GlassBuild America 2007 Review
October 1, 2007
Two words pop into the head when describing GlassBuild America: the Glass, Window & Door Expo – innovation and globalization. This year’s show in Atlanta, Sept. 10-12, was the biggest in history and reflected the glazing industry’s trajectory.
The industry, the glass shop and the function of glass have gone through amazing changes in the past few decades. Glass shops used to be simply a work area and an office with no real showroom for products, says Tom Lee III, CEO and president, Lee & Cates Glass, Jacksonville, Fla. His shop opened back in 1926. “It was not necessarily aesthetically pleasing to the walk-in customer,” he says. “The customer was usually standing right beside their car as you worked on it. We were probably more order takers than sales people.” The product options also were limited for diversification purposes, and if an employee left the company, he was either moving out of town, retiring, or starting his own company, Lee says. “There were not so many competitors in the marketplace to shop your employment opportunities.”
Today’s glass shop is more upscale in presentation. “You have to give the walk-in customer a pleasant shopping experience,” Lee says. “You only get one good shot at keeping their business.” The work area needs to be away from the customer because safety is a primary concern. The opportunity for product diversification borders on limitless, he says, and every employee needs to be a sales person with their attitude and product knowledge. “You have to offer more services today than ever. How do you make it easier for the consumer to do business with your company?”
Sharing “a value/solution bundle” is the answer, says John Brandt, CEO, MPI Group, Shaker Heights, Ohio. He spoke at GBA’s Glazing Executives Forum Sept. 10. “We live in a relationship economy,” he said. “We’re lean and harried. We have become a society of to-do-list managers. Your customers look at you and try to figure whether you’re trying to add to their to-do list or take something off of it.” Consequently, what you’re selling is a broader value of your product, he said. Customer value is different now; it has moved away from the product itself to the end-user. “Delivery and the transparency of the delivery service have become more important,” he said.
Lee agrees. “Customers today demand more than ever quality, timely service and a positive relationship with the company they chose to do business,” he says. “Our shops have changed regarding the ability to sell our products and services. We train in all aspects of the industry. People sell with their knowledge and what they are comfortable doing. You have to know more than your customer, and they are more educated than ever due to the information at their fingertips.”
Diversify, be independent
Today’s glass shops have to differentiate from the “big boxes” like Home Depot instead of trying to compete with them, says Chris Mammen, president, Mammen Glass & Mirror Inc., Irving, Texas. “For example, we hardly ever sell cut-size single strength anymore, since people can get that at Home Depot, but the folks at our local Home Depot refer people to us when they need thicker glass, or a custom mirror,” he says. “We also stopped selling hardware, framed mirrors, and other items that are available at the big boxes.”
Diversification seems to be a trend among today’s glass shops.
“I learned a long time ago that diversification is key to success, whether in business or one’s personal financial affairs,” says Rosemary S. Kauffman, owner and president, Nilsen Glass, Sarasota, Fla. “Several major glass dealers in our area have succumbed recently because they didn’t have a diversified product mix.” Nilsen Glass, in business since 1954, has been known as “the house of service,” says Kauffman, who took over the business when her husband, Ron, died in August 2004.
During the past three years, Nilsen Glass has suffered major setbacks due to the loss of key personnel and a downturn in the marketplace, Kauffman says. Consequently, the company downsized the contract work and increased service and retail sales.
“Companies today are becoming more vertically integrated regarding their products,” Lee says. “Many are choosing to fabricate or manufacture products that they normally would have bought from an outside source.” This is due to consumer demand for faster service and quality, he says. “Today the glass shops want to have the ability to control their own destiny regarding customer satisfaction and product development. The independent glass shop owner is becoming just that more independent and less dependent on outside sources.”
Mammen Glass is a perfect example of successful diversification. “We started 51 years ago as an auto glass business; added residential and commercial service; dropped auto glass; added a second branch; started adding fabrication equipment; and brought new value-added products to our local market that were not available before, “Mammen says. “We look nothing like the company we were 50 or even 10 years ago.”
The company has chosen to find a niche market to be successful and stay on top if its competition “by being the expert on products like frameless shower doors, by finding innovative ways to save costs, vertically integrate, and bring processes in-house to control [its] own destiny,” Mammen says.
United Plate Glass in Butler, Pa., also diversified to success. The shop used to distribute auto glass and boxed window glass to small retail shops, hardware stores and auto glass installers; today its clients include large commercial glaziers and residential window manufacturers. “[We went] from a shop with one belt grinder and primitive insulated equipment to one with multi tempering ovens, automated insulated lines, advanced cutting equipment and advanced edging and fabrication equipment,” says Mike Cully, vice president, United Plate Glass.
The increasing availability of cheaper machinery and equipment coming out of Asian countries allows today’s glass shops to add fabrication to their list of services, says Rick Dominguez, sales representative for Jordon Glass Corp., Miami. For the past six years, Jordon Glass has distributed glass machinery from China, Singapore and other Asian countries to small and mid-sized glass companies in the United States.
“These glass shops deal with the end customer,” Dominguez says. “Now they can make their product right in their shop and control the end quality. It gives them an advantage. They’re not relying on glass from someone else.”
Jordon Glass started out as a glazing shop in 1981 and moved into dealing machinery to its former glazing competitors.
Factors behind the change
The Web. The advent of the Internet has made a big difference to the way glass shops do business, Brandt says. “Now that we put everything on the Internet, we all look alike,” he said. “If customers get good service in one place, they automatically expect it from another.”
The Internet also makes the customer more educated about the product, Lee says. “They have your and your supplier Web sites with all the information they need to make a buying decision.”
