by Tara Taffera
In an effort to find out what issues are most important to the nations contract glaziers, USGlass conducted its First Annual Contract Glazing Survey. The results lend important insights into the industry, including its satisfaction with suppliers.
Think youre the only contract glazier who wishes lead times were shorter? Sure youre going it alone when you lament the lack of qualified employees available in the industry? If you thought you were the only one who suffered from these problems, you were wrong. When USGlass magazine surveyed its contract glazing readership recently, we found out what makes your life in the contract glazing business easy, and more importantly, what makes it difficult. And, once we discovered what you believe are the biggest issues facing the industry, we went to the suppliers to find out what they think as well as their opinions on what can be done to correct these problems.
USGlass magazine surveyed approximately 6,000 readers who work in the contract glazing industry around the country. The biggest response came from the Midwest region, followed by the Southeast and Northeast regions.
Some of the results, such as the large proportion of men in the industry (95 percent), brought no surprises. Other results offered valuable insights into the industrys perspective on the current state of the contract glazing industry. While suppliers may believe they are doing a great job of serving their customers, contract glaziers beg to differ.
While the contract glazier works very closely with many members of the building team, survey results proved that much more needs to be done to educate the architect concerning glass and metal building products. When asked to rate the architects education level, less than 1 percent said the architect is highly educated about glass and glass-related products. Sixty-eight percent agreed he is moderately-educated, while 30 percent cited his education level as poor.
Readers were asked, "If you could change one thing about metal suppliers, what would it be?" While responses ranged from harsh declarations such as "get rid of them," to quality suggestions such as "better custom fabrication," respondents agreed on one thing: lead times must be faster.
When we asked readers what they thought constituted a "normal" lead time, we quickly discovered that no one in the industry seems to know what defines a normal lead time. Differing expectations may be part of the problem. The range of opinions concerning normal lead time is erratic: Responses ranged from as early as one week to as long as four months. Since contract glaziers seemed to be confused, we went to the suppliers for an answer. But, they didnt have an easy answer either.
Steve Green, vice president of client relations for Tubelite Inc. in Reed City, MI, said its lead time is a mere one to three days for stock products. For modified doors, without custom hardware, the lead time is ten days or less. But, according to Green, where it gets tricky is with custom doors when the hardware is provided by other suppliers. "In these cases, hardware lead times will dictate the schedule." Green said the situation can range from eight to ten weeks to six months. "There are so many people involved in the process that if they dont make their decision quickly the job sits," he said. "We wont put it into production until we have the hardware because they [hardware suppliers] dont get it here on time."
David Hutchins, marketing manager for EFCO Corp., based in Monett, MO, said lead time ranges from three to five days for items stocked at its facility there. But, lead time for custom manufactured products could range from 15 days to four months depending on variables such as the production schedule, finish, shop drawings and individual customer needs. "Storefronts are what we stock," said Hutchins. "When we move into custom finishes or windows that is where it gets drawn out a little more."
Tom Harris, vice president of sales for Vistawall Architectural Products in Terrell, TX, agrees that many variables come into play when determining lead times. He said in-stock products are available quickly, but for some products it could take much longer. "That doesnt mean were late, thats just the nature of the process," he said.
Instead of quoting a particular number, U.S. Aluminum, based in Waxahachie, TX, takes a somewhat different approach to lead time. "We train our people to meet the customers expectations," said Todd Joubert, vice president of marketing for the company. "We feel that if we can meet this, that is adequate lead time."
Kawneer Company Inc. of Norcross, GA, has a similar philosophy. (In place of being interviewed for this article, Kawneer responded to questions via a fax from company management). "Kawneer de-fines adequate lead times as providing products when its customers need them. For some, this will be within a few days and for others several months. The length of time depends on the nature and complexity of the project. The challenge is continual, but what is important is we communicate with our customers, understand what the job requirements are and strive to meet their needs," said Kawneer management.
But, are there some contract glaziers who have unrealistic expectations? In other words, "I need it now so you better get it to me now." Hutchins response to this question was the old 80/20 rule. "For 80 percent of our customers everything is great," he said. "For 20 percent, something is wrong. Sometimes with this group it makes it look like youre always doing something wrong but 80 percent of the time you are doing it right."
