It has been quite a year in our industry… but then, it has been quite a year for everyone. And we are acutely aware that there has been a whole variety of different impacts (and non-impacts) from Covid. Some industries and sectors have seen no shortage of work, and some have even seen an increase. At the other end of the spectrum, people in hospitality and weddings have had a lean time. I have a friend who is an events coordinator – one of the very best – who has had no work at all since March. She is not buying worktops, or much else, at the moment.
At Affordable Granite we had a fairly short period of actual closure. This was followed by a slow haul back to full staffing and normality. Sales through the summer months didn’t come easily… until the floodgates opened. The last six weeks have seen orders coming in hand over fist.
And in the last two weeks, we have hit a problem.
Quite suddenly, and without warning, we have had a spate of quartz suppliers out of stock of popular lines. It has become a daily occurence: we sell (or are on the verge of selling) a particular stone and speak with the supplier. “Out of stock – nothing expected until late next month!” etc.
Covid has at last affected our supply chain. It has taken longer than for most industries. Although we wrote about it back in July, it has only just begin to bite. We know this is not just a fluke hitting us alone – through our friendships in the WFF, we are aware of an industry-wide squeeze.
I had a brief sounding out of friends involved in unrelated businesses selling physical products. The patterns of supply and demand have been very different to our own, but the year has been problematic for all.
Paul OrangeTree runs Orangetree Online – a company providing website and other digital services to a wide range of industries. But he is also a street clothing importer, selling a range of branded clothing, shoes and bags through his OrangeZone website. He comments:
Covid has caused supply disruption, and service disruption, right across the board. The issue seems mostly to be a shortage of staff – at least that is what we are told. Most of our supplies come in very large batches 3 or 4 times a year, and the actual logistics are more or less working.
At the opposite end of the textile sector from street fashion is Jacob Reading’s business. Through their shop, Greenhill Patchwork and Quilting in Romsey, Hampshire, his family sells hobby and craft goods, especially fabrics, threads and machines used in quilting. After a period with the shop closed, the business reopened, and there has been no shortage of demand for craft materials during lockdown. (The quilt shown here was one of my wife’s 2020 projects!) But supply has been significantly disrupted. Some of the sewing machines that Jacob has had on order since the middle of the year are not expected until December or even February.
At AG, and in similar companies, the supply problem was not obvious so early. We were closed for a month or so, and then we ran with just a skeleton staff for a period. It took a while for production to normalise. Our summer period was relatively slow on sales (as it generally is) but in September things kicked off again and the factory and fitters have been working flat out. We have been well over our weekly target on sales for nearly two months now, and we can only assume that other worktop companies are seeing the same.
We buy mainly through UK wholesalers who had good stocks at the start of the year – perhaps in part because they had stocked up well at the end of 2019 due to the Brexit worries at the beginning of this year. So our lockdown time, and our slower production period didn’t put the squeeze on supply. It is now that sales have hotted up (and not just for us) that we are hitting a wall. In the last two weeks, on what feels like a daily basis, we hear of another worktop material which is currently not available in the UK. Some of these are high-end, relatively unusual materials; others are bread-and-butter stones which we would regard as being normally available on tap.
Mention of Brexit is a reminder that we aren’t out of the woods there either. As (another) Paul, a recently retired pension fund manager and pro-Brexit Tory-voting realist puts it: “It is very convenient for the government that there is currently a degree of uncertainty as to whether supply issues are due to Covid or Brexit.” Whatever our personal views of the desirability of Brexit, there seems to be a consensus that January will see more, not less, supply chain disruption, even if it is not the full-on famine that some doom-sayers predict.
The message to our customers is pretty clear:
- Please start your worktop buying process early
- Please be flexible about materials – the one you first fall in love with may not be easy to find
- If you must have the one you fall in love with, please be ready for a possible delay. That may mean installing temporary worktops to tide you over until your stone comes in.
- Please bear with us, as Covid disruption hits our industry
We are Affordable Granite, the leading granite installer in Surrey, Sussex and across the South East. We are very conscious of the pressures on our industry in this crazy year, and also of the challenges facing many other businesses, both in related trades and completely unrelated enterprises. We wish you and yours all the best, especially if you are facing lean times at work. Even in this time of difficulty, if you are interested in buying granite or quartz worktops, then we are the best people to speak to. Please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01293 863992 or by email on email@example.com/ .