Construction industry leaders respond to the COVID-19 crisis

Brexit aside, the rapid global spread of COVID-19 has quickly eclipsed other influential issues for the construction industry. On top of the significant disruption to millions of people’s lives and a worrying level of causalities, the economic damage is evident for all to see. As the UK heads into the worst recession for decades many businesses are starting to think about how to navigate the months and years ahead.

In the face of certain challenges and a number of unknown risks, business leaders are concerned about how their companies will be affected and what they have to do next.

We wanted to ask several leaders in the construction industry about how the Corona crisis has affected their businesses and how they plan to move forwards.

Ahmed El-Helw
founder & Managing Director, SSQ

The SSQ Group is one of the world’s leading suppliers of slate and phyllite for use by the construction industry. Formed in 1983, it has built a worldwide reputation for sourcing and marketing high-quality, natural slate products for roofing and architectural use.

  1. How has Coronavirus affected your business?

No business could escape being impacted by the Coronavirus crisis in some way – and the three-month lockdown severely hampered our ability to operate day-to-day, and inevitably led to a drop in enquiries and sales.

But at the same time, we count ourselves lucky – we weren’t devastated in the way so many firms in retail and tourism have been.

  1. So, you have managed to weather the storm?

We’ve been fortunate in several respects. Firstly, the product we’ve specialised in for forty years, natural slate for roofing, cladding and flooring, is often used on ambitious architectural projects planned years in advance – meaning work didn’t instantly dry up in the way it did for some in other sectors.

Secondly, we were well prepared – albeit for the wrong reasons!

We import slate from the prestigious Del Carmen Quarry in North-West Spain – Del Carmen slate is one of our most popular products, and we’re the exclusive distributors of it everywhere in the world apart from France.

It feels like a different world now, but this time last year the biggest challenge any of us could see on the horizon was Brexit. The deadline was getting closer, and at times it looked like we genuinely might leave without a deal.

That’s why we took the decision to ensure we had high levels of stock here in the UK, just in case a No Deal Brexit caused disruption.

As it happened, that wasn’t an issue – but it did mean we had plenty of product when Coronavirus arrived.

  1. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced due to Coronavirus?

Lockdown itself was a huge adjustment for the SSQ team, and me in particular. For forty years, making sales has always been about building face-to-face relationships. I get to know my customers and their businesses, and many have gone on to become good friends. All of sudden, that wasn’t an option anymore, and that took a lot of getting used to.

However, we quickly adapted – our Zoom CPD sessions, led by our Specifications Sales Director Barry Saltmarsh, proved especially popular.

  1. Do you have any thoughts around product innovation and what is required going forward?

Slate has been around for a long time – hundreds of millions of years, in fact. As long as humans are building, there’ll be a demand for it. So, in the long term, our prospects are extremely good.

The coming months will be challenging and unpredictable, but I’m confident our sector will weather them, and still has a very bright future ahead of it.

Gareth Jones
managing Director,
Profine UK Ltd

Profine Group produce PVC profiles for windows and residential doors. The group is made up of the well-known fenestration brands KBE, KÖMMERLING and TROCAL.

  1. How has the profine Group responded to the Corona crisis and what impact did it have on your business and sector?

The whole industry was affected. Everything shut down overnight. The immediate impact on us was that existing orders couldn’t be fulfilled. We also had to implement a plan around furloughing certain employees in our team.

It was definitely an unprecedented event. As a business we faced significant challenges. One of them was that we had acquired essential assets from the Aperture Group during lockdown. Essentially, due to the purchase of those businesses, we recruited 70-80 new team members in the space of 48 hours. This process was made incredibly difficult due to the effects of coronavirus.

  1. Have you seen a slow-down in your sector or has it largely not been affected?

Since we came back from lockdown the sales have been incredibly strong and over that pre-COVID-19. Existing orders have had to be fulfilled and new orders have been very strong indeed. But we have to be cautious as to how long it will last.

  1. Have you had any issues around import/ export during this time?

Most of our products are sourced from Germany, but with the newly acquired extrusion facility in the UK we will soon be extruding PVCu profiles here. We are already harnessing our new lamination facility to cope with demand.

  1. What has it meant for acquiring skills?

We have an existing facility in Lichfield and newly acquired assets including manufacturing in Huthwaite. With the Aperture business having suffered particularly badly over the last 6 months we have found a number of staff that were previously laid off in the local labour markets. This has been a positive message locally.

  1. Do you have any thoughts around product innovation and what is required going forward?

As part of profine Group we have considerable resources both in terms of expertise and from a finance point of view. With the newly acquired essential assets from Aperture Group, the Evolve, Legend and Warmcore brands will see investment as will our main and premium KÖMMERLING brand.

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