Although many contract glaziers are frustrated with the long lead times involved, for the most part, the frustration does not begin with the contract glazier. Call it the trickle-down theory, but according to Joubert, other parties are lighting the fire, so to speak, under the contract glazier. "Owners and general contractors are driving the, we need it quicker and faster bus," he said. "That is making the contract glazier point to us and say, we need it faster. Its not starting with the contract glazier."
Harris agreed and said he notices another trend as well: every stage of the construction process has been shortened. "The time it takes to build a project is much shorter than it was originally," he said. However, Harris does not view these shortened lead times as entirely positive. "People will now procrastinate longer," he said.
Whatever the reason, suppliers must grapple every day with the logistics of how to quickly deliver products to its customers. "You are always bumping against the customers desire to have it shipped right away," said Hutchins. "We would rather meet their expectations all of the time . . . but you have to look at what you can expect to ship realistically."
So what happens when a supplier promises a contract glazier he will receive a product on a Tuesday but due to production back-ups, the supplier learns the product wont be delivered until the following Wednesday? This leads into the issue of customer service, which incidentally, is the second item contract glaziers would change about its suppliers. Suppliers acknowledge that customer service is a problem and many say they continually work on ways to improve upon this. "I totally agree with contract glaziers who say customer service needs to be improved," said Joubert.
EFCO is one supplier that said it works to be honest with its customers. According to Hutchins, in the summer of 1998, EFCO was faced with a situation similar to the fictional one described above. The company overextended itself and quickly was one week behind in production. Hutchins said the company had to call its customers and inform them their shipments would be delayed. "Many of them were not happy, but we tried to be honest," he said. "Any manufacturer has to be honest with its customers."
"That [customer service] is probably a concern with a lot of suppliers right now," said Joubert. While other suppliers agree with this opinion, what is being done to improve it?
Kawneer said it is responding to the number one request from its customers that "we provide consistency in order processing procedures at our manufacturing facilities." The company invested in an integrated system of order processing which involved customer service training throughout the company. "Despite our best efforts, the transition period has created some disruption, but is showing steady improvement," said management.
U.S. Aluminum has a training program in place and the company also attempts to inform people of lead time changes. Joubert added that it is important to manage the process so key people are informed of important information. Since U.S. Aluminum must manage the inventory for all of its 16 facilities, people must stay informed.
Hutchins is a firm believer that "customer service can always be improved." He said EFCO frequently conducts sales seminars and works to devise ways to improve the speed of a customers order.
For Tubelite, customer service is the companys number one priority. "That is what will set us apart," said Green. According to Green, the company invested thousands of dollars to train its personnel in 1999. But, Tubelite puts a different spin on its customer service training. "Tubelite calls it dependable training instead of customer service training," said Green. The program consists of four components: consistent, responsive, quality interaction and personal touch. "Its not just answering the phone," he said.
One of the reasons all of this training is needed is because it is difficult to find knowledgeable people in the industry. "A level of knowledge is disappearing and we as an industry need to recognize and address this," said Harris.
A few respondents cited another area of concern, "that suppliers do not sell to everyone. According to Green, this is a huge industry problem. "The general feeling by the contract glazier is that suppliers dont care and they are manufacturing driven," he said. "There is very little loyalty left in the market." So, can anything be done to correct this? Green said many contract glaziers dont feel suppliers should sell to the little guys who are quickly in and out of business.
One respondent was so frustrated with his supplier that he seemed to have reached the breaking point. When asked what he would change about suppliers he replied, "Get rid of them." Another reader responded the same way, but instead of the word "them," he inserted the name of one particular metal supplier. While these responses clearly do not represent the whole of the contract glazing readership, there are problems that must be corrected. As contract glaziers and suppliers work to improve their relationships, they may want to keep in mind a statement made by Joubert: "It didnt get broken overnight and it wont get fixed overnight." Simple, but important advice.
Tara Taffera is the editor of USGlass magazine.
While this issue of USGlass is packed with information regarding our First Annual Contract Glazing Survey, there is an abundance of information we were unable to add to this article. The full results of the survey are available for purchase with discounts available to USGlass advertisers.
Following are the questions which appeared in the USGlass Contract Glazing Survey:
1. Number of employees
2. Years your company has been in business
3. Annual sales
4. Geographic location
5. Years you have been in business
6. Your primary job function
8. What do you believe is the greatest problem in the contract glazing business?
9. Please choose and rank the top three problems in terms of their adverse impact on your business.
10. Do you expect your annual sales to increase or decrease in 1999 compared to 1998? By what percent?
11. Do you expect your profit margins to increase or decrease in 1999 compared to 1998? By what percent?
12. In your estimation how often does an architect or specifier spec an inappropriate material for installation by your company?
