Michele Wietscher, MD of respected South East installer Newview, comments on what’s been a rocky start to 2019 for some of UK fenestration’s biggest businesses – as featured in June Glass Times Magazine.

We’re living through some of the most turbulent times in recent memory – and with everything going on in the wider world, from Brexit chaos to the rise of Trumpism in the US and elsewhere, it’s easy to lose sight of the rapid changes taking place in glass and glazing, too.

Just a few months into 2019, we’ve already seen two of the biggest names in British fenestration run into trouble, with rumours about other companies also making the rounds.

Multimillion-pound systems company Synseal was narrowly saved from administration with a last-minute management buyout back in March.

And MASCO, the home improvement powerhouse behind Duraflex, Phoenix Doors, Evolution and other popular brands, is exploring ‘strategic alternatives’ for its window businesses – something that many are interpreting as a sign it’s preparing to withdraw from the UK glazing market, or downsize its presence.

So, what’s happening? Why are so many giants of British fenestration finding themselves in such difficulty?

Really, it’s an acceleration of an existing trend, rather than something entirely new. But if you take a step back and look at how the industry has developed over the last decade, it’s remarkable just how much consolidation there’s been.

Notwithstanding the recession, it’s how the number of UK fabrication businesses can have continually fallen for years, while the total number of products manufactured has gone up and up.

These fabricators are supplied by twelve PVCu extrusion companies, of which the top six represent 75% of the whole market. That was fine when the industry was expanding – but it was never going to be sustainable in the sort of maturing marketplace we find ourselves in now. Expect to see another extruder disappear.

Businesses have also been buying other businesses at a rate not seen for decades – and the result is a declining number of ever-bigger firms, manufacturing ever-more products for fewer installers.

This is known as ‘vertical integration’ – when the principal manufacturer or supplier in a constricting market secures its supply chain by buying it from top to bottom, and we haven’t seen the last of it yet.

Successful business is really about relationships (‘People buy people’, as they say) – relationships with customers, with suppliers, with staff, and with everyone else who makes it possible for you to do what you do.

And as a company gets bigger and more complex – especially if, as in some cases we’ve seen, getting bigger and more complex is treated like it’s the end goal – maintaining those relationships must surely get much more difficult.

When a customer who’s dealt with you for years suddenly starts to find it much harder to get hold of you on the phone – or sees your focus shift away from the product or service they buy from you onto something completely different – it must have a negative effect.

All businesses want to grow – and growth is the lifeblood of the economy.

But the best way to grow is by building new relationships, strengthening existing ones, and generally delighting your customers by offering them an exceptional standard of service, great value for money and a sustainable supply chain – both financially and environmentally.

If whatever you’re doing is making any of that harder to achieve – even if it’s generating growth in the short term – it’s eventually going to come back and bite you (particularly this industry’s obsession with constantly cutting prices).

My hope is that some of glass and glazing’s biggest names learn that lesson – not just for the sake of thousands of people who work for them, but for the tens of thousands of people who supply them, are supplied by them, or deal with them in any capacity.