Volume 42, Issue 6 - June 2007

Changing Channels 
Diverse Distribution Can Mean Many Challenges When Getting Door Hardware from the Manufacturer to the Jobsite  
by Samantha Carpenter and Ellen Giard

Andy Gum and Andy Gull share a first name (and two-thirds of a last). But that’s not all they have in common.

Gum, president of Thomas Glass Co. in Columbus, Ohio, and Gull, senior project manager with Carmel Architectural Sales in Anaheim, Calif., both work in the glass industry. And, they both buy their door hardware products through distributors and wholesalers. It’s been that way for 20 years for Gum, and just as long for Gull, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years.

“We [Carmel] always work though distributors/wholesalers because they carry all of the lines and every product and they can tell you about them and they are familiar with the different types,” Gull says.

 Gum and Gull, however, say the sometimes-convoluted hardware distribution system (which involves, in no particular order, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, general contractors, architects, and of course, contract glaziers) can vary job to job. If nothing else, the situation remains fluid. Some people would rather cut general contractors out of the chain while others see wholesalers taking a bigger role.

A Circuitous Path
To understand some of the changes in hardware distribution, you first need to know how it typically gets to the site. 

“The hardware is specified typically in the hardware section of the bid documents,” Gull says. “We then send that in to our supplier doing the shop drawings so he can incorporate that to make sure all parts are approved.”

Glass companies such as Carmel and Thomas might then go to their distributors to get the specified hardware for a specific job. Distributors often also sell doors and frames and service the general public.

“In the commercial realm, we have always seen it like this: the doors and hardware on a new commercial building usually are specified and then bid upon and sold by a contract hardware specialist [a distributor] who dealt primarily with doors and hardware,” says Bob Cronk, vice president, sales and marketing for Select Products Ltd., a hardware manufacturer in Portage, Mich. Sometimes, there’s a middleman, the general contractor (GC) calling the shots between the wholesaler/distributor and the glazing contractor. 

If door hardware is not being supplied as part of the standard door system coming from the door manufacturer, there are two ways for it to reach the contract glazier. In some cases the GC works directly with a hardware supplier, orders the materials and then has it sent on for installation. In other cases the contract glazier can include the hardware in his total package, ordering the materials and working with hardware supplier directly.

How the product gets to the job and whether a GC is involved often depends on the particular hardware ordered or the job. “All the companies that make aluminum doors have a standard hardware product and when you can use them, you do. This is often for a mall or storefront job,” says Paul Almond, president of Almond Glass Works in Collingswood, N.J. “The second way is when you get into more specialty applications like with schools, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, etc. all of these need special hardware. This is either furnished to us by the GC or we buy it and install ourselves. These are typically automatics, electrical applications, etc. that have to be tied into the aluminum system.”

GC Issues
Some glaziers say they would rather rely on GCs for their hardware, and have been doing so, in some cases, for more than two decades. For others, it’s been a more recent occurrence.

“I would say over the past five years 75 percent of our contracts say the GC is to purchase the hardware,” says Gull. “It has been that way recently because of all the different door types, such as hollow metal, required on a large project and the hardware needed for the different trades. The GC can be more competitive by buying all the hardware and distributing it to the various trades.”

There can be issues, though, with GC-supplied hardware. “Invariably, we try to not buy the hardware,” Gull says. “We would rather the GC buy it and ship it to us. The GC, however, does not always know the right questions to ask the hardware supplier and often we end up with the wrong hardware,” Gull says. “Still, it’s better if the GC buys it, because then it’s easier to put that responsibility on him; it helps to shift some of the liability.”

Almond says he would rather the hardware go through the GC, but says it can sometimes be a challenge when it reaches the jobsite. “If the hardware supplier sends the products straight to the jobsite it could be confusing because the materials could get mixed in with other products,” Almond says. “We tell the GC to have his hardware supplier separate the door hardware from the rest and then send it straight to us.”

Gum would prefer to include the hardware in his glazing package and work directly with the suppliers. He says when the costs are put in another party’s price, they, the glaziers, are still being asked to do the installation.

“It comes down to asking for a service that they are not paying for,” Gum says. “We’re not seeing the hardware, but we’re still doing the same amount of work. It’s a term called ‘hardware by others.’” He says when they are able to include the hardware in their price they can mark it up. “Also, when it’s under our control the coordination is much smoother.”

Mary Hester, outside sales manager for JLM Wholesale Inc. in Oxford, Mich., agrees with Gum and says her company does not sell to GCs.

“[When hardware goes through the GC] my customer, the glazing contractor, loses the opportunity to make their share of the profit in resale of the hardware,” she says.Even when the GC is part of the supply chain, glaziers still rely on their suppliers for vital hardware information.

“They [suppliers] have the product and they’ve become aware of some of the problems that can happen to aluminum doors,” Almond says. “Whether I’m buying the hardware or it’s coming from the GC, I prefer to talk directly to the hardware supplier [about our needs]. I’m able to speak his language.”

