Chris Alderson, managing director of Edgetech, explores the challenges facing IGU manufacturers, and whether the situation is starting to improve.
In January 2020, I went to Peterborough for a roundtable discussion on the state of Britain’s IGU sector.
For years, I’d strongly felt that British IG manufacturers were getting a raw deal. They’d driven huge improvements in unit performance and energy efficiency – but that investment and innovation wasn’t being rewarded.
In fact, glass was increasingly being treated as a commodity, and the businesses that made it were constantly being squeezed on price.
I wanted that to change – and after discussions with Edgetech’s marketing company Purplex, we decided to bring together key figures from around the sector to discuss the issue, and what we could do to tackle it.
Two years on, looking back on that day is a surreal experience. We had no idea what was lying around the corner.
We’d all heard about this strange new virus causing problems in China. But the idea that the same virus would soon see the country plunged into a series of strict national lockdowns would’ve seemed extremely far-fetched.
Remarkably, though, for all its challenges, there are signs the pandemic is beginning to redress the balance when it comes to IG. Manufacturers still face many difficulties – but things may be gradually starting to shift.
The race to the bottom
But before we look at what’s changed, I want to discuss the challenges IG manufacturers face in more detail.
Where does that constant pressure to offer rock bottom prices come from? In Peterborough in 2020, this was one of our main topics of conversation.
Several people around the table had been told by installers that it was essentially homeowners’ fault – they were the ones who didn’t see the value in glass, and weren’t willing to pay more for high-performance units.
But other attendees challenged that perspective. They believed that homeowners do value glass, when the benefits are properly explained to them, and that they’d happily pay more for an A+-rated unit given the potential long-term savings on energy.
The honest answer is that we don’t know for certain – and the most likely explanation is that it’s the result of attitudes from all different sections of the supply chain, in some cases based on warped perceptions of what homeowners value.
But whatever the root cause, there’s no quick and easy solution.
In Peterborough, we discussed the options available to us. Could we pool resources, and try and raise awareness of the critical importance of IGUs among homeowners?
Or, as some there on the day argued, would that be prohibitively expensive, and would educating fabricators and installers be a better route to take?
Is one of the key problems the fact that the IG sector lacks any representation and lobbying power? There are IGU manufacturers’ associations in Australia and the US – do we need to form one here?
The day in Peterborough was only designed to be a preliminary discussion, so, unsurprisingly, we didn’t come to any firm conclusions. Many of the issues we discussed still remain. But at the very least, there are indications that the wider glazing sector is finally starting to value what IG manufacturers do.
Achieving true value
Since COVID, fenestration has seen incredible success, and incredible disruption – most notably of all, a severe supply chain crisis.
That’s meant that inflation for all sorts of materials has naturally been driven up – including glass.
Given how much the supply chain has resisted any attempt to even slightly raise glass prices over the years, I was expecting my IG customers to have a very difficult time trying to push those increases through.
To my surprise, though, in most cases they seem to have been accepted.
Certainly, we’re in an exceptional situation, and this willingness to pay more could simply be companies recognising that and being more reasonable as a result.
But it’s my hope that the market is finally beginning to see the value of quality IGUs, and acknowledging the fantastic service that modern IG manufacturers provide.
Most of the big issues we discussed in Peterborough back in 2020 remain unsolved – but even if nothing else has shifted since then, to me, that’s progress.