Volume 38, Issue 10, October 2003
Off the Charts
Reviewing the Contract Glazing Industry’s Biggest
by Ellen Giard Chilcoat
The glazing contractor’s job is not always easy. Building a quality workforce, being paid in a timely manner, education and relationships with general contractors and architects are just some of the issues which glazing contractors face on a regular basis.
These griefs are not felt by just a few, but numerous glazing contractors. To get a better understanding of the challenges glazing contractors face, USGlass magazine surveyed more than 7,000 glazing contractor readers (see questions on page 42). (Editor’s note: Respondents anonymously filled out the survey. Glaziers interviewed for this article were chosen at random.)
Responses came in from glaziers across the country. The majority of respondents hailed from the Midwest (27 percent), followed by the Southeast (20 percent) and the West Coast (15 percent).
Facts About Glaziers
So who is the glazing contractor and what’s the average company like? It’s not a surprise that the majority of glazing contractors are male—90 percent, according to our survey—but what was surprising is that this statistic is 5 percent lower than it was when we conducted this same survey four years ago. This means that the number of females in the industry is increasing.
“The glazing industry is constantly changing and evolving,” said Mary Carol Witry, vice president of Trainor Glass Co., where she has worked since 1987, beginning shortly after high school as a clerical worker.
“I have been fortunate to work for a company that saw my potential and challenged me to learn and push myself to a new level,” she said. Today, not only is she vice president, but she also serves as division manager for the company’s Chicago exteriors divisions and is a board member.
According to survey results, the majority of companies are also small. Thirty-nine percent responded that they have between two and ten employees, followed by 26 percent with 11 to 24 employees. Only 7 percent of respondents have more than 100 employees.
Glaziers are also seasoned when it comes to industry experience. Eighty-five percent reported more than ten years in the industry; those with less than five years totaled 5 percent.
While the survey provided us with some firm numbers regarding glaziers, we also learned of the issues that matter to them most.
Our survey asked the question, “What do you feel to be the greatest problem in the contract glazing business?” Answers ranged from architects’ specs to bad competition; cash flow to collections; and negotiations with the general contractor to scheduling. But one of the biggest problems seemed to center around one area: employees.
A lack of education, training, experience, qualified workers and skilled labor all were cited multiple times by respondents. For example, David Clark with Anco Inc. in Davidsonville, Md., a glazing contractor interviewed for this article, said the biggest effect the industry’s lack of employees has had on his company has been limiting its growth.
|Top Three Things That Most Adversely Impact Business
- Competitors who don’t know their true costs 28%
- Finding qualified employees 16%
- (Tie) Slow payment for jobs and workman’s compensation costs 20%
“We’ve been asked to do large projects and we’ve had to decline the work [because of the lack of employees],” Clark said, “so it’s hurt the growth of the company.”
“Trying to find someone with construction experience is a challenge, [because those with] some type of construction background don’t lean toward the glazing side,” she said.
And when it comes to finding good workers, both Clark and Witry agreed their companies had been successful with hiring and training employees from within, rather than looking for those with experience.
“We bring in those who have potential … those who can read architectural drawings and have computers skills and train them from within,” said Witry.
Another issue for the glazing contractor is the architect’s lack of knowledge about glass.
“Projects are more complicated and architects are less educated with glass issues, which is a dangerous and risky combination,” one respondent commented.
Witry, however, said she sees the architect becoming more educated about glass.
“As glass is becoming a more prominent part of the building [it seems] schools are focusing more on that aspect; there wasn’t much focus there in the past,” said Witry. She said that her company has even taken steps to try and provide more glass education to the architect.
|Greatest Problems Facing the Contract Glazing Business
- Finding good employees
- Bad competition/low pricing
- Architectural specs
“We have an AIA-certified curtainwall training program to educate the architect,” she said, explaining that the program provides an overview of different systems, applications, etc., to try and better inform the architect.
Glazing contractors also have issues with the manner in which architectural drawings are done.
“Often times their drawings are half complete and they expect the trade to fill in the blanks,” said Clark. “We find that we end up doing a lot of the work.”
Another respondent pointed the blame for reasons causing the industry to suffer toward architects.
“The reason I say the industry is pretty bad is because architects make a lot of mistakes on blueprints, and it’s very difficult to resolve them, especially for subcontractors,” wrote the respondent.
About the Respondents
11 - 24 employees - 26% Graduated College - 37% 5 - 10 years - 8% 5 - 10 years - 11%
25 - 49 employees - 18% Graduated Graduate School - 4% More than 10 years - 85%
50 - 99 employees - 9% More than 10 years - 85%
100 + employees - 7%
Less than 20% -
Same as in the past - 12%
30 - 40% per visit - 17%
More than 40% - 19%
Suppliers and Lead Times
Working with the industry’s suppliers also leads to concerns for glazing contractors. Issues sited by respondents included a lack of knowledge, pricing matters and quality control. Lead times were also a major issue.
We also asked our respondents what they considered to be a normal lead time. The answers varied greatly, from as low as one week to as much as 16 to 20 weeks. Others said a normal lead time depended on the product.
The State of the Industry
The state of the commercial construction industry in recent years hasn’t been at its best. Due to economic conditions, many glaziers that concentrate in the commercial sector have found they are taking on other types of work, such as schools and government jobs, just to get by. But, while a mere 1 percent described the industry’s current state as excellent, the majority of respondents’ answers said the industry was doing pretty well. Just more than 84 percent said they’d describe the industry as good; 2 percent said it was average; 12 percent said pretty bad; no one said it couldn’t be worse.
In fact, Clark said the industry seems to be on the upswing.
“There’s a lot of action going on in the industry right now,” he said. “Bidding is going up … there’s been a lot of educational/institutional work; not much office, but that’s increasing. The industry has weathered the storm and it’s on its way back up, but it will never again look like it did in the 1980s.”
Some comments from our respondents, however, weren’t so optimistic.
“There will be many contract glazing companies bankrupt this time next year,” wrote one respondent.
Like all industries, the contract glazing business continues to change.
“Time marches on. I wish we could have stayed in the 1970s and 1980s,” wrote one survey respondent. “A handshake was the only contract needed; I was usually hired at dinner for the next job.”
And while the industry has changed in numerous ways over the past 30 years, the role of glazier will also continue to evolve into an even more important one in the construction industry, especially as the use of glass continues to increase.
44% 48% 43% 52% 78% 13% 72% 14%
Expect 2003 Expect 2003 Expect 2004 Expect 2004
annual sales profit margins annual sales profit margins
compared to compared to compared to compared to
2002’s to: 2002’s to: 2003’s to: 2003’s to:
|Contract Glazing Survey Results Available
While this issue of USGlass is packed with information regarding our contract glazing survey, there is an abundance of information we were unable to add to this article. Full results of the survey are available for purchase with discounts available to USGlass advertisers. The Cost is $1,200.
Following are the questions that appeared in the USGlass Contract Glazing Survey:
1.Number of employees
2. Years your company has been in business
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