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.

Greatest Problems
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.”

Witry agreed.

“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
Number of Employees       Highest Level                         Years you have    Number of Years Your 
                                             of Education                      been in Business    Company Has Been in Business
Number of Employees                Highest Level of Education                   years in business      number years company in business
     2 -10 employees - 39 %                      Graduated High School - 57%        Less than 5 years 5%        Less than 5 years - 3%

     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%

About the Architects
How educated is the average                    How much glass training do you                    In comparison to recent years, 
architect about glass and metal                find yourself providing architects                   how much glass education are 
building products?                                     during each visit?                                               you now providing architects?

Product Education                    Glass training.                      glass ed
       Highly                                                                   None - 7 %                                                                  Less - 42%

       Moderately                                                          Less than 20% - 26%                                                 Same as in the past - 12% 

       Poorly                                                                 20 - 30% per visit - 25%                                               More - 44%

                                                                                     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. 

increase decrease  
        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:

Increase             Decrease      

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

3. Annual sales in the glass and metal field

4. Geographic location

5. Years you have in business

6. Job function

7. Highest level of education

8. Gender

9. What do you feel to be the greatest problem in the contract-glazing business? 

10. Please choose and rank the top three [issues] in terms of their adverse impact on your business.

11. Please choose and rank the three least important factors in terms of their adverse impact on your business.

12. How do you expect your 2003 annual sales to change compared to 2002’s? 

13. How do you expect your profit margins to change in 2003 compared to 2002?

14. How do you expect your 2004 annual sales to change compared to 2003’s? 

15. How do you expect your profit margins to change in 2004 compared to 2003?

16. In your estimation, how often does an architect/specifier spec inappropriate material for an installation by your company?

17. How often are you successful in getting a product speced by an architect changed to a different product?
     A) With an architect or specifier?

     B) With the general contractor?

     C) With the building owner?

18. How important is the building owner or manager in selection of new glass and metal systems renovation? 

19. How important is the building owner or manager in selection of renovation or replacement glass and metal systems renovation? 

20. Please choose the top three reasons why you asked to have a spec changed and/or “an equal” product chosen.

21. What are the determining factors in your decision to substitute a non-specified product?

22. In your estimation, what do you consider a “normal lead time” for delivery of jobsite materials?
23. In your judgment, how educated is the architect about glass and metal building products?

24. How much glass training do you find yourself providing architects during each visit?

25. In comparison to recent years, how much glass education are you now providing architects?

26. Respondents were also asked to rank suppliers they use (Metal: Arch Aluminum, Columbia Building Products, EFCO, Fulton Windows, Kawneer, Naturalite, Rebco, Traco, Tubelite, U.S. Aluminum, Vistawall, YKK. Glass: AFG, Cardinal, Guardian, Pilkington, PPG, Visteon, VVP) in ten different areas and on the following scale: poor, fair, average, good and outstanding.

27. If you could change one thing about the industry’s suppliers, what would it be?

28. If you could eliminate one problem, what would it be?

29. Which best describes the contract glazing business right now?


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