It seems crazy to be thinking about fitting a stove on a gorgeous September afternoon that brings ‘beach’ to mind more readily than ‘hearth’. But stove-fitting is a cyclical business, with a sine wave of activity that dips well below the base line in early spring and peaks in mid to late December.
In the business, you can almost pre-print your calendar, with the only variables being the flux of fashion, the customer names on the stoves and the vicissitudes of the weather.
From the customer’s perspective, the key attribute is foresight.
If you wait for climactic triggers – finding yourself suddenly shivering on the couch on an autumn evening, or the first crisp frost that dusts your lawn with white magic – then you’ll join a substantial throng of warmth-lovers picking up the phone to enquire about a stove-fitting, and you won’t be alone if one of your requests is to know if it can be fitted before Christmas.
Stove installers find their diaries fill up extremely quickly once the weather turns cold, and it’s not unusual for those of old hands to be completely booked by the beginning of October. So it pays to start the process early.
Bear in mind that from the time of initial enquiry, the installer will need to make time, in an already seasonally busier schedule, to do a site visit and prepare a comprehensive estimate when he (it’s usually a he) next has a spare moment. That process in itself can easily take a couple of weeks in season, a time lag that can be critical.
Jobs are usually booked on a first-come, first-served basis, and dates are not easily shuffled around, as customers are often having to take time off work to accommodate the fitting and are reluctant to forego or rearrange a pre-booked slot. Timing is also predetermined by the specifics of a job: often a fireplace will need to be opened up before the hearth dimensions are measurable, so there may be a hiatus between starting a job and finishing it of anything from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Latecomers who have an existing fireplace requiring no modification or with a simple prospective installation (many twinwall installations, for instance, are, remarkably, completed in a single day) might happily find themselves slotted into a fairly packed schedule when there are a handful of free days available. Customers requiring a complete knock-out with new hearth and fireplace before the stove can even be fitted will find it harder to get a slot as three-day windows disappear rapidly from the diary.
Naturally enough, stove-fitters’ focus over the winter is on installing as many stoves as possible, and in a perfect world, they would generally prefer to put building work off until the spring, when the weather allows for open windows, and their schedule is a little less packed.
As it is, many of them will end up working around the clock in the run-up to Christmas in order to keep their customers happy – that’s the nature of the business. Spare them a thought, if they sometimes become fraught!
The other factor that is sometimes not considered is stove supply itself. Manufacturers obviously try to anticipate demand, and their intention is to provide seamless and timely supply throughout the year and especially in winter, but they do face logistical constraints on manufacturing capacity, as well as the inevitability of running down inventory that is built up over the summer. A large company like Contura Stoves, with a line-up of a hundred or so models, for example, has something like 10,000 stoves in stock by the end of the summer; their inventory diminishes rapidly by late autumn, by which point some models will be being made to order; some of them can then be a little slower to arrive.
Smaller companies, or those with a different production practice, might make stoves to order anyway, but by mid-winter, capacity and supply can be stretched, and lead times can correspondingly lengthen.
We always try to keep a large stock of our best-selling Clearview Stoves in our sizeable warehouse, but everything else needs to be ordered in. A lead time for stoves in winter of a month is not uncommon, although some of our suppliers make strenuous efforts to keep delivery times to a fortnight or less.
None of this is set in stone, of course – we’ve had lucky customers come into the showroom in mid-December before, who have then had their stoves alight by Christmas Eve because a date for fitting has suddenly become available, but it’s best not to rely on luck!
All that being said, September is fairly safe for booking any kind of fitting; we’ll probably be able to find an experienced installer who can fit you in. October is more tenuous for complicated jobs. Later still, and it will just depend on circumstances, though one-day jobs are still likely to be possible. Longer jobs, too, might still be accommodated, if you are willing to have the works staggered over a few non-consecutive days, or if you have the liberty for installers to come to you on an impromptu basis – often a spare afternoon will become free due to circumstances beyond their control, and flexible clients can then be fitted in. However, fitting on such an ad-hoc basis makes it harder to guarantee a finish date.
On a general basis though, if you know you want a stove, and you want to enjoy it for as much of the winter as possible, now is the time to start the process. As the old saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is twenty-five years ago. The second-best time is now!