The Cutting Edge
“Superior Quality and Service”
Manufacturers Need Much More to Set Themselves Apart
by Jim Plavecsky
Recently, while attending the American Architectural Manufacturers Association 2002 fall meeting, I had the pleasure of listening to a keynote speech given by Ken Schmidt of Harley-Davidson. While Schmidt’s talk focused on the success of his company, he offered many correlations to the way we should run our own businesses in the face of ever-increasing competition not only domestically, but also abroad.
More than “Quality” and “Service”
One of the key things Schmidt stressed is that trying to sell a customer on concepts such as “quality” and “service” is not going to set a company apart from the competition. What will set you apart is your ability to consistently surprise the customer by doing things he would not expect. This is what is called delighting the customer.
I loved the example he used, like when you drive through a fast food establishment and they have your food ready for you in a matter of minutes. Are you delighted? Not at all, because that is exactly what you expect! But if you are able to give the customer advanced features or superior levels of service that he would not expect to receive, then you will make a huge impact on his perception of your company, and this word will travel fast!
After the luncheon, I talked with many of the window manufacturers in attendance, and most of them agreed that one of the best ways a window company could delight its customers is to offer products with superior value. Let’s give them performance that they historically have associated only with premium window systems but let’s give it to them at more affordable prices.
So, then we started talking about how to do this. What do we as window manufacturers need to do to offer greater value, thereby surprising and delighting our customers? Most of us agreed that one of the biggest concerns with windows is insulating glass durability and robustness. Builders, remodeling contractors and homeowners are seeking not only greater performance but also better durability. On the performance side, there is a trend in terms of increased usage of low-E glass and argon, which is being driven by programs such as National Fenestration Rating Council labeling, ENERGY STAR® and just consumer demand in general. On the durability side, there is an increasing trend toward the use of dual-seal systems as well as what the industry refers to as “dual-seal equivalent systems.”
“Dual-seal” units in the traditional sense are defined as insulating glass units that employ two-sealant components, each one a “specialist” in its own regard. The first, or primary sealant is formulated with polyisobutylene (PIB), which offers an extremely low moisture vapor transmission rate, thereby impeding the permeation of moisture vapor into the unit. The secondary sealant is a two-component structural sealant, which provides superior adhesion and flexibility within a broad temperature range. It is formulated with polysulfide, polyurethane or silicone. This is what many call “the belt and suspenders approach” to manufacturing durable and robust insulating glass units.
Ten years ago, only 25 percent of window manufacturers used dual-seal IG systems. Dual-seal systems were considered the system of choice primarily by the major wood window manufacturers, which had a history based upon a higher percentage of sales into parts of the country where harsh winters were the norm.
Today, according to Ducker Research, 35 percent of the 102 million IG units produced in the United States are made with what would be considered as “traditional” dual-seal sealant systems. Another 15 percent of the single-seal systems are manufactured using one of the new sealants offering “dual-seal”-type properties, combining high levels of moisture vapor transmission resistance with some degree of structural performance. These “hybrid” sealants are often used to enhance performance with Intercept systems.
When asked to offer test data in this regard, Michael G. Bitterice, senior engineer, technical services, flat glass products for PPG, said the company chose not to offer this data. However, these curable one-component systems are definitely becoming more popular among Intercept users.
There are also unique products such as structural foam spacers, which account for 7 percent of the U.S. market. Despite the fact that these employ only one sealant, this is considered by many as a “dual-seal” system because it incorporates a structural adhesive, which duplicates the function of the secondary curative sealant of the traditional dual-seal design. It is then backed with a sealant, usually hot-melt butyl, which provides the extremely low moisture vapor transmission properties, similar to PIB.
The window and glass industry offers many opportunities for manufacturers to differentiate themselves. There are ways for the value-added suppliers to stand out from the rest of the pack, thereby surprising and delighting customers with more durable and robust, yet affordable, insulating glass and window designs.
Jim Plavecsky is owner of Windowtech Sales Inc., a sales and consulting firm specializing in the window and door industry.
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