Volume 15, Issue 5- September/October 2013

Coming to America
by Jenna Reed and Tara Taffera

After entering the U.S. market in 2011, NordGlass’ management says the company’s presence in the country has only grown. Company CEO Grzegorz Lajca forecasts strong market potential in the U.S. thanks to his company’s focus on quality. “We are re-educating the market on quality,” says Lajca. “We think the U.S. is such a big market and so price-oriented … that maybe there is a place for a small, quality player from Europe.”

Maintaining its Roots
This “small player” is nestled in a small picturesque town of Koszalin, Poland, near the Baltic Sea. The town is more rural in nature than perhaps expected for a company that continues to expand its global footprint.

NordGlass employs approximately 1,000 people and serves as a main employer in Koszalin. The plant is a coveted place to work and ships glass to more than 100 different markets each day. In addition to the U.S., the company also has a solid foothold in the Czech Republic, Demark and France, among others.

It began small with the owners bringing windshields into Poland from Germany.

“The company was started in 1991 by two owners,” says Lajca.

Those owners sold it in 2007 to the Polish Enterprise Fund VI, which is a part of Enterprise Investors Group. Enterprise Investors manages a group of Polish, Central and Eastern European private equity and venture capital funds.

Fast-forward to today and NordGlass is the only Poland-wide replacement and repair company in the country. It boasts more than 120 locations.

Despite being a giant in the country when it comes to repair and replacement, Lajca stresses the company has no plans to expand these services outside of Poland’s borders.

“We are only focusing on aftermarket. This is our core business,” he says. “To survive in this market we have to be, in a way, better than the big guys. We’re not going to do any fitting [installation] anywhere else besides Poland.

Big Growth Plans for the U.S.
The management team appears to have a big vision for the future. The team ships auto glass worldwide, including to the U.S., and management doesn’t see demand for its products lessening anytime soon.

Though the company entered the U.S. market in 2011, management officially announced NordGlass’ presenc during Auto Glass Week™ 2012 in Louisville, Ky.

“Our market is to people who can take containers—to wholesalers that can sell to distributors,” says Steve Skorupa, NordGlass president of North America.

“What we’re gaining now [in the U.S.] is word of mouth. There are installers with brick and mortar locations who are actually calling our distributors asking for NordGlass,” he says.

Skorupa adds that although NordGlass is a new brand in the U.S., people are starting to ask for it by name as they like the fit and quality, a point that Adam Wachowicz, production director, stresses as well.

The company is working as quickly as it can to match the growing demand with supply.

Currently, NordGlass offers 800 NAGS numbers in the U.S. and plans to add 300 pieces this year. (Worldwide, the company offers 4,000 NAGS numbers.)

“The increase in our [U.S.] market share will happen once we offer more product [NAGS numbers],” Skorupa explains. The glass fabricated for the U.S. market originates in the plant and warehouse in Koszalin. From this warehouse, inventory is trucked to a port on the Baltic Sea and sent to a port in New Jersey.

Once a U.S. wholesaler puts in an order, it generally takes about nine to 12 weeks for the glass to arrive.

“Sometimes they [wholesalers] see it in six weeks,” Skorupa says.

Wherever the glass is being shipped, management says the company’s growth potential lies in distribution. As of 2012, 77 percent of the company’s sales are outside of the country, while 23 percent occur in Poland, Lajca points out.

“We export mostly to Europe, including the Czech Republic, Demark and France,” he says. “Currently, NordGlass windshields are installed in almost every European country.”

Dual Plants Focused on Latest Technology
The Koszalin plant specializes in fabricating automobile windshields and sidelites for the aftermarket. The facility can produce more than one million windshields a year.

“About 89 percent of our business is passenger cars,” says Lajca. This glass meets strict European specifications, he adds.

“Here we are working 24 hours, seven days a week,” says Wachowicz. “… Almost every 15 minutes we do changeovers [working on a new windshield.]”

He describes the facility in Koszalin as a “carousel.” Because the plant supplies so many different aftermarket windshields, the machines constantly are being shifted to account for these needs.

“Our production and sales capacity has been enhanced significantly by a successful investment in an extension of the Koszalin plant,” Lajca says. “As a result of this investment project, our production capacity has increased by 25 percent. It is now possible to manufacture large-dimension, complex-shape and deep bend products—a service that was not previously available to our clients.”

Management’s focus on meeting demand was evident as they discussed the company’s future.

To help meet the goal of ramping up production, a high-efficiency cutting and screen printing line and automatic autoclave were installed toward the end of 2011. A glass bending furnace was also installed in the Koszalin factory. Wachowicz says the new furnace can build just about any windshield the industry can dream up.

