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No more predictions

European Scene: musings from across the pond


May 9, 2008
By John Roper

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European Scence: *John Roper is editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazines published in the UK. His comments reflect opinions from the UK and may not be applicable in Canada.

A long time ago, almost in a different lifetime, I worked in marketing. One of my colleagues was famous for making the most outrageous predictions. His argument was that people only remembered when he was right. When he was wrong, no one remembered.

I have been predicting the end of the window industry in the UK, and for that matter Europe, for years now and I can only assume that no one has remembered what I said. Either that, or no one reads my column. I have to report that the replacement window industry is still here and, after feeling a bit depressed in the middle of 2006, has picked itself up and is now buoyant all over the place.

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The quarterly trends report that we carry in my magazine has, for the last two quarters of 2006, reported huge optimism among window manufacturers of all sorts and sizes. At the time of writing this, we are just about to head off to Glassex 2007, the major, in fact the only, UK window exhibition. That in itself always produces a boost in confidence and by the time you read this, the event will be a month behind us and everybody may well be back on the Valium.

The exhibition has its own problems and I am not the only one to have predicted its demise. Actually Glassex, as a part of the industry, is interesting to watch. It provides an unparalleled view of how peoples’ perceptions differ from the actuality. Most exhibitors and quite a few visitors will volunteer that the show is not a patch on how it was in the 1980s. Now, if they refer to the industry as a whole, that is true, but the exhibition is bigger and attracts more people than it ever did between 1983, my first Glassex, and 1989. It was certainly bigger in square footage in the early 1990s, but I doubt that there were more, if as many, exhibitors.

The fact is the companies that exhibit now are different to those of 15 years ago. They do not take large ‘double-deck’ stands and they certainly do not want to spend as much money on a single event. The way that the organizers do their sums, this spells disaster. Successful shows are measuredz first of all in square metres. Smaller stands mean fewer square metres, therefore less revenue even from more exhibitors. (That doesn’t quite seem to make sense but that is the way they tell it.) Also, you have to factor in the low inflation economy we have here now. Prices of almost everything are falling and people expect to pay less. Even after 10 years, it is hard to get used to the idea that you cannot just increase your price list every year and, indeed, you may well have to reduce it.

It is true that the industry is contracting. This is for all sorts of reasons and the trick is to reinvent yourself… often. The other thing we had in the 1980s was business gurus like Tom Peters. Reinvention was the order of the day. One of the things Peters said about monitoring your business was: “If it ain’t broke – you just haven’t looked at it lately.”

Reinvent itself is what the window industry seems to have done yet again and what its trade event seems incapable of doing. We will have to see what happens but I am not making any predictions. -end-


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