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The weakest link

Despite two years of economic turmoil, the flooring industry has remained completely bulletproof. But that will surely be tested this year…

DURING two decades working in various UK industries, I’ve learned a fair deal about how vulnerable some are to the winds of economic change. The food and drinks industry, for instance, suffers when supermarkets sell their products too cheaply. And often, in the teeth of a recession, retailers become quite ruthless about prices, further squeezing food processors. During the Great Recession of 2008-09 (the so-called credit crunch), people held onto their money very tightly, spending less on almost everything – including food and drink – and this in turn put food suppliers under the cosh.

But they had a handy riposte for any negativity about their industry: ‘We’ll be fine! Everybody’s got to eat.’ The implication is that food isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, and that meant they’d never, as an industry, be crushed.

And the same can be said about flooring. There’s always going to be a need for it. It might not be as life-and-death as food and drink, but it’s nonetheless an integral part of any structure, whether that’s a hotel, a hospital, a university, or a residential building. I’ve heard that during the Great Recession many flooring companies did struggle, some quite severely, so the welfare of the industry shouldn’t automatically be taken for granted. But if the post-lockdown mood music is anything to go by, the flooring industry in particular has been positively buzzing.

Never has it been so difficult to tie down a contractor for an interview with CFJ. The reason? They’re so busy their heads are spinning. Of course, at least in residential terms, this is primarily because many people have had cash to spend after government support and have decided to invest in home improvement. From the one-man-bands to the flooring giants such as Loughton Contracts and Designer Contracts, the outlook is all very good indeed.

But I reckon we might be heading for some turbulent weather. The signs are all there – and, as I’ve said in the past, information is power. If you know a heavy rain is coming, you can protect yourself by investing in a thoroughly waterproof raincoat, so to speak.

So what exactly is going to make 2022 a rocky year? Where do I start?! An energy crisis, soaring petrol prices, a politically destabilised government, impending tax increases, rocketing inflation, jitters over the latest Covid-19 variant, and stagflation, the latter being the result of inflation and a stagnant GDP. Add to that continuing supply chain bottlenecks and concerns about Brexit-related costs and you have the ingredients for a perfect storm.

Are you sweating yet? I think we’re about to find out just how bulletproof the flooring industry really is.

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