With demand up in 2013 and again in 2014, some glass industry companies have a new problem, according to attendees at the 12th annual FeneVision fenestration ERP software user conference, which took place in Aurora, Ohio, June 2-4: getting enough supplies to meet demand.
“Companies in this industry have spent the last five years trimming costs and deferring investments to survive,” said Ron Crowl, president of FeneTech and host of the user conference. “Although managing backlog and supplies are challenges, it is one all of them would rather have compared to previous years.”
Attendees at the two-and-one-half day user conference traveled from Quebec, Estonia and across the U.S. The schedule included joint opening and closing sessions each day and separate breakout sessions for glass fabricators as well as door, window and sunroom companies.
“We’re certainly seeing growth and feeling more confidence in the economy over last year,” said Greg Flynn, technical specialist for Architectural Glass North America (AGNORA) in Collingwood, Ontario. “We deal in unique products and see lots of demand for the large and complex shapes we make for commercial and residential applications.
“People are moving forward with projects with less hesitancy.”
AGNORA provides CNC fabrication, tempering and lamination for single pane and insulating glass shapes in some cases as large as 130 by 300 inches. The company’s primary market is the U.S. but it also has customers as far away as Dubai.
As far as investments in technology and equipment, Flynn said the company in recent years has installed the largest heat soak testing oven in North America and a single-edge glass polisher, which can handle thicknesses up to four inches.
“In 2014, we’re continuing to improve how we work with and serve customers with on-time delivery of extra-precise and ultra-high-quality special shapes,” he said. “Technology like our FeneVision ERP system helps save time and deliver what we promise when we promise.”
AGNORA, however, has not extended online order entry to customers because each shape is unique. “We consider ourselves a service business that makes glass shapes,” he said. “We allocate significant time to understand the requirements for each project and to communicate with the architect. They are often trying new things and appreciate the support.”
A major focus has been on making web-based estimation and order entry available to all the distributors, dealers and contractors in its selling channel. “I think the industry has reached a point where if you don’t offer the tools where a customer can price and place their own orders, you can’t get in the door, he said.”
While companies are working to manage growth issues and are hopeful the market will continue to improve, most are retaining some of the caution that enabled them to survive the recession where others could not.
“Will this last?” asked one attendee. “We think so but want to see how it continues the rest of this year.”
Business is also up this year over last at insulating glass fabricator INTIGRAL Inc., in Walton Hills, Ohio.
“Our competitive advantage is that we can deliver sequenced carts of custom IG to our customers in the shortest possible time,” said INTIGRAL president Jason Thomas. “We believe the market will continue to improve overall and we will continue to improve our integration with our customers and offer the best IGU spacer options along with the high-valued specialty options for their IGU.”
The event also included entertainment and networking time, with Monday evening at a local horse-racing track—with a $20 betting voucher for each attendee courtesy of INTIGRAL—and the next evening at a local winery.