“What is the top question you hear from architects?” This is a question I have asked glass and glazing companies for several years when attending industry trade shows. The responses normally cover topics such as oversized glass use, aesthetics, cost or performance, and the products to fill those needs.
However, the responses to that question were different during the the 2019 AIA Architecture Expo, held June 6-7 in Las Vegas. While issues such as energy and thermal efficiency were always a part of the conversation, glass and glazing companies report that architects now more than ever seem to be asking for solutions on a per-project basis—engineered niche products—and the glass and glazing industry is rising to the challenge.
“We’re focused on the types of buildings architects are designing, asking, ‘what are you designing for,’ and then finding the right solutions, marrying materials with other product lines architects can design to,” says Colin Brosmer, vice president of sales for Kawneer.
This year’s AIA Expo showcased the industry’s major strides in finding the connection points between people and products. No matter what question architects have for glass and glazing companies, its response is to foster more conversations and training opportunities, then collaboratively engineer product solutions for connecting performance, aesthetics and cost, according to exhibitors.
Jacob Kasbrick, regional architectural manager for Guardian Glass, notes the regionality of architectural needs, and how to meet them as they change. Namely, the company’s SunGuard product line continues to expand with new coatings to meet codes and ordinances related to solar heat gain, reflectivity and visible light transmittance, which vary region by region. “We’re working with architects to navigate these shifting issues from region to region,” Kasbrick says. “It seems simple but taking architects to your plant is a great way to help them understand the product, how it’s made and what it does. It helps them with the vocabulary and knowing what they need.”
Several exhibitors indicated their effort to improve and expand current products, while also pushing messaging to improve their reach with architects, and better educate architects on product capabilities, on and off the show floor.
“We’re working on value-added and customizable tweaks to our products, to offer architects high-performance alternatives to traditional glazing methods,” says Michael Cintani, product manager, Mapes. The company showcased the Mapes SpanPanel for spandrel and floor lines and the Mapes R+, able to achieve R30. “The challenge now is to educate architects on our products and their possibilities. We need more conversations,” he says.
Tubelite hosts Lunch and Learns for AIA continuing education credit in order to educate architects on glazing systems, regional requirements and codes. In response to conversations with architects and other customers, the company launched a new hurricane impact door designed for Wind Zone 3 compliance. “Architects tend to design for Miami-Dade even in places beyond Miami-Dade County, where this testing isn’t required. This adds unnecessary expense and limits design capabilities,” says Tom Mifflin, product manager. “This door expands hardware and glazing options, opening design possibilities while still meeting large missile impact testing.”
While not everyone had a direct response to the number one topic architects are asking about, most had a response to this question: “How can the industry better serve the design community?”
The responses always called for more communication and more connection between all parts of the supply chain. Seemingly, some gaps between this industry and its ability to reach architects are closing, but the next frontier in designing and building for the future is making connections using technology and fostering transparency, exhibitor sources say.
“The point is not to push products on customers just to sell them. It’s to find solutions that actually work for each project,” says Danik Dancause, marketing operations manager for Walker Glass Co. In order to do this, “information has to be shared to help solve design issues. Ask the right questions, rely on architectural reps.”
The American Institute of Architects will be offering an online sales team training course this summer, to help manufacturers’ reps better understand and sell to architects. “Our research [from the sales rep training] shows that on one hand, manufacturers’ reps don’t think architects value them, and, on the other, architects view manufacturers’ reps as vital to their business,” says John Crosby, managing director, AIA. “The focus for manufacturers should be on a consultative relationship, rather than a transactional sales approach.”
On the trade show floor, “architects want to see, touch and feel products—we know this,” says Crosby. “We also know that architects can be overwhelmed by the expo. If they’re compressed by the show floor experience, what are we—AIA and exhibitors—doing wrong? Give them a reason to be in your booth and want to be there, to engage. They want to know what’s new and what they need.”
This is a growth opportunity for the glass and glazing industry, to continue building relationships and communicate vital product knowledge with architects. Exhibitors and industry companies can accomplish this through “technology, unique engagements and a customized experience,” says Crosby.
Brosmer calls for more technology and digitization as well, in order to improve supply chain communication and output. “A big opportunity for the industry is becoming more efficient from design to delivery. A way to do that is digitizing the supply chain, connecting one stage to the next,” he says. “Now we have a lot of passing off of documents, recreating documents and work, lots of questions. But how do you connect and understand the connection points of a project? Digitizing would get us there.”
Like with engineered product solutions, along with technology, finding and maintaining connection points throughout the supply chain requires more communication and openness. “Consumer buying habits with instant product information and purchasing options from retailers like Amazon are transferring to the B2B world,” says Steve Schohan, marketing manager, YKK AP America. “Sharing about what makes us great makes us more reachable. We can build on each other and improve each other.”
Bethany Stough is managing editor of Glass Magazine and content manager for the National Glass Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.