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How can manufacturers of installation products get a piece of the prefab pie? 

Labour shortages among installers are increasing. Meanwhile, they are in high demand due to the quest for sustainability and the accelerating energy transition, both of which need a lot of installation work to succeed. One way to deal with labour shortages and meet the demand for labour is to use more prefabricated products that allow installers to work faster and more efficiently on site.  

As we saw in a previous article, about half of European HVAC installers and plumbers use some form of prefab in their projects. This share varies between different-sized companies and installers in the six major European markets included in USP Marketing Consultancy’s European Mechanical Installation Monitor. Interesting to know is where the installation companies that do use prefab actually acquire those prefabricated products? 

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The leading supplier of prefabricated installation products varies per country 

After asking over 650 European plumbers and HVAC installers about their prefab usage, we asked the prefab users who supply them with prefabricated products. In four out of the six countries, wholesalers appear to be the main supplier. In the United Kingdom, Poland, and Belgium, a whopping 55-65% of the prefab-using installers mention buying prefabricated products at wholesalers.  

In Germany and the Netherlands, however, the main suppliers of prefabricated products are not the wholesalers, but the installers themselves. This means the installation companies buy separate installation products and have a workshop in which they assemble said products before transporting their custom-made prefabricated solution to the worksite for the final installation.   

UK plumbers and HVAC installers use the widest variety of purchase channels for prefab 

Aside from these, the UK stands out. Wholesalers are the leading supplier of prefabricated installation products, mentioned by 64% of the installers in the UK, but large shares seem to make use of all other channels for acquiring prefab products as well. Almost half of the prefab-using installers in the UK also report preassembling installation products themselves.  

More interestingly, a large share of UK installers also buys prefabricated elements directly from manufacturers. On top of that, UK installers report also buying from dedicated prefab suppliers quite often. An explanation is that the UK is richer in manufacturers and suppliers of prefabricated elements like for instance bathroom pods. What the example of the UK points out though, is that there is a profitable opportunity for manufacturers or other companies to become suppliers of prefabricated installation solutions.  

Potential for manufacturers to supply prefabricated solutions 

On average, the wholesalers, and the installers themselves are currently the leading suppliers of prefabricated installation products. In many countries, the role of manufacturers in the supply of prefabricated installation products is still limited. That means that there is potential for manufacturers to offer prefabricated solutions as well, which is already quite common in the UK.  

The success of this rests upon the installers’ demands and criteria for choosing prefab suppliers. In most countries, installers mention the quality and price of prefabricated solutions as the most important criteria when choosing a supplier, but in Germany and Belgium, a significant share of installers would also like the prefab solutions to be simple and safe to install.  

The specific prefab products, solutions, and services installers would like manufacturers to offer to vary more widely per region. In Germany, there is a preference for prefabricated products for wastewater and hot and cold water, while installers focus more on prefabricated bathrooms and boiler rooms in Belgium, and more on prefab design and product bundling services in France. 

For a full overview of installers’ desires from manufacturers regarding prefabricated products and services in six major European markets, we refer you to the Q2 2022 report of USP Marketing Consultancy’s European Mechanical Installation Monitor. 

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