Gum agrees. “Suppliers are a good support base. They know their stuff and are competent of our issues,” he says.

Changing Climate
Hardware sometimes bypassing GCs isn’t the only change in the distribution process. Now, more and more hardware is getting to the glazing contractor through wholesalers. Wholesalers purchase and stock products so they can service customers quickly. They don’t sell to the general public. 

“I think more and more of the glass wholesalers and glass installers are going after new jobs, so they are starting to work more closely with distributors and, in some cases, taking on the door hardware function more so than in the past,” Cronk says. “I think the door hardware distributor used to get the job for the hardware along with the doors and now you have storefront applications being specified … and it’s the glass wholesaler or installer who is oftentimes bidding and winning that job.”

Lynn Kaiser, brand and product manager for Rixson®, an Assa Abloy Group company, says she has also seen a shift.

“There is a trend going toward the [hardware] wholesaler,” Kaiser says. “You’ve got the distributor not doing as much stocking; they are giving more of that over to the hardware wholesaler.”

Hester says there has been a definite change in distribution.

“It used to be that contract glaziers did buy from distributors or contract houses, but they didn’t really keep up with the needs of the glazier,” Hester says. “Often, glaziers ended up with incorrect hardware or they’d lose time on the job. That’s when they started coming to wholesalers more since we have products stocked and we can meet their needs quickly.”

Working Through Challenges
With so many different groups involved in getting the hardware on the door, it’s not surprising that the job can pose a number of challenges for the contract glazier.

“The biggest challenge is that the construction product revisions by the manufacturer to their hardware and the templates are not always kept up-to-date by the distributor,” says Gull. “So sometimes we buy something and, by the time we receive it, it’s not the same as when we first saw it. We’ll get the templates from the distributor, but then the product doesn’t fit and then we have to pay to get it to fit. This is what happens when the hardware doesn’t match the sheets they supplied.”

According to Gum, having so many different sizes and types of hardware, as well as an increasing number of products with electrical requirements on any given job can pose challenges.

“It’s getting more complex because of security. For example, we provide the hardware, someone else brings the electric panels, someone else the card reader and then everything’s not compatible. It’s a lot of products coming from different places and, inevitably, they look at us because it’s our door,” Gum says. 

And how do they handle these compatibility issues? “We just have to be adaptable. We attend meetings and troubleshoot to get everything working together.” 

Gull agrees. “We’re seeing more electronic products, more wiring and this can be tricky because you have to work with the electrician to make sure he knows that the door is going to require power,” he says. 

Who’s Who of Hardware Distribution?
Manufacturer: The company that does the actual manufacturing of the product. Manufacturers typically do not sell to end users/general public.

Distributor: This group buys direct from the manufacturer and, in addition to selling hardware, also may sell doors and doorframes purchased from aluminum suppliers. Many distributors also sell to end-users.

Wholesalers: This group buys direct from manufacturers and keeps a stock of products on hand so they can service their customers’ needs quickly. Wholesalers do not sell to end-users.

General Contractor (GC): The building team member responsible for overseeing the construction of an entire building or project, not just a portion of the work. The GC is typically under contract to the owner and hires, supervises and pays all subcontractors, including the contract glaziers. In some cases GCs will work with suppliers to purchase hardware or other products that are then passed on to the designated trade for installation. 

Contract Glazier: The building trade responsible for the installation of the glass and glazing systems and components, including door hardware, on a given project.

Door Manufacturer: This party supplies the door/door frames (in commercial jobs, usually made of aluminum) to the contract glazier for installation. Some manufacturers offer standard hardware with the doors/frames.

Import Concerns
Increased importation of glass and aluminum products from China is a growing concern for much of the U.S. glass industry. Some, however, also have concerns when it comes to more hardware coming in from China. Lynn Kaiser with Rixson® says she has seen GCs and contract glaziers, looking for ways to save money, use imported hardware. She explains that her company works with the architects and engineers and is involved with the design of the building and works to get a high-quality product specified. Sometimes, though, a lesser product is ultimately installed when a substitution is made. She says the architect doesn’t even know when the change has been made and if the product fails it’s the hardware manufacturer that’s blamed.

“What we (Rixson) usually find by investigation is that many are using a cheaper product and it was not ours,” Kaiser says.

Imported hardware isn’t so much an issue on large, specified jobs as it is for repair, negotiated and smaller jobs, according to Mary Hester with JLM. “The pricing on imported products is usually much lower, but the quality is varied and lead times can also be an issue,” she says.

Gum says he has not been exposed to imported hardware yet, but does not expect it would have a significant impact on the industry. “Some manufacturers are so entrenched in the hardware industry, I do not see them being easily moved,” he says.

the authors: Samantha Carpenter and Ellen Giard are the contributing editor and editor, respectively, of USGlass magazine.

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