December 8th, 2022
Challenges Await the Fenestration Industry in 2023
In talking to my customers, business in November is just like any other November. In other words, it has been very busy up until Thanksgiving, but since the turkey was cooked it’s been more like “Tanksgiving.” During the past two years, business was not seeing the normal holiday slowdown as door and window manufacturers were still working through a steady supply of backorders. But customers are mostly caught up on back orders now, and with the recent slowdown of new home construction brought on by higher interest rates, we are now experiencing that typical end-of-year business decline so typical of a normal year in the door and window industry. So, it’s time to start pondering the challenges that await our industry in 2023. There are quite a few but these are the major ones to consider.
Businesses must re-adjust to the return of cyclicality. The last few years we have been operating in a full-steam-ahead mentality. Business lost the cyclicality that has been typical for the door and window industry. But with the recent rise in inflation coupled with higher interest rates, we will once again see a slowdown typical of the winter months, especially since companies are getting caught up on back orders. We are seeing it already. This affects many aspects of the business such as inventory, staffing needs and cash flow. When was the last time you heard of a layoff in the door and window industry? Who lays off employees who will be so difficult to replace when business levels rise again? Who dares to decrease inventory levels of raw materials and components that have been so difficult to get on time due to supply chain restraints? Who has to worry about cash levels when money is pouring in at a steady rate all year long?
Manpower shortages will continue. With business levels getting back to pre-COVID levels of activity, maintaining adequate manpower levels will continue to be an issue in 2023. This will be intensified if businesses are once again back to the practice of layoffs during the seasonal downturns that are typical for the door and window industry yet were unseen in the last two years due to insane levels of demand brought on by the pandemic. If it is at all possible to avoid layoffs during the next three months, it would be highly advisable to do so as it will be very difficult to find good workers to replace the ones that are let go. “But won’t a cooling of the economy mean that workers will be easier to find once again?” Not so. While the U.S. labor market reports that the economy added another 263,000 jobs in November, the sad news is that around six million “prime age” men between the ages of 25 and 54 are reportedly “sitting it out.” This is a very disturbing fact. “They are affirmatively not looking for work. They’ve punched out. They’re done,” TV host Mike Rowe said on The Brian Kilmeade Show, citing research from economist Nick Eberstadt.
Eberstadt has published a book called Men Without Work. In this brand-new introduction, Eberstadt explains how the government’s response to COVID-19 inadvertently exacerbated the flight from work in America. From indiscriminate pandemic shutdowns to almost unconditional “unemployment” benefits, Americans were essentially paid not to work. Staffing challenges will not only apply to the production floor but will also be a concern at the professional level. There is keen competition out there seeking talent and your existing engineers, salespeople, managers and IT professionals are all fair game. With inflation eating into their paychecks, your key people will be targeted and tempted by other opportunities. The challenge will be to make sure they are happy, not only with their pay but also with other factors such as flexible work schedules, work from home and opportunities for advancement.
Customers Will Demand Superior Customer Service. During the insane demand levels brought on by the pandemic the last few years, door and window customers saw increased lead times and were happy just to be able to get doors and windows, even if there were delays in their order or a few quality issues along the way. But, with things returning to normal and prices rising on all door and window products due to inflation, customers will now be pickier than ever. They will expect superior products to be delivered on time with superior customer service to back it up. If they are not totally pleased on all three of these fronts, expect them to buy from your competition. So, if you want to avoid those layoffs mentioned earlier, maybe the wise thing to do would be to move those people into service work or logistics thereby helping to make sure that all your customers get their products on time and that any service issues are handled in a timely manner.
Keeping Your Business Cyber-Safe Will be Tougher. Cyber criminals have to eat and pay bills too and they will want to give themselves a big raise by increasing their frequency of cyber-attacks. With automation becoming more and more prevalent in our industry due to the shortage of manpower and need for increased efficiency, our business reliance upon data storage and backup is greater than ever. This means the risk and impact of a cyberattack is at an all-time high. To add to this problem, a new type of computing is emerging called Quantum Computing. Quantum computers are emerging that can solve computational problems such as integer factorization, which is the basis for RSA Encryption, the thing that helps us safely transmit and store data. In other words, current methods of protecting our data will soon be obsolete because emerging Quantum Computers will be able to break the code and steal our data.
This technology is not here yet, but it is coming soon, and half of all cybersecurity professionals are afraid that businesses are now at risk of what they call “harvest now, decrypt later” attacks whereby hackers grab your encrypted data and file it away until the day comes when quantum computers reach the point where they can “crack the code.” Check out Quantum Computing Already Putting Data at Risk, Cyber Pros Agree by James Coker. Even though this technology is several years away, Coker reports that nearly half of cyber security professionals in a recent survey are reporting that they will be spending time in 2023 to assess the vulnerability of their data security systems to this post quantum decryption threat. So, as the year winds down and we ponder the challenges that the door and window industry will face in 2023, it is ironic that a return to normalcy is actually one of them.