Down but not out
2009 was a tough year for contract glaziers. Of the companies that made this year’s Top 50 Glaziers and provided exact sales figures for 2008 and 2009, 55 percent reported a decrease in sales. Among them, the average sales decline was 15.4 percent.
What the numbers don’t reflect, however, is the resilient, creative nature of the United States’ contract glazing community. Despite challenging industry conditions, the Top 50 Glaziers completed a variety of impressive projects in 2009, many of them re-inventing themselves along the way. Enclos Corp. of Eagan, Minn., for example, positioned itself as a “façade think tank,” opening an Advanced Technology Studio in Los Angeles to explore new and experimental approaches to digital façade design.
Suntech of Connecticut, North Branford, opened a residential window branch in 2009 after 30 years in the commercial side of the business, while Bell Architectural Windows, Stokesdale, N.C., established a general contracting division to help increase margins and secure additional work.
On a smaller scale, Key Glass LLC, Bradenton, Fla., hired a full-time sales/estimator to focus on projects under $100,000, along with some service work. This move positioned the company to handle more renovation projects, explained Miriam Carpenter, operations/accounting manager. For the first time in the company’s history, it also hired a marketing firm. “This helped us improve our Web site and provide company credibility [in an economy] where everyone is very concerned about working with a stable company,” she said.
The economy reared its ugly head often when the Top 50 Glaziers were asked to identify their biggest challenge in 2009. “Navigating the difficult financial environment that surrounded the industry during the first half of 2009 was our biggest challenge,” reported Jeff Haber, managing partner, W & W Glass LLC, Nanuet, N.Y.
John Neunlist, president, Admiral Glass & Mirror, Houston, echoed this sentiment, reporting his company’s biggest challenge as: “bidding and securing ongoing future work in a down economy and a very poor construction market.”
With nonresidential construction expected to decline an additional 16 percent in 2010, according to FMI Corp.’s First Quarter 2010 Construction Outlook Report, next year’s Top 50 Glaziers sales figures could slide even further. Yet that hasn’t stopped companies from investing in new services. “2009 was a year of planning,” said Michelle King, director of communications for Juba Aluminum Products Co., which closed its Atlanta office last year. “New markets, services to be announced: 2010.”