IT LOOKS LIKELY that materials shortages are going to continue at least until the end of the year.
The problems are global – in raw material prices and availability affecting oil and chemicals; in manufacturing shutdowns or slowdowns affecting plastics, metals, concrete; and in transport affecting shipping and road freight.
The roofing industry in particular is suffering with long delays on roof tiles, insulation, batten and some membranes. Structural steel and concrete will have a knock-on effect even when roofing contractors are not directly affected – and many are.
Smaller roofing contractors are the most disadvantaged in the materials shortage crisis. They don’t have the same buying power as bigger contractors or the close relationships with merchants and distributors. They usually don’t have a dedicated buyer who can put the time in to arrange logistics and deliveries, and they might not have the space to hold stock for when they need it.
With that in mind, we have put together six tips to help beat the materials shortages:
1. Talk to your Suppliers
Communication is key to planning ahead. Getting orders into your merchants well in advance of when you need them will help avoid delays on site. Talking to your merchant will help you to find out what is available and when.
Try to find out where in the supply chain the delays are coming from. Is it the producer (for example, timber mills), at the ports (so more likely to resolve faster), or a UK haulier delay (so likely to resolve in days)? This should help gauge whether the availability issues could resolve in the near term or are here to stay for the foreseeable.
Is your supplier implementing allocation policies? Can you get a copy of the policy so you know what to expect? What are the prices increases you should expect?
2. Know the Lead Times
Find out the lead times on the specific materials you need. Knowing in advance that there is a 12-week delay on batten for example, will mean that you can order ahead and avoid delays to your project. Don’t leave anything to the last minute.
With some roof tiles, such as concrete, on delivery lead times of 24 weeks or more, ordering well in advance is crucial.
Materials reported to be in short supply include: concrete roof tiles, batten and other timber products, insulation, membranes, underlays, bagged cement, mortar, aggregates, steel, plastics, bricks, screws and some other hardware.
3. Research Alternative Suppliers
This is a good time to shop around and check whether other merchants have the supplies you want in stock or on shorter lead times.
Beware though – many merchants are allocating stocks to regular or long-standing customers only.
4. Be Open to Alternative Materials
Most roofing contractors like to work with a brand of roofing covering because they are familiar with how it performs, where to go for take-offs and specifications and where all the manufacturer instructions on how to install it can be found and how to do it.
But being open to using less familiar products might help in obtaining the stocks you need when you need them.
It might be that you can consider an alternative material – such as substituting a concrete tile for a composite slate or clay tile. This might mean learning a very different skillset at short notice. Talking to the manufacturer, checking manufacturer guides and technical information and talking to colleagues will all be helpful in quickly upskilling to use an unfamiliar material.
Your local Roof Training Group will be able to advise if there are any short courses available and if they can be funded.
Can you consider reclaimed materials? Some reclamation yards have as good as new tiles and slates in stock. Check their condition carefully though – and be prepared for spending extra time sorting and grading as not all the stock might be useable.
5. Talk to Your Customers
Explain the situation to your customers. There’s plenty of news about the materials shortages in the media. If your customers don’t know about the situation, be ready with a few news web links you can direct them to.
You might need to give your customer a choice of delaying their project or paying more for higher-priced alternative roofing materials that are available. If you factor into that equation that you might need to increase your original quote to take account of rising prices, the options may not be that different.
Make sure that any written communication – quotes, contracts, plans of work – all refer to delays and price rises being a possibility. Review your contract’s terms and conditions to make sure you are not tripped up if you have to impose a delay or price rise.
Don’t be tempted to take advantage of the inflationary market by raising your prices unfairly. Your reputation will suffer. No one likes profiteering and it could lose you customers in the long run.
6. Consider Your Supply Chain
Regular communication with your own supply chain, including scaffolding contractors, subcontractors, plant hire companies will keep everyone in the loop and gain cooperation.
Booking in scaffolding or plant might become far more complex as other customers need to change their dates. Again, communication and acting well in advance are key.