After a tumultuous 2020, what can we expect from the next 12 months? Pete Grierson, National Sales Director at Wolseley Pipe, examines some of the key trends to watch out for in 2021.
What does the future hold for building services engineers, M&E contractors, facilities managers? While it’s impossible to accurately predict what will happen in these unprecedented times, there are some key trends that will continue to emerge this year. As the first-choice specialist merchant for commercial and industrial pipe and heating systems, Wolseley Pipe is uniquely placed to help the sector understand, prepare for, and exploit these opportunities.
Once lockdown restrictions are lifted, we expect the remainder of the year will be very strong. The construction sector is ready to crack on and it’s our job to help it build back better.
While fabricating off site is nothing new, it is fair to say that the sector is yet to fully embrace it. However, social distancing, an ageing workforce, and the constant drive to increase productivity are converging as drivers for change.
When it comes to plant room, drainage and hot and cold water, contractors can receive a system topped and tailed, directly to site. This means they require fewer operatives to install, it improves productivity, and it’s all controlled remotely. Contractors are increasingly considering this as an option and manufacturers are investing in providing more prefab solutions.
Repair, Not Replace
With economic conditions leading to budget cuts, repairing systems is becoming more popular than replacing them. Our customers and our suppliers are telling us that this is a growing trend. Building owners or managers are opting to repair rather than replace heating systems, which has led to a significant increase in sales of spare parts for commercial systems. Because commercial buildings such as hotels and offices are no longer anywhere near capacity, they can often manage if some areas do not have heat, so they are not as keen to replace the full system.
However, buildings which went into lockdown without first properly shutting down their heating are now requiring remedial work. We are experiencing high demand for products such as heating system service kits, which contain all the components needed for when a building reopens, such as thermocouples and flow sensors.
Building down time is also driving demand for energy audits and predictive maintenance of pumps. Lockdown is a great opportunity to re-examine pump efficiency and perhaps replace the pump with a smaller one if that will be more efficient and appropriate for the building in the new normal. With predictive maintenance we can also avoid service interruption due to pump failure. We can draw data from the sensors into the cloud, analyse it and ensure that pumps are repaired or replaced before a breakdown occurs.
For facilities management companies working in the education sector, home schooling is completely transforming how they work. Pre-covid, all planned maintenance took place in school holidays such as over the summer or at Christmas. Feedback from FM companies is that they are now refocusing, as they have the ability to work during term time.
The M&E sector is very traditional, and the vast majority of pipefitters or M&E contractors still prefer to human interaction when ordering products – either in store or over the phone. However, this has also started to change due to covid.
Coronavirus forced more contractors online and demonstrated the productivity benefits of a digital, self-service model. We are targeting a five-fold increase in digital sales this year, after investing in our online platform to make it quick, easy and straightforward for contractors to use.
The green agenda will continue to remain prominent throughout 2021 and beyond. Polypipe is partnering with Wolseley to assist in the recycling and reuse of all scrap plastics. Building back better has to include improving sustainability as well as improving our products. Our suppliers such as Polypipe are partnering with us on initiatives to reduce waste while increasing reuse and improving recycling.
Baxi Heating is also seeing demand changing from gas to electric boilers and air source heat pumps (ASHPs) due to legislation. Electric boilers and ASHPs are on the increase in order to comply with building regulations, particularly on new builds.
Will we also see a shift in responsibility moving from the contractor to their clients – particularly in light of the Hackett Report which followed the tragic Grenfell disaster?
We are expecting a great deal of new legislation as a result of the Hackett Report, in 2021 and beyond. It is our job to remain ahead of the game. The responsibility is on the supply chain to be honest in terms of the performance of their products. In a post-Brexit world, British standards and kite marks will be more important than ever.
When it comes to commercial tenders, both public and private sector organisations are placing increasing emphasis on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Partnering with the right supplier is vital to writing a successful bid.
For some companies, this is a box-ticking exercise, but we firmly believe it should be embedded in your corporate culture. We are genuinely passionate about protecting the environment - we have targets in place to increase recyclable packaging materials and to eradicate single use plastic. Clients can leverage our expertise and industry leadership when it comes to submitting bids.
While there are clearly some challenges ahead – as with any year – 2021 also offers significant opportunities for growth. Companies that partner with full service, forward thinking suppliers such as Wolseley Pipe will be best placed to take advantage.
In a rapidly changing environment, providing innovative, reliable, and flexible services for end-to-end project delivery will be more important than ever. Wolseley Pipe is perfectly placed to help the building services sector to remain agile, add value, and thrive.
Wolseley Pipe’s five key trends for 2021:
More offsite fabrication to reduce onsite labour costs and improve productivity
2. Repair vs Replace
More customers opting for repair rather than replacement, due to budget constraints
Customers moving to a self-service, online model which is much more efficient
More innovative products and increased demand for greener solutions
More regulation as an outcome of the Hackett Report, and more onus on CSR in tenders