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Recession? What recession?
 Gerald Arding of Arding Marketing talks to Blinds & Shutters about the year ahead in what can be best described as a turbulent economic climate

“A new year has dawned and yes, it had to happen at some time, the English have finally persuaded themselves that the economic miracle cannot continue and a financial meltdown is almost upon us.

Recession, that dreaded word that causes economists and industrialists to reach for the bottle and anyone to do with the church to reach for the membership forms, is staring us in the face.

If talking oneself into a recession ever became an olympic event, we would safely notch up another gold on this one!

Whether the UK economy suffers some real setbacks is still very much open to conjecture. Sure there are many stresses and strains out there and besides the current Chinese obsession of buying up every possible world resource, convert it into a highly competitive manufactured item and sell it back to us to the detriment of our own economy  –  excuse me, anybody home?... and not to mention our own corporate giants taking every advantage to maximise their profits and pushing up the rate of inflation more than somewhat in the process, not everything is doom and gloom.

A quick feel for the current state of the UK Blind industry at a period when we are traditionally quiet, would indicate there is still some reasonable business out there. Prognosis for the coming months would support a cautiously optimistic expection for limited growth for most and a pretty impressive performance from a few. Sure there will be some companies that will suffer but this will be the case no matter what.

Why should I feel my glass is half full, on what basis do I support an argument suggesting that Armegeddon won't drive us all to despair and our old friend the grim reaper won't be looking forward to a bumper crop. Firstly, let us look back to the early '90s and even further back to the late ‘70s. Two recessive periods in the UK but against the general trend, the blind industry did rather well in both.

Some large companies cut their teeth and firmly established themselves during these periods and have not looked back since. Besides the basic premise of taking the bull by the horns and being more aggressive in the market at a time when others may be inclined to shrink back into their shell and I don't mean just dropping prices here – marketing, true salesmanship, incentive, development and design all play a part here. Our industry (luckily) has become more fashion led and unlike some other markets we don't rely on base products, base colours to sell our products.  The price point at which we sell window blinds fits better with people who don't want to spend too much – whether they have the money or not.  Staying put and not moving, nervous about spending large amounts of cash on upholstery, beds and other furnishings even if you get 100 years free credit and get a free ticket to see Dancing on Ice won't stop people looking at other ways of brightening their lives, their homes. It's our price points that help an obvious decision here and a quick re vamp of the window furnishings can completely transform the ambience of any room for very little money. Well done, you almost feel you have moved!

The industry itself has moved on over the last 15 years and besides being more style and design aware as I have already mentioned, now offers far better quality products,  a far greater choice of styles of window dressings – probably best exampled by the recent successes of shutters that have now become a mass market product at more competitive prices and moved window blinds into the area of ‘window furniture.’ Look at the plethorer of well designed, enticing books showing fabrics and finished products in inspirational settings and add to this the wide variety of ways the consumer can get to see these presentations – in supermarkets, specialist stores, advisors visiting the home, television, radio and furnishing magazines are all examples of the way our industry has improved the perceived values of better window products.  Certainly the drift of prices downwards has increased the value aspect of blinds but sensibly, price has not become the most important element and lets hope it never does. Markets and product areas when this has happened have never prospered and in the end it's the consumer that suffers lack of choice and a drop in product standards.

Inspiration, as important as it is doesn't guarantee success. Look around us and tell me how many car manufacturers are making money, how may airlines despite the lure of exotic locations and fancy layflat beds are showing an impressive return on the capital involved in running their business.  These businesses inspire but along the way lose the ability to turn demand into a successful performance – I'm sure we all have our own thought s about this one. But inspiration in our industry is a terribly important element which underlines just how far our industry has come. The consumer doesn't buy more blinds now than ever before because there is more sunshine, because the suite fades quicker now than it used to, because the English have taken to siestas in the afternoon. No, no it's a lot more complex than this but there is no doubt as I talk to a wide range of people that the functional product at a window that used to be purchased in white and cream only has given way to a wide range of attractive products, all highly suitable to different designs of windows, atria and modern room settings. Customer satisfaction levels must be higher now than ever before and this must be good news for the industry.

The challenge to us now is to persuade ever more house proud consumers how the pleasure of a blind in a kitchen, bathroom or bedroom can be further enhanced by putting blinds in lounges, dining rooms and conservatories. Yes, this is already happening but the number of potential windows that currently don't have any blinds fitted means there is plenty of potential out there. Curtains have possibly gained some ground over the last year but the choice and flexibility given the continuing trend of minimalism and simplicity means that blinds in their many forms continue to offer a far greater choice at probably a better price point to most savvy consumers.

The market is still demanding extra efforts to meet consumer expectations and besides reliability, easy care and performance, ecology and environmental responsibility is something we have to turn our hands to.  Sad and distressing stories of children strangling themselves on pull cords is something we should all take seriously and rather than wait for our competitors to move first, develop and utilise more environmental and safer products and systems on our own.

This way the industry will further enhance its image with retailers and consumers alike and help to generate further sales. Opportunism can also play a part, the smoking ban has had an affect on many areas of social activity and provising areas which remain dry and cold in a legal outside environment has provided Awning suppliers with a great opportunity to increase sales.

Fabrics using chemicals which combat bacteria, odours and general allergies offer further opportunities to grow sales.

Intelligent fabrics that can harness light and heat and transform this to a form an energy have suddenly got an appeal that hitherto was regarded as a gimmick. Not any more,  as we all recoil in horror every time an electricity or gas bill arrives on the mat. So, what does this all mean given the back drop of doom and gloom? I for one will be looking forward eagerly to another year that will certainly require effort, application and the usual attention to detail than any business requires. However, the rewards will be there at the end of it I'm sure and if we are to believe all the good points emanating from the year of the rat, hard endeavours and measured risks based on solid  entrepreneurial ethics, we will undoubtably be well rewarded. No doubt a little black rodent residing in Orlando, Paris and Hong Kong to name but three residences will be in complete agreement here. I wonder if he has blinds fitted at all his windows?”

  • Arding Marketing T: 01342 713923
 

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