What really matters to kitchen and bathroom installers?

There are a lot of national issues that need fixing it in the kitchen and bathroom installation industry, but are day-to-day problems like having their tools stolen more important for individual installers? kbbreview managing editor Andrew Davies looks at the real motivations for change…

Andrew Davies
Managing Editor

The industry needs to do more to solve the skills crisis in kitchen and bathroom installation – yep, agree with that. The government needs to support small businesses more to encourage sustainability – absolutely, totally on board with that one too.

In fact, it’s hard to disagree with any industry-wide initiatives, plans or ideas that are designed to improve the lot of kitchen and bathroom installers. They’re usually entirely correct, well-thought through and have admirable aims and objectives.

The trouble is, real life keeps getting in the way doesn’t it?

The biggest problem facing any industry-leaders trying to solve universal issues is getting the engagement of the very people it is designed to help.

And while we can’t pretend that ambivalence doesn’t exist, most of the time I’m certain that for those people their own individual day-to-day problems seem – and often are – much more important to them.

I recently contacted several kitchen and bathroom installers and asked them what the biggest issues facing their business were. I expected them to say that skills gaps, apprentices, the economy etc were top of their agenda but, of course, it wasn’t that simple.

While they thought all those things were important, one thing came up again and again – tool theft. Not only did it come up but their anger, disbelief and rancour spilled out with very little prompting. This is a problem with a highly-charged emotive core that the other universal issues simply do not have.

And, whether we like it or not, collective passion and energy are often what drives real change.

“It’s not just the cost of replacement tools. It’s the loss of earnings while not being able to replace them and the effect on mental health due to not being able to to pay bills,” one installer told me.

It’s not hard to understand, no tools means no work and they’re usually stolen from a van which can be literally ripped open to get inside. An excellent report from On The Tools found that 78% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen, nearly 39% of them from their van when it’s parked outside their home.

The report found that the average UK tradesperson is likely to have between £1,000and £5,000 worth of tools stolen from them in just one incident. This report also uncovered that the self-employed are 38% more likely than the employed to have their tools stolen.

Nearly 11% said they had to take time off or decline work while they found new equipment, and 13% had to pay to repair their vehicle.

In other words, this is something that, at best, tradespeople live in fear of every day and, at worst, are dealing with the implications of right now. If nothing else, they are really angry about the injustice of it.

Now, of course, this concern makes it another universal issue for ‘the industry’ to try and solve. For example, On The Tools is campaigning for a law that will require anyone selling second-hand tools online to show the serial numbers of those tools in searchable text.

But the point is that if you’re a working installer, while you feel the effects of a slowing dwindling skilled workforce, it is not as immediate a problem as fearing the loss of the tools of your trade. The universal problem is also their day-to-day problem.

Perhaps to really effect change, those admirably seeking it on an industry-wide level need to find ways to highlight solutions that will not only cure the universal issue in the long-term but also advise individuals on how to tackle their own immediate manifestation of it.

Yes, ‘the industry’ needs to do more about skills shortages, apprenticeships and sustainability – but what does that actually mean for that one kitchen and bathroom installation business in Basingstoke, Bristol or Belfast and what can they do about it on Monday morning that will directly benefit them.

This, I feel, may have more traction than appealing to, and calling on, ‘the industry’ to adopt a collective practice for the good of all when, I suspect, many members of it feel that they are being asked to do something to help an industry that isn’t helping them.

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