“It’s the biggest in the industry at the moment,” he says. “In short, we can do any glass that is needed.”

He goes on to note that the company invests in the highest technology machines possible.

“We produce on lines developed by leaders in the glass industry,” he adds. “We [supply] 1,800 models so each day we pack more than 150 models.

“We have a high warehouse capacity and need to produce a lot,” Wachowicz explains.

He describes the company’s production as “small batches of up to a few hundred,” adding that each furnace is set for a specific model.

Though the company just expanded capacity at the Koszalin plant, this facility was only built in 2006. And it is the third plant NordGlass has built from scratch.

The first facility in the town was turned into a warehouse for distribution purposes after the new plant was built across town in 2006 to better serve market demand. In addition to serving as a warehouse, the original plant now also plays a role as a repair and replacement location.

The warehouse runs in two shifts, 16 hours a day. It has approximately 45 days of inventory on hand to supply its distribution network, says Wachowicz.

“We are supplying the whole world so we need to forecast the demand and supply needed,” he notes. “There are about 130,000 pieces in inventory.”

Meanwhile, the company’s plant in Slupsk, which is about an hour away, is approximately 10,000 square meters and focuses on the larger glass made for bullet trains, buses, trolleys, armored vehicles and other large windshield applications. This plant was built in 2003.

“In Slupsk, we have capacity for more than 200,000 windshields,” says Wachowicz. “We ship directly from here to OEM producers. And we will build a new furnace for buses here that will double capacity from 6,000 to 12,000. We are organized for OE production and aftermarket. You need dedicated lines for OE.”

Skorupa pointed out that the bus market has big growth potential for the company.

NordGlass also has a division focused on research and development in an effort to stay ahead of the curve.

“We work with the bus and train producers to see what they need,” says Wachowicz. “We work to develop windshields for them. We put together two, three or four glasses to create a thick glass windshield for the faster trains. R&D develops its own furnaces for the company.”

Skorupa points out that about 20 percent of production in both plants is scanned for distortion and quality checked.

The company has two quality departments—one for each plant, according to Wachowicz. The production director oversees quality and says he spends most of his time in Koszalin, but tries to travel to the Slupsk facility at least twice a week.

Setting Records
The company has been growing steadily since 1996. Lajca says, “2012 was a record year.”

And as of June 1, 2013, the company’s sales are 20 percent higher than last year.

“We are on a very good path to reach our forecasted numbers or pass them,” he adds.

“The reason we are growing is because we listen to our customers,” Lajca says. “We are not arrogant. We are not magicians, but we do listen to our customers.”

A NordGlass Timeline:
2013: NordGlass plans to build a new furnace for buses at the Slupsk facility to double capacity from 6,000 to 12,000. The company is also a Platinum Sponsor for Auto Glass Week™ 2013 in Tampa, Fla. 2012: NordGlass officially announces its grand entrance to the U.S. market during Auto Glass Week™

2012. The company also expands in Europe with the launch of another warehouse in France. NordGlass adds subsidiaries in Zielona Góra and Lubin, Poland.

2011: NordGlass quietly enters the U.S. market and the first shipment arrives. The company launches regional warehouses in Warsaw and Bytom, Poland. A second warehouse is added in France and a warehouse is opened in Bratislava, Slovakia. Toward the end of 2011, a glass bending furnace was installed in the Koszalin factory.

2010: NordGlass launches in France and opens another warehouse in Germany.

2009: PZU joins the group of insurance companies with which NordGlass cooperates. The company launches into the Czech Republic and Denmark.

2008: The company launches in Germany.

2007: Polish Enterprise Fund VI from Enterprise Investors group becomes the 100-percent owner of NordGlass Group.

2006: The company builds a new production facility in Koszalin, Poland, and production of tempered auto glass begins.

2005: NordGlass launches the production of surface heated car windows, as well as train windows, bullet-resistant glass and glass used in the maritime shipping industry.

2004: The company launches bus window production.

2003: The plant in Slupsk is built.

2002: The company launches automobile windows with installed rain sensors. The first batch of impact-resistant glass was also produced this year.

2001: NordGlass produced its first batch of automobile windows with antennas placed between two glass lites, along with the use of PET film with reflective coating.

1997: The company introduced laminated car windows with a heating zone within the wiper area.

1996: Construction of the original Koszalin plant was launched. This plant ultimately becomes a company warehouse when a larger plant is built in the same city in 2006. NordGlass also launches the production of laminated automobile windows this year.

 


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