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Volume 6   Issue 10               November  2005

From the Publisher

Stealing the Show
by Tara Taffera

Quick! Name the country mentioned most in conversation by Glass Build America (GBA) attendees. (Okay, that was too easy.) The presence of Chinese companies was definitely the talk of the GBA show—once again proving that country’s emergence in the fenestration market. Since this is the case I’m sharing some of the conversations I had with the leaders of various door and window manufacturing companies while in Atlanta. 

Let me say, first, that many companies have differing opinions on a greater presence from Chinese competition in the United States. But whatever the opinion, there is one fact that cannot be ignored—U.S. companies are facing greater competition from outside the United States. Hopefully, such competition keeps organizations from becoming complacent. It reminds them that if they slip in any way—be it quality, timeliness, etc.— another company will always be ready and willing to step in. 

That can be a company from China, Italy, or the United States—the location really doesn’t matter. Additionally, the presence of Chinese companies here forces U.S. companies to raise the bar of quality on their products. As you will see below, one prominent industry representative believes quality is an issue being ignored by some U.S. organizations. Below are some of the interesting topics discussed at the show regarding our newest competitor category. 

More than 20 companies from China exhibited at GBA. And while some U.S. organizations may try to ignore the presence of Chinese companies, its growing presence in the fenestration market can’t be ignored. 

A seminar at GBA, “China’s Impact on the Fenestration Industry” surprised some attendees. One individual said it was less “gloom and doom” then he thought it would be. This attendee thought the subject matter would be about how to compete, etc. while the seminar didn’t touch on that aspect. My theory is that with all the Chinese companies exhibiting, how could show organizers justify having a seminar talking about the threat posed by companies from this country, particularly since show organizers actively sought to bring Chinese companies to the show?

But maybe U.S. organizations don’t need to talk about it. Some companies, such as Glasslam, are simply taking action. According to Steve Howes, president, the fact that “everyone is importing decorative glass from China,” prompted his company to introduce DecoPane. This is a process that allows manufacturers to replicate patterned- and stained glass “while fabricating it at much lower costs than Chinese imports,” says Howes. 

Okay, let’s face it people are talking about China—a lot. Exhibitors are talking about the fact that representatives from these companies visited U.S. booths and took close-up photos of products. One exhibitor feared of poorly made replicas from that country being shipped here in the next few months. But here’s the thing—they might not be that cheap nor as poorly-made as some think. 

In fact, Randy Ernst, president of FDR Design, spoke to me at length about the quality differences between Chinese and U.S. products, and Ernst believes many U.S. windows are made poorly. 

“People don’t think they [Chinese companies] can make a better window but they can,” says Ernst. “We need to raise the standard.” 

I countered by asking how Chinese companies can get it here fast when today’s customers are demanding quick turnarounds? He concedes that this may not be much of a problem when producing custom units. “But what would stop [these companies] from producing standard units and selling them to a company like Wal-Mart?” asks Ernst. 

Not sure. What would?
Maybe import regulations and duties would slow it down. After all, it keeps U.S. companies from exporting into China efficiently, according to Philip Colin, Allmetal president. Collin says Allmetal ships products to China 30 days early and is still 30 days late due to export problems. 

“I’m used to being early,” he says. “In Germany, I have no issues.”

No, we don’t hear much about Germany: it’s China, (or India, another emerging area of discussion as many U.S. companies are outsourcing services there). While GBA attendees talked much about new product introductions, possible price increases an upswing in the usage of laminated glass, it was a country in Asia that may have stole the show. 

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