Top considerations before entering the worldwide glass market
Shipping containers at Port Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Unique projects demand unique products, which may demand turning to unique suppliers. While a fabricator or glazing contractor may be willing to go to the ends of the earth to find the product that meets the client’s specific needs, the reality is that journey is going to be time-consuming, expensive and plagued with unexpected challenges.
Often the best and most cost-effective solution to the problem of global sourcing is to find a reliable overseas glass manufacturer that can meet a range of specialty glass needs in a single shipment. Yet this solution comes with its own challenges. Purchasers must thoroughly research potential global suppliers.
Global sourcing requires travel to meet manufacturers, and inspect and lay out terms. Moreover, those glass manufacturers typically have their own expectations of how to do business. It’s important that purchasers take time to carefully vet manufacturers and understand the communication differences that can impact product delivery.
Some key considerations:
Verify quality and capabilities.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of visiting an overseas manufacturer’s facilities to verify the quality before committing to work with them.
For example, GGI CEO David Balik and Executive Vice President Richard Balik traveled to one manufacturer’s Chinese factory in search of antique mirror and slumped glass. The manufacturer’s websites featured photos of what appeared to be a top-of-the-line factory. Yet, it was evident upon arrival that this was not the case. The factory was small, dark and had only a few people at work. The team also came to learn that the manufacturer had never made the requested thicknesses and was unsure of its likelihood of success.
Cased goods at the GGI warehouse.
Make sure products meet U.S. standards.
Not every overseas manufacturer will meet the exacting standards of U.S. regulatory agencies. Purchasers should work with suppliers that have proven they can meet necessary ASTM size, thickness or quality requirements.
Even great suppliers can present challenges if they produce to European standards, as the required thickness in millimeters varies from the ASTM standards. As a result, it’s important to investigate in person and communicate needs clearly to ensure products meet the right specifications for the target market.
Set the terms up front.
Have warranty information in writing and understand how defective or damaged goods will be managed. These issues can be very costly if not managed effectively on the front end of the negotiation, and in writing.
Know the different ways of doing business.
Negotiating with overseas suppliers can also be difficult due to different communication styles, cultural norms and unfamiliar trade laws. One significant mistake can ruin a relationship. For example, in Asia it’s common for a business partner to avoid saying yes or no directly to a request to save face. The supplier may instead say that something is very difficult, a vague comment that typically translates to “no.” It’s important to look for non-verbal cues, such as body language, to get the full message.
For many overseas manufacturers, the date of delivery is more of a general guideline than a firm commitment. Because it can take 90 days or longer for specialty products to get to port, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what may impact the project schedule.
Make sure to have warehouse space to maintain enough inventory to accommodate longer lead times or unexpected delays. For example, GGI has more than 300 container loads in inventory at any given time, with stock in three different facilities.
Know the minimum quantity for production runs.
Even overseas manufacturers have minimum production quantity needs to justify an efficient run. Unless the initial order can satisfy this need in full, then the product will likely wait until the supplier receives orders elsewhere that can be combined with the initial order to make the run happen. In some cases, the order may be cancelled altogether if this minimum need isn’t met. It’s important to understand the supplier’s production needs up front, and to clearly state priorities, to keep as close to the desired schedule as possible.
Don’t forget shipping logistics.
Purchasing full containers from overseas can present obstacles. Some product may require an overhead crane to unload, and large shipments will require the purchaser to have a loading dock. Be very clear on what is needed. Provide specifics in writing, with drawings, where applicable.
Consider partnering with a U.S. distributor.
While it may seem to make sense to work directly with an overseas glass manufacturer, an experienced U.S.-based wholesale distributor can take on many of the challenges in sourcing specialty glass products. A distributor’s business depends upon building relationships with vetted suppliers from around the globe. Fabricators can avoid the unnecessary pitfalls of sourcing specialty glass solutions by partnering with a reliable distributor who has all the right connections, expertise, warehousing and purchasing power to negotiate the best deals for their customers.