Written by Made in Britain CEO John Pearce
As if the year 2022 wasn’t tough enough already, manufacturing businesses in the plumbing and heating sector have had to cope with a constant drip feed of ever-increasing costs; in shipping, of imported and locally-sourced raw materials, personnel and – the biggest spike of all – energy. All sectors are having a rough time this year, but manufacturers are uniquely challenged in that ‘resource management’ for them means managing multiple input materials, cleaner energy and the essential skilled human resource required. All these elements must be in place and working seamlessly together for a business to really thrive through a crisis (rather than simply hanging on for dear life and hoping to make it through).
Whilst the pressure on all sectors is very evident in the business news media, the difficulty for manufacturers making plumbing and heating products is that they are having to cope with aggregated inflation across all the key elements of their business input. The recent projections of close to double digit price inflation for this year don’t always read across into business – especially to the person responsible for your logistics, who may be seeing shipping of raw materials move from £2,000 per 20ft sea container up to £4,000 or more (more like 100 percent inflation in a quarter!) Shipping isn’t the only input cost base going up dramatically and easing off slowly. Wherever you look at data on inflation of goods and services, the graphs all illustrate pointy spikes in the last 24 months.
Manufacturers are, by nature, resilient, many having been around for 100 years or more and succeeding through multiple economic recessions, supply chain crises and World Wars. This exceptional longevity when compared to the average age of a UK business (8.5 years) is proof that makers have a special kind of corporate wisdom that comes with the experience of surviving and thriving when times are hard.
Many manufacturers in plumbing and heating offer a service as well as a product – often complimenting each other. By offering the service with a marketing strategy that boosts the product brand, some businesses are gaining ground and brand recognition, whilst increasing their contact with end users. This is the approach taken at Polypipe where the training teams offer customers the chance to get on-the-job guidance and training that is clear, concise, and from the experts in the field. So far in 2022, their support has helped with everything from the advanced features of smart controls and wiring centres to bleeding the primaries on a manifold system.
The many business lessons learned from the lockdown year, 2020, and the post-pandemic months are key to keeping your product and brand message current, coherent and vibrant. This is especially true of the renewables sector, where some of the basics are not yet public knowledge and the future of the sector is still being shaped through innovation. Renewable energy specialist and manufacturer of heat pumps Kensa designed and built a bespoke animated world called Green Street to demonstrate a neighbourhood with the shift to ground sourced heat. A specialist virtual assistant, (and highly likeable) Doug takes viewers (customers) on a walking tour of ground source heat systems, helping to normalise the concept and share knowledge about sustainable and renewable approaches to heating.
McAlpine adopted a ‘real person’ approach to connecting their customers with their brand: #FredFriday tells the technical story of their goods through simple, high impact, demonstrations made by Fred Gardner, McAlpine's technical sales manager.
We will always need makers of products to fulfil human needs and to make the essential infrastructure and upgrades for a greener future. It is British manufacturing growth that is leading the way in making sure buyers, specifiers and consumers can purchase innovative, high-quality products – made much closer to where they are needed – by a manufacturer you can trust.
* Polypipe, McAlpine and Kensa are all Industrial Associates of CIPHE. For more information click here: Industrial Associate | IA | CIPHE | manufacturers | merchants