13. How often are you successful in getting a spec changed to a different material?
A) with an architect or specififer;
B) with the general contractor; and
C) with the building owner
14. In your judgment how educated is the architect about glass and metal building products?
15. Please choose the top three reasons why you ask to have a spec changed and/or choose an "or equal" product?
16. What amount of time do you consider a "normal lead time" for delivery of job site materials.
17. If you could change one thing about the industrys metal suppliers, what would it be?
18. Respondents were also asked to rank suppliers they use (Arch Aluminum, EFCO, Fulton Windows, Kawneer, Moduline, Naturalite, Pittco, Rebco, Skytech/TRACO, Tubelite, U.S. Aluminum, Vistawall, YKK, etc.) in ten different areas and on the following scale: poor, fair, average, good and outstanding.
While speaking before a group of contract glaziers in Las Vegas recently, Leo Karas, owner of Boston-based Karas and Karas Glass Co., said although he doesnt gamble in casinos, "in business we gamble everyday."
Karas keynote speech, How to Build a Successful Building Envelope Contractor Company, was presented at the Glass Association of North Americas Building Envelope Contractors Conference on March 15. Karas speech was intended to offer important tips to contract glaziers, thus helping them increase their odds of becoming (or remaining) a successful contract glazing company.
He began by posing a challenge to the group. He said that although various sources list the top 20 or 50 contract glazing companies, he wonders if all the companies cited are successful. "My goal would be to list 20 contract glaziers who make a profit," said Karas. He added that this would be a difficult task to achieve.
Karas imparted to attendees that it is crucial they serve as leaders on a daily basis. This includes treating people with respect, being honest with others, and being knowledgeable about your business. "Leadership does not mean doing everything yourself," he said.
Karas said contract glaziers should know more than the people they work with. This is not only true for the owner of the company, but for all of its employees. He added that it is important to educate your staff about the properties of glass, and other important factors. "Gain respect from the people you do business with by knowing more than the people you work with, such as architects and general contractors," he said. "Thats really being a leader."
Karas also defines leadership as not being afraid to be honest with customers. "Volume is never the answer," he said. Rather, the goal is to provide the customer with facts and with truth. Other tips offered by Karas, "Dont be afraid to tell a customer a delivery was delayed," "Dont always use the lowest priced supplier. Use the supplier that keeps the delivery commitment," and "Dont take long standing relationships with people for granted," said Karas. "Treat old clients like new clients you are trying to get."
Karas informed attendees that it is very important to keep close tabs on labor. "Field labor must be checked on a day-to-day basis," said Karas. Although this is extremely important, he noted that very few companies take the time to determine how long it will take project managers to manage a specific job. This includes how many meetings the managers must attend, as well as engineering and general operations.
According to Karas, when calculating these costs, management time must be marked up. "Take a certain percentage of the job and call it direct management time," he said.
Karas told attendees they shouldnt be concerned with bidding on and winning every job. He said the ability to recognize your niche is vital to your success. "These [niche jobs] are our big profit-makers," said Karas. "These require specific knowledge and excellent management skills. Doing a whole job can be great but sometimes doing part of a job can be better."
Individuals who attended the second annual Building Envelope Contractors Conference in Las Vegas, March 14-16, had a lot to think about on their trip home besides their winnings (or lack of). Approximately 115 contract glaziers from around the country attended the event.
The conference kicked off with the keynote presentation given by Leo Karas, of Karas and Karas Glass Co. (see opposite page). Karas was instrumental in the formation of this annual conference, because he wanted contract glaziers to have a forum to get together and discuss problems and issues with one another.
In addition to seminars covering a variety of topics, the conference also offered panel discussions including glass suppliers who discussed glass trends, and contract glaziers who discussed various business techniques.
Although this years conference was action-packed, GANAs Corey Peterson said next years meeting may include fewer seminars, which will enable more in-depth discussion of the topics. Other possible changes may include a new hotel venue. Peterson said the meeting will return to Las Vegas, but may not return to the Flamingo Hilton. Although no official date has been set, Peterson expects the conference to occur in late February or early March.
But, the association is not waiting until next year to continue providing educational opportunities. GANA will host the first annual project manager educational seminar June 10-12 at the Airport Hilton in Minneapolis, MN.
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