Tom Whitaker, owner of Mr. Shower Door in Norwalk, Conn., says technology and the Web have led to the way he does business today. His company specializes in bath enclosures and grew from a one-man operation to a business with 12 franchise locations.
More and more clients demand computer-aided drafting for a project, Whitaker says. “It depends on whether you want to embrace the technology.”
Whitaker grasped the emergence of the Web when he started getting calls for jobs in New Haven, 40 minutes from his headquarters. “Initially, it was baffling,” he says “As a small business, we had to ask questions like ‘do we want to go to New Haven’ and ‘do we change the price structure?’
“People qualify your business now from the Web,” Whitaker says. A poor Web site can lose business, he says. “They are going to decide on your company by the quality of your Web site or its lack of quality.”
Location. Geographical location forces a company to do business a certain way. “The need to adjust may fluctuate depending on the economic and population demographics of your community, but it will happen,” Lee says. “Location in larger markets is an ever changing situation that encompasses the need to be on the cutting edge of product marketing opportunities.”
Cully says smaller markets are affected as well. “Naturally, more metropolitan areas will develop and diversify quicker than the rural areas, but they have been forced to adapt to the changes as well,” he says.
Consumerism. It is often the consumer who drives glass retailers to innovate, says Jackie Naylor, interior designer, Jackie Naylor Interiors, Atlanta. “I design around what my clients like and see. It is then up to the glass product manufacturers, retailers and installers to make my clients’ dreams reality.”
“Each of us in the glass business has begun to see demand for nontraditional glass designs,” says Doug Powell, vice president, Coral Industries, Tuscaloosa, Ala., and president of the Bath Enclosure Manufacturers Association, Topeka, Kan. “Every time we turn around, we’re getting requests for new and more innovative glass applications. Ten years ago, shower doors for the most part were a functional item and had very little artistic qualities. Now, everybody wants something that is a design complement to their bathroom.”
Ron Biberdorf, BEMA board member and marketing manager for Craftsman Fabricated Glass Ltd., Houston, agrees: “We have designers pushing us to do new things. This section of the industry is still very young and evolving.”
Both residential and commercial glazing have seen the demand increase dramatically for more aesthetically pleasing uses of glass in both homes and commercial buildings, Cully says. “Gone are the days of standard shower doors and punched openings in commercial buildings,” he says. “Almost all new homes have elaborate bathrooms with full glass shower doors and all glass buildings are becoming the norm, not the exception.”
Economics. “The lower cost product from overseas has affected our industry greatly,” Lee says. “If you lower your cost of doing business do you keep that profitability in house or give it away in your consumer pricing? This has also created more suppliers. A positive working relationship with your supplier has to be cultivated today more than ever and into the future. Our success can be dependent on their being successful.”
The immigrant worker has added a new wrinkle. Whitaker employs a number of Hispanics from various countries. Decades ago, fewer Americans went to college, which meant more stayed in blue-collar industries in their hometowns, he says.
Leadership. “The shop or company leader has to have the sales and customer service attitude,” Lee says. “The people that work for you make or break your company. They need to work as if they are one of the owners of the company; spend company money as you would your own. Your employees need to know what decisions they can make for the company to please the customer.”
Put an improvement methodology in place to train employees, Brandt suggested at the GEF seminar. “Empower your trainees to make decisions; have a decentralized model,” he said. “People typically leave because of bad bosses. Great people require great leadership. Hire well. Train well. Get out of the way.”
What’s comes next?
Glass shops will continue to grow their value-added processes to enhance the basic glass, such as “decorative options, coatings, safety—tempering and laminating advancements—bending, painting, cast glass, and probably several new things that nobody has even thought of yet,” Mammen says.
Cully is in agreement: glass shops will “focus more on safety glass, fire-rated products and high efficiency coated glasses,” he says.
Overall competition for quality employees will become fiercer, Lee says. “You must be prepared to look at a completely diverse workforce.” Cost of doing business will continue to increase. “We must keep wages and benefits in line to recruit quality people.” Technology will continue to drive the industry “as we will have to learn to do more with less,” he says. “There will be more industry consolidation from retail to wholesale to manufacturers. Foreign invasion of products will continue to grow.
“I see nothing but opportunity for success in the future despite those issues that will always be a part of business,” Lee says. “You just have to work harder and smarter at it every day.”
Tom Lee III, Lee & Cates Glass, 142 Madison St., Jacksonville, FL 32204, 904/354-4643, Tom@LeeAndCatesGlass.Com
Chris Mammen, Mammen Glass and Mirror Inc., 2924 Rock Island Road, Irving, Texas 75060, 800/327-8076, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Cully, United Plate Glass Co., 108 Grundman Drive, Butler, PA 16001, 800/772-7783, email@example.com
John Brandt, 2835 Sedgewick Road, Shaker Heights, OH 44120, 800/603-2272, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Whitaker, Mr. Shower Door Inc., 651 Connecticut Ave., Norwalk, CT 06854, 800/633-3667, email@example.com
Rosemary S. Kauffman, Nilsen Glass Co., 1035 N Lime Ave, Sarasota, FL 34237, 941/366-3030, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jackie Naylor, Jackie Naylor Interiors, 4287 Glengary Dr. NE, Atlanta, GA 30342, 404/814-1973, email@example.com
Doug Powell, Coral Industries, 3010 Rice Mine Rd., Tuscaloosa, AL 35406, 800/772-7737, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Biberdorf, Craftsman Fabricated Glass Ltd., 4822 Southerland Road, Houston, TX 77092, 713/353-5800, email@example.com
Rick Dominguez, Jordon Glass Corp., 6320 NW 99 Ave., Miami, FL 33178, 800/833-2159, www.jordanglass.com