Tomorrows World

20 Jan, 16

Kenneth Thom of Create Homes: “Fast forward 35 years and will the industry change at all?”

As the media examined what parts of Marty and the Docs future predictions came true, (reference Back to The Future movie as if you didn’t know!), I surely was not the only one who pondered what our industry might look like in 35 years’ time? My imagination leapt from voice-activated taps and showers through to showcasing full size 4D models of how clients new kitchens might look in their home. I considered what cost the self-levelling wall tiles would retail at and wondered whether there would be much margin in selling them in any case? Would modern homes have two or more kitchens in the same way as the number of bathrooms per household have increased? Or instead, would the home kitchen be a thing of the past, given the promise of robots performing our daily chores for us, why would we need one?

Nothing lasts long

Then again, have things really progressed much in the last 35 years in our industry which would suggest significant changes were likely in the decades ahead? I, personally, can only comment on the last 18 years, but I am reliably informed by my Dad the only change he has seen is nothing lasts nowadays and nobody wants to pay full price anymore. Hardly a ringing endorsement for working past your retirement age, whatever that may be set at in 35 years’ time for my generation.

However, it would certainly appear that my Dad is correct in so far as nobody keeps things for a long time; the proof being my team appear to be stripping out perfectly good kitchens and bathrooms in order to replace them with the latest models (an observation, not a complaint obviously). So perhaps we will be installing products which are inferior in quality but less expensive but allow the client to change the design look more frequently? Perhaps kitchen and bathroom designers will, therefore, be in such high demand that we can actually charge for this time consuming work load. Or is that just fanciful?

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Product supply changes

I, personally, would have thought it highly likely many gadgets and technological advances will be evident in our industry in the years ahead. Certainly we are likely to see kitchen appliances that can order our food, take delivery, prepare and cook it for us to be ready when we jet home from work. We may witness self-cleaning work surfaces, baths that fill the tub to your desired temperature and level and efficient manufacturing should allow many high spec items to be available to suit mass market budgets. But, perhaps the changes to our industry will be more fundamental than how the products function, what if all bathroom or kitchen sales are made online as showroom numbers decline. Would this matter to the end user anyway? Will there be any manufacturers left remaining in the UK or will the speed of delivery mean that accessing products on short lead times from across the globe make this seem a meaningless concern in any case?

Lacking fitters legacy

Personally I think the main issue which will affect our industry in the forthcoming decades is far more mundane and worrying than all of these prospects. I believe a severe lack of skilled tradespersons able to undertake the installation of the futuristic products being produced will be the biggest change and challenge in which our industry will need to overcome. No matter the benefits of the products we are likely to see, they will be of little use if there are no installers left to fit them in our homes.

There is little doubt that independents and national chains alike are already struggling to find suitably qualified staff that can provide an installation finish of which our industry can be proud. This skills shortage is not currently being addressed and the number of plumbers / joiners / electricians continues to fall. There appears no long term strategy to address this issue and little or no financial incentives are given to small independent businesses in respect of training new apprentices for the future benefit of us all.

Whether the government is to blame for this or our industry needs to take responsibility is an argument for another day, but it needs to be a day not too far in the future if we are to prevent the chronic shortage of skilled trades persons being the legacy our generation passes on.

This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of Kitchens & Bathrooms News.