Most of the 2000s saw plenty of interest in all areas of landscaping and gardening, for a number of reasons:
- gardening became one of the most popular leisure activities, enjoying widespread coverage on TV and the radio, in magazines and newspapers
- people wanted their gardens to be stylish places in which to relax
- the housing market was healthy, with many new properties being built and others being renovated
- people had plenty of money to spend on their homes
The above boosted demand for fencing materials and services from householders who were keen to improve their properties.
Unfortunately, the economy and the housing market took a sharp downturn in the late 2000s and remained very weak in the early 2010s. This had a real impact on businesses like fencing specialists, who saw a sharp drop-off in demand for their services. Things began to improve in 2013 and the economic recovery continued throughout 2014 and into the first half of 2015. The recovery slowed in the second half of 2015 and into 2016 and the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU added further uncertainty to the economic outlook. This means that householders are less likely to be spending as freely as they did during the early 2000s.
Private householders often spend money on their houses when property prices are increasing as they can be confident of a good return on their investment, and when the market is buoyant they will want to put their property into excellent condition if they are going to sell and trade up. Unfortunately, after strengthening in 2013 and 2014, the housing market levelled off, with the number of transactions remaining about the same year on year and prices increasing more modestly. To get work, landscaping and fencing businesses will need to keep their prices keen, maintain a tidy, professional site and do an excellent job.
Another trend that won't help fencing specialists who rely on home improvement work is a general swing away from home ownership (after many years of increases) in favour of renting as houses in many areas become less and less affordable. While landlords generally need to maintain their properties in good order, they're not usually interested in undertaking major home improvement projects like landscaping.
Building contractors are generally a good source of work for landscaping and fencing businesses and are also more active when the housing market is buoyant and prices are rising. However, there was little growth in the housing market in 2015, with the total residential property transactions remaining at about the same level as 2014. There was little change in 2016, apart from a flurry of activity in March to beat the increased stamp duty on the ownership of second residential properties, and the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU introduced uncertainty into the market, with a 6% fall in the number of transactions in August compared with the previous year. House prices remained broadly flat after the referendum but are expected to start to increase in 2017.
There is a shortage of homes in the UK so new building work is unlikely to dry up but a depressed market means that there is less work around for landscaping and fencing businesses that contract to building contractors. The trading climate remains competitive and businesses will have to work harder to find new work and provide excellent service at competitive prices to succeed.
General interest in the outdoor environment and landscape design has prompted many businesses and organisations to invest in services like fencing work. More and more local authorities recognise the importance of maintaining and improving the surroundings we live and work in too.
Like private householders though, businesses and other organisations have been affected by economic conditions and many still have less money to spend on non-essentials. Local councils and other public sector bodies are still cutting right back on their spending too.
Many of the construction and property maintenance industries, including fencing and landscaping, have been plagued by the activities of unscrupulous 'cowboys'. Anyone can set up in business as a fencing specialist - cowboy operatives generally have no qualifications and limited experience. Many deliberately rip off their customers.
A number of initiatives have been launched by both trade bodies and the government with the aim of educating customers and stamping out the cowboys. For example, the government-backed TrustMark scheme, which covers many different types of construction based business including fencing contractors, was launched in 2005 as a means of helping consumers to find reliable and trustworthy tradespeople. Similarly, Buy with Confidence - Trading Standards Approved is a vetting scheme for fair and honest businesses that more and more local authorities around the UK participate in.
The British Standard BS 1722 series covers most aspects of fencing, including chain link, wooden post and rail and steel palisade.
The skills training and awards body Lantra administers the Fencing Industry Skills Scheme (FISS) through its qualifications awarding body Lantra Awards in partnership with CITB and industry bodies. FISS is allied to the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) and was developed to enable employers to demonstrate that their workers are trained and qualified.
The Fencing Contractors Association operates the FCA Certified Contractor Scheme, which enables participating contractors to demonstrate that they are technically competent and appropriately qualified with the requisite skills and wider professional accreditations for specific projects.
Keeping up with developments
An excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your industry is to join a reputable trade association. Joining an association is also a very good way of demonstrating your professional integrity and commitment to quality. The following organisations represent fencing contractors in the UK and promote quality standards through a code of practice for their members:
- The Fencing Contractors Association (FCA), which incorporates the Association of Safety Fencing Contractors, the Environmental Noise Barrier Association, the Gate Automation and Access Barrier Association, and the Electrical Security Fence Federation
- The European Fencing Industry Association (EFIA)
The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) also serves the fencing industry.
You can find out more about these organisations on their websites.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. Fencing News, for example, is a regular magazine published specially for the fencing and landscaping industries.