From Good to “Pretty Bad”
By Megan Headley
To know how better to serve our readers in these challenging times, we
at USGlass conducted an in-depth survey among our readers in the contract
glazing business. Respondents were asked via e-mail to respond anonymously
to questions about their time in the industry, their businesses, the challenges
they face and their plans for the year ahead. The responses to the 2010
USGlass Contract Glazing Survey paint a different picture than our last
edition of this biennial survey (see November 2008 USGlass, page 30),
as one might well imagine.
This year, we spoke with professionals across the country from a range
of business sizes and experience, spread out across the country. Thirty
percent of our survey respondents are with companies that make less than
$1 million in annual sales, with another 36 percent making $1-$5 million;
41 percent of respondents work for companies with 10 or fewer employees.
More than half of these survey-takers (57%) have been in the industry
between 20 and 50 years, providing a wealth of knowledge and insight into
The State of the Glass Business in 2010
In 2010, 16 percent of the glazing contractors surveyed saw increases
in their annual sales, compared to 2009, while 11 percent saw slight increases
in their profit margins for that same period. Roughly 30 percent were
lucky to see sales and profits remain stable for the year. More than half
of our respondents saw decreases across the board.
Some of those profits will translate into purchases for the next year,
we learned. Many glazing contractors have invested or are making plans
to invest in material handling equipment, trucks and software in 2010,
and again in 2011.
Such investments seem to be the result of improved expectations for next
year. An optimistic 32 percent of survey respondents expect their project
backlog will increase in 2011, while 47 percent see it remaining stable
next year, for good or bad. This is compared to the 17 percent who report
that they’ve seen an increase in their backlog this year, compared to
2009. For 2010, 61 percent of respondents remaining point to drastic drops
averaging around 40 percent.
Challenges Facing the Glass Industry
It’s not surprising that few glazing contractors see a silver lining when
looking at the industry this year. While only 3 percent see an “excellent,
healthy business” right now, and an additional 11 percent of our respondents
reported that business is good, most were not so optimistic. More than
half—60 percent, in fact—are facing significant challenges to their businesses.
Most of those respondents singled out the economy (58%) as their company’s
single greatest threat, with competitors’ low pricing a close second (23%).
One subcontractor shared a tip for surviving the storm: “Although our
profit margins are quite low, our company has strived to provide tremendous
service to our existing customers. Retaining great relationships with
our best general contractor’s have undoubtedly carried us through this
economic storm,” the survey respondent noted.
Not surprisingly, finding qualified labor is low on the list of problems
at this time (1%), as are material and energy costs (3%).
Several respondents pointed to state and federal regulations and the lack
of code enforcement and knowledge as continuing problems making their
jobs increasingly more challenging.
Interestingly, foreign competition doesn’t concern most glaziers at this
time—a full 42 percent of our survey-takers report that this item has
the least adverse impact on their business today.
The Results of the Biennial USGlass
Contract Glazing Survey
Learning New Technology
A small percentage of the glaziers we surveyed (20%) have used building
information modeling (BIM) on a project thus far. Of those that have used
it, they still seem to be dabbling, with the majority of those respondents
(80%) having used BIM on fewer than five projects—although several (38%)
have invested in BIM software.
Of the 80 percent that has yet to work with BIM, fewer than half of our
survey respondents (42%) see this new technology coming their way in the
next two years.
Working with Architects
Only 3 percent of our glazing survey respondents would say they work with
architects that are “highly” educated about glass and metal (36 percent
of our respondents find the average architect to be poorly educated on
the subject). And yet, a full 10 percent of respondents say they provide
no training to architects during a given visit and 23 percent of our respondents
say they’re offering less education than in the past—perhaps leaving that
task to the manufacturers.
Despite the best efforts of suppliers and glaziers alike, 17 percent of
our respondents still find that architects are specifying inappropriate
materials for installation more than half of the time.
“The biggest problem is that architects have no idea what they are doing
and it is almost impossible to hold them accountable for their incomplete
designs and shoddy specs,” commented one anonymous survey respondent.
“They need to share in the financial success of all the contractors to
get paid—that would fix them.”
Megan Headley is the editor
and Ellen Rogers is a contributing editor for USGlass.
© Copyright 2010 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.