March 23, 2020
With the current state of the world’s affairs, it can be said with little doubt that most things in life feel a little uncertain. It is a very relevant theme at the moment with most conversations and news reports centering around updates of the coronavirus and the possible effects it will have on the economy and our industry. Few seem to know what will happen but most have an uncertain opinion of what could be the likely outcome. Looking back a few months, people had a very similar and equally uncertain opinion of global warming and the possible effects of climate change. Backtrack even further to the financial crisis of 2008 and we definitely found an uncertain outlook for the global economy and the fear as to whether business world would ever return to normal. But perhaps this mindset has been the “new” normal for as long as everyone can remember, and as a result we navigate and do business with uncertainty on a daily basis.
So how have we been able to get anything done in this age of uncertainty? In the glass industry, we are directly tied to infrastructural spending and investment which means that if people are nervous about the future, they keep their cash close and hunker down to weather whatever comes their way. Fortunately, this has been far from the case over the past decade with most of the largest growth in global glass happening here in the United States, from the country that saw some of the biggest losses globally just years prior. Sure, there have been a lot of companies that have fallen by the wayside over the years but I believe strong businesses in our industry that have managed uncertainty and prospered have done so by sticking to a set of core principles:
- Investing in processes. Having processes that are kept modern will diminish certain risks in the business. As a glass fabricator there are a number of advances in production that will ensure the delivery of safe, reliable and consistent product. Machinery manufacturers and glass producers are working closely to ensure that new technology is made available. It is up to the fabricators to take advantage of these updated processes and continue to keep up with the industry.
- Investing in people. With all the levels automation in processes that ensure some level of stable output there should also be a parallel investment into people. It’s very tempting for companies to lay-off workers to protect profits during uncertain times. However, what we have seen in recent years is an extremely low unemployment rate and many glazing companies and fabricators complaining about a skilled labor shortage. If these companies can look to retain their top employees during difficult times, it should pay off when business returns to normal.
- Focusing on strengths and sticking to the core value proposition. A great example of this statement in recent times was the rapid rise of C.R. Laurence in the United States, a company I both respect and acknowledge as a formidable competitor. The company was able to figure out their strengths, that being distribution and a laser-focused marketing approach to deliver on its value proposition, which was to be a one-stop-shop to the glazier; all done with great success by Mr. Don Friese and his team during the darkest times in our industry post-2008. If other companies can execute a similar focus on delivering what they are good at, while understanding and pivoting away from their weakness, uncertain situations become increasingly manageable and ultimately predictable.
One thing to be clear is the effect of being a realist during times of uncertainty. I believe we all have a responsibility to our businesses as well as to ourselves to make sure we try to see as many perspectives as possible, so that we can navigate through all of the daily decisions needed to be made. It doesn’t make sense to fall into the trap of “eternal optimism” or having the belief that everything will all be okay as this is seldom is as easy as that. I am a strong believer of making decisions based on instinct, yet the experiences of the past and having eyes wide open make this instinct sharper. Keep listening to trusted people around you and make your judgement call afterwards as a result.
I am proud to be a part of the glass industry that ultimately does have a few certainties that you can bet on: there more than likely will be some sort of downturn, that is inevitable. With that in mind, architects sure do love building with glass and it will need to be renovated at some stage. Also, glass does have a habit of breaking on occasion; let’s make sure we are all there for it when it happens.