough supply conditions. But it will be all right in the end, says Asa McGillian, MD of composite door brand Apeer.

When Britain was locked down in March last year, we padlocked the gates of the Apeer’s seven-acre site in Ballymena and, after appointing key members of staff to look after essential systems, we stayed at home to see what would happen next.

While we considered how to cut unnecessary overheads, we decided to keep a new social media campaign in place. This included the launch of several new videos aimed at stimulating sales to homeowners on behalf of our distributor network in the UK and Ireland.

While I would love to say that I had insights that were based upon some sort of scientific study, the reality was that we simply didn’t want to turn off the marketing taps completely. Plus, the campaign took ages to plan. So, the new videos showing our doors in idyllic, family and home settings were rolled out anyway.

It turned out to be a good move. As we now know, homeowners everywhere turned to their laptops and tablets and smartphones and, confined to their homes, imagined how they would improve them. By June, after the initial shock of the strange new Covid-infected world had sunk in, the window and door industry enjoyed an unprecedented, and rather baffling, boom in sales.

And we were ahead of the curve with thousands of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram users finding Apeer’s series of videos more attractive perhaps because they reminded us of a more certain, comfier place.

Roll the calendar on a year and the demand for new windows and doors and other home improvements continues without any sign that it might let up. However, while demand is at its highest for more than three decades, supply is tempered by global materials and component shortages. It is a reality that the industry generally, and customers specifically, appear to have reluctantly accepted.

We make our own door blanks, and process our glass in house, so we have not been as disrupted as some. But even though we buy our hardware from British and European brands, their components may have been produced in China.

It is extraordinary how interconnected everything is, and how difficult it has been to source alternatives.

The challenges that we and other businesses like us have faced during the past year, have made us fitter, leaner and stronger. Our cash reserves have been restored, and we are making record numbers of doors and windows, even if delivery times have been extended. Our retail partners are adapting, as are their homeowner customers, most of whom accept than every supplier is facing the same problems, and that it is better to stick with the same supplier and accept the delays.

I don’t believe that sales will dry up as air travel begins to compete for household budgets, at least not for some time to come. For this year, and into 2022, homeowners will largely have allocated their budgets and will be committed to the projects they have imagined during confinement to their homes.

But I also believe that society, at least in Britain and Ireland, has re-evaluated the value of many aspects of life. We have spent more time in our homes and have adapted them accordingly, dividing space more clearly for work, leisure and to create personal space, where possible, for each member of the family.

I don’t think we will ever go back to the old ways of slavish 9-to-5 trips to the office, but settle into a hybrid combination of workplace/home working. But more importantly, the pandemic has reignited our love for our homes. British and Irish homeowners have always been passionate about improving their homes, and I believe that will continue, even if it is not at the current intensity.