The start to 2022 has been OK. And I suppose we knew it would be. Our customers are still working their way through big order books, and that means that we’re also busy.
What’s slightly different to this time last year is that we have more control. Our supply chain is performing better, many of the systems and processes that we put in place last year to help manage demand are now bedded in, and we’re operating more efficiently than we ever have. We’re also continuing to attract new customers, and we’re back to being good at what we have built our reputation on: service, support and product innovation. That’s reflected in the launch of our new smart complaints process this month.
We get things wrong (although we try not to). Accessed through EVA, the Emplas customer portal, our customers can raise a complaint and place an instant order for a replacement product from site, and from their mobile phone.
This appears in a real-time customer service dashboard, and is categorised with new, targeted response times, so that critical replacements – for example where they represent a security or safety risk – are fast-tracked through the production process. It’s about service: our service to our customers, and their service offer to the end user.
That’s important, because retail will slow down this year. Those word-of-mouth recommendations, TrustPilot reviews… they’re going to start to count again.
Household budgets are going to be squeezed. The Bank of England issued a warning at the start of this month: it expects the rate of inflation to hit 7% by spring. Spiralling energy costs, and increased import costs being way above the bank’s target rate of 2%, mean, very simply, that homeowners will have less cash to spend.
It doesn’t mean that we’re heading towards a cliff edge, only that things are going to slow from the exceptionally high levels of demand that we have seen in the last two years. The housing market has slowed, largely because of affordability and low levels of stock. But prices continue to rise. This should give homeowners with equity in their properties the confidence to invest, even if the return of stamp duty may dissuade them from moving. Sharper energy prices from April, and increased awareness surrounding energy efficiency, may also be enough to encourage homeowners who have held off on improvements to reach into their pockets.
I also believe that there is another legacy from Covid: people having spent more time in their homes than they have done in the last two years. Consumers see their properties differently. They are more aspirational, more willing to spend.
That coincides with the shift into the mainstream of new generation products: foils and flush. We’ve seen demand for our new range of foils, and the Optima flush casement, increase significantly in the last 12 months.
It’s been the same for our range of aluminium doors and windows. The products we supply are now far less of a commodity than they are an aspirational purchase. Personal choice and taste come into play – and everyone’s taste is slightly different. That also creates tomorrow’s market.
Managing director, Emplas