﻿Driving a recovery
The UK air-conditioning marketplace — for manufacturers, distributors, consultants and contractors — has taken a right old battering, no two ways about that as a fact.
The overall construction and property marketplace has been hit very, very hard. Air conditioning feeds off these markets, so it is inevitable that our industry would be clobbered. There are so many figures being thrown around as to the extent of the downturn. Popular and urban myth puts the downturn as anything from 30% to even 50% in some seriously pessimistic circles.
Is it getting any better? Is there light at the end of the tunnel or are we still travelling down? Everybody is well aware of the current economic climate. For a long time it has dominated the national and international media, leaving us feeling as though it’s the end of the world as we know it.
So what are the lessons to be learnt? I think the biggest single lesson for the building-services industry is to invest in the future — but keep hold of the tried-and-tested qualities which have proven successful in the past. I believe that action makes things happen. The marketplace did not invent itself. The consultants, the developers, the end-users, the contractors, the distributors and the manufacturers all play an integral and important role.
I also believe that there is some room for some cautious, optimism. We are seeing a marked increase in the number of enquiries along with the recession has turned up some very intriguing developments and market patterns. We are noticing what could be termed as a ‘flight to quality’, where contractors and consultants en masse are changing their buying habits and favouring manufacturers which are synonymous with quality.
I think it is an easy and understandable logic to follow. Consultants and contractors want air-conditioning products and systems from proven and well established brand names that won’t let them down. The marketplace wants quality, reliability and, above all, a real value to what they are buying and installing.
As the availability of work in some regions has slowed down, it is now even more important that the air-conditioning products that the consultant specifies and the contractor fits uphold and enhance both of their reputations. The very best advertising comes from repeat work.
Talk is cheap, but positive word of mouth, especially during the referral stage between developers and premises owners, is worth its weight in gold. This is why I believe the marketplace is looking beyond price and towards reliability, quality and proven after-sales technical support. They do not want products that cause them hassle or require them to re-visit the site time-after-time due to reliability ‘issues’. After all, time is equal to money lost or earned — and wasted time is a waste of potential earnings.
So it’s not all doom and gloom. The industry cannot stand still, nor can it just lie down and die. There are still new sites being built, and there is still the great replacement marketplace. Contractors still have a wide choice of air-conditioning products to choose from — but genuine quality is now more important than ever.
I mentioned earlier that the future requires investment. Our company is putting its money where its mouth is, and I am looking to move the Fujitsu brand name further up the scale of perception. This will be our major investment in the future. It will run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. We know that our products are just as good as any other Japanese name currently in the UK. The only gap was 3-pipe VRF, and this will be launched in the-not-too-distant future and so give Fujitsu a full and comprehensive range for all varieties and types of sites.
The Fujitsu brand name has one of highest loyalty and reliability rates in the UK air-conditioning market. We will, through a series of leading-edge marketing initiatives, be taking the Fujitsu brand up the scales of perception. But this does not mean that we will forget the real reasons why the market is incredibly loyal to the brand — quality, value and service. Another reason, our research has found, is that we are perceived as being able to ‘deliver’ on our promises. It is my intention to make our whole operation as smooth as possible so that contractors and consultants readily choose the Fujitsu name because we are easier to deal with than the other alternatives.
We will be using all the usual marketing communication channels, with one major addition — we will be using telecoms much, much more. Our new web site will be fully interactive and introduce new features such as ‘webinars’ – an online training facility which allows engineers to ask questions, get answers, improve their operations and not be stuck in traffic in order to get to a training centre.
There is a whole host of initiatives that will be strategically introduced over the course of the next few years. We believe that the Fujitsu name has long punched under its weight. This year sees us come out fighting for more and more market share.
Tony Gittings is with FG Eurofred/Fujitsu.