Brexit looms, but there’s still room for UK joinery to grow

“The joinery sector remains cautiously confident in the face of upheaval”

According to one leading producer, the UK joinery industry is “cautiously confident” as Brexit looms on the horizon. Other industry insiders suggested that, despite the challenges ahead, there were also new market opportunities. Key to these opportunities are evolving customer tastes, and the impact of new technologies and materials. “Intelligent housing” is one such example.

But in terms of capital spending, the picture is altogether less clear. Machinery suppliers have reported a wide variation in investment levels.

Malcom Cuthbertson, Weinig UK’s managing director, said: “there’s been investment at smaller companies, but in the medium to large sector it’s one of the quietest periods I’ve known. I think manufacturers are dreaming of greater automation and reduced manning levels, with ‘batch size 1’ window machines but there seems to be a lack of confidence in the immediate future.

He added: “the investment outlook should be positive, but lack of past spending by medium and larger companies has resulted in lower profitability, reducing capital investment and hence productivity.”

However, that’s not the whole story. According to Gabriele de Col, SCM Group UK’s managing director, some joinery firms are exploring new directions, and investing in tech that boosts a number of key capabilities. He recently told reporters:

“Describing the market as buoyant in the shadow of Brexit would be an exaggeration, but many manufacturers report good order books and there have been a number of large investments in CNC machining centres. One factor here is the return of more customer production of doors and windows to the UK, as time-to-market is now key. Another is the Grenfell effect driving door production to meet stringent fire controls. Overall, upgrading equipment is achieving higher productivity on higher spec products while compressing prices.”

Other industry voices have also suggested that fire safety is now a top priority for the market, and that this presents joinery firms with a clear opportunity.

Cautious optimism seems to be the mood of the day. And the British Woodworking Federation’s second quarter State of the Trade survey backs that assertion up. 52% of respondents said they had one-to-three-month order books, 15% had three-to-six months, and 13% over six months. Furthermore, 20% of respondents expected to be working at more than 90% capacity in the coming year – that’s a rise from 10% last year.

With 60% of joiners surveyed saying that they had product development spending in the pipeline, and around half preparing to invest in capital, the picture is clear: things might not be perfect, but they’re looking up.