With the Coronavirus pandemic escalating day by day and businesses being forced to suspend operations a new industrial revolution may be upon us. David Leng, group chief executive at Customade Group, gives his thoughts on how the industry can react.

No one could have predicted the speed and intensity with which Covid-19 would spread. The pandemic has forced every business to change how they operate, with home-working now a necessity for most people. It is a tremendously difficult time for the nation and the disruption to many industries has been huge. With most companies having to close their doors for the foreseeable future, we must find ways to keep in touch with fellow colleagues and customers and be ready to resume business when this crisis is over.

Internet usage has accelerated at a phenomenal rate with Virgin Media reporting that the Coronavirus lockdown doubled the UK’s daytime internet usage. WhatsApp revealed that the number of video calls recorded across the platform has also doubled during the crisis. Additionally, use of video conferencing tools and apps like Skype, Facetime, Zoom and Houseparty, have also surged as people turn to them to stay in touch with work colleagues, separated family members and friendship groups.

One thing that we can be sure of is that this pattern of usage will continue as people spend more time in isolation to try to slow the spread of the virus. With the online landscape transforming in front of our eyes, this industry has to be prepared to adapt to a new future and a new digital age.

Exhibitions and trade fairs now seem almost prehistoric. Improvements in home delivery driven by the likes of Amazon and Deliveroo have changed the expectation of the consumer. It currently seems inconceivable that the British public will want to return to having “direct sell strangers” visiting their homes to sell them solar panels, double glazing or kitchens.

Other once traditional sectors, like estate agency for instance, have already largely moved away from conventional offline strategies and transformed the way they operate with the help of digital technology. Platforms such as Teachable and Udemy are spawning a plethora of online courses in garden design, yoga, photography and social media management. The e-learning market is booming. The value of the sector is estimated to jump to $300bn (£252bn) by 2025, up from $190bn in 2018, according to the research firm Global Market Insights. It’s time for the home improvement industry to catch up.

Mike Cherry, the national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, says many companies are finding new ways to be resilient and generate income to help them survive.

“Small businesses are at the forefront of adapting and are keen new-to-firm innovators. Whether it be offering increased or new delivery or collection services or offering virtual guides to products or stores when premises aren’t accessible to customers, small businesses are trying to make this work,” he says.

Installers must step up their online presence and embrace all the digital tools that are out there to help them through this challenging time. With social distancing set to continue for many months it will be some time before they can visit customers’ homes to sell and price windows, so they’ll need to think about alternative ways to connect with prospects, nurture those leads, and win business.

We know from our research that on average consumers need to have around seven touch points with a home improvement provider before the consumer gains enough confidence for the job to go ahead. We believe we can harness AI to digitise and improve the first five contacts leaving only the final detailed survey and the install as actual site visits, thus minimising unnecessary time in the customers house.

At Customade Group, we’ve spent the last two years investing in and developing technology with our partners Winsoc Digital to help installers boost their digital fitness to engage with new customers and secure more business. While it was never created for an emergency such as this, our digital support package and lead management app does give installers a vital lifeline to promote themselves, generate and nurture leads and even price and order windows remotely during the outbreak.

We will come through this crisis and when we do, the world will be a different place. Online usage will be ingrained in many more people – from the young to the elderly – and remote working, shopping and buying will be widespread. telephone canvassing is already dead and foot canvassing will now go the same way. Those installers that are ready for this new era, will be the ones to succeed when things return to the new “normal”.

We strongly recommend that home improvement companies use these weeks to improve their digital fitness so they are ready for the pent-up demand that will surely follow.

Customade Group is supporting customers through this crisis. For further information, call 01453 707272 or visit www.customade.co.uk.  If you are involved in home renovation or construction but not in fenestration, email me if you would like to discuss some of these insights – david.leng@customade.co.uk

Customade Group operates nationwide and employs 1100 people in multiple manufacturing sites across the UK. The group includes REAL Aluminium (aluminium), Atlas Glazed Roof Solutions (glazed roofs), Virtuoso Doors (composite and PVCu door panels), Polyframe (PVC-u), Hourglass Seal (sealed glass units), Stevenswood Trade Centre (trade counters) and Fineline Aluminium (specialist glazing).