The Industry Reacts and Responds to the Coronavirus

The entire USGlass editorial team contributed to this article

Most people return to work after a vacation refreshed and renewed. That wasn’t the case for Jeff Trout, owner of Trout Glass & Mirror in Valparaiso, Ind. After a relaxing vacation in Mexico, he was ready to head back to work. Work, however, wasn’t ready for him.

“My office staff insisted that I self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to the office,” says Trout. “The fear factor was running high … at the time. Leading by example was not something that I expected to have to do.”

While the U.S. saw its first case of the Coronavirus in January, there was little concern at that time. After all, the patient was quarantined and, with the origin of the virus thousands of miles away in China, business as usual continued here in the states. But not for long.

Vincent Squeglia with Tri County Glass & Doors Inc. in Lagrangeville, N.Y., remembers the exact moment when he realized he would have to make changes to his business.

“We normally start booking work for the following week by the current Wednesday,” he says. “When it was Friday and we didn’t have a single job for the next Monday, I knew things were about to change.”

Almost as quickly as it arrived, the virus began to spread across the country. Schools were closed by mid-March, followed by bars and restaurants being restricted to carry out and delivery. Malls, libraries, fitness centers, salons … all closed in an effort to keep people at home. Terms like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” were used in everyday conversation.

Shelter-in-place mandates were activated. Only essential businesses could remain open. Companies throughout the glass industry sent many employees into work-from-home mode; those in fabrication operations deemed essential adopted strict guidelines and procedures to ensure the safety and health of their entire workforce. This way of doing business was one the glass industry—nor any industry—had never experienced before.

Businesses have had to make many changes in response to the “stay at home” orders issued across almost all U.S. states. While businesses deemed “non-essential” have had to close, most companies in the glass and glazing industry are considered essential and have continued to operate—but not without changes.

When Business is no Longer As Usual

“I can’t recall a specific moment, but it was in mid-February when we first started to seriously consider that COVID-19 could be a threat to our operations and employees in the USA,” says Oliver Stepe, president of YKK AP America. “It was around that time we activated our crisis management plan protocols and a task force was formed to respond to the crisis. Our initial planning was focused on threats to our supply chains, business continuity, and especially the safety of our employees.”

Stepe says while YKK AP has always been vigilant about the safety of its employees, the COVID-19 crisis has presented a set of challenges, not only to the company, but the world, never seen before.

“Our true pivotal moment came on March 19 when we learned of the first confirmed COVID-19 infection of an employee. From that moment on and to this day we have been innovating and reinventing ourselves almost on a daily basis to navigate the COVID-19 crisis in the best way possible with safety at the forefront and the long term success of our customers, employees, and communities as our North Star,” says Stepe. “While we realize the odds are against us, as of this writing there are no additional known confirmed COVID-19 cases among our employees or their immediate family members.”

Stepe adds that the employee who contracted COVID-19 is no longer in the hospital, is recovering at home, and is expected to return to work soon.

In their operations, Stepe says while many employees at YKK AP are teleworking, there are some essential infrastructure roles, “by and large, employees are working at company facilities under strict social distancing practice. We realize that not all of our employees can effectively telework and we feel strongly about the importance of organizational unity during times of crises, but are exploring the option. As the company president, I along
with the rest of our executive team, continue to show up for work every day and to fulfill our roles in crisis management and visual leadership to our employees.”

Call to Action

For many, one of the biggest shifts has been transitioning employees to a work-from-home mode. Ron Crowl, president of FeneTech, began preparing his company weeks before the virus began to spread across North America.

“In February, when news of what was happening in China became more prominent, I became aware that this could greatly impact life as we know it here in North America since we are such a connected world,” he says. In late February, FeneTech did a test run of everyone working 100% from their homes.

“This revealed a few items that we had to address in regards to connectivity to crucial information for business continuity,” says Crowl, adding that employees are all very comfortable working with each other and customers via Zoom or Teams Meetings, and no major changes have been necessary.

“The biggest challenge is not being able to walk to someone’s office to get an in-person update on a project or to simply catch up with someone at the coffee bar,” says Crowl, also admitting, that he’s starting to like working from home. “However, I’m afraid that being in such close proximity to the kitchen all day may expand my waistline!”

Gareth Francey, president of Bohle America, says transitioning their operations has been an eye-opening experience.

“Everyone has had a major change to their work routine. We have our sales team making calls and trying to do video conferences, but as more customers shut down, their work becomes less and less,” he says.

Money Matters

Given the economic impact that the Coronavirus will have, companies are also taking steps to protect their businesses. For many, that means preserving cash.

“If businesses are not in a cash conservation mode, they’re going to be in trouble,” says Mike Willard, chairman/CEO and an owner of Salem Distributing. “We are forward-forecasting for the next 13 weeks and doing a deep dive on our cash burn in the upcoming months. Fortunately, we have a very strong balance sheet with plenty of dry powder; in conversations with our Italian vendors, I think many Americans have underestimated the seriousness of the pandemic.”

Attila Arian, president of Schuco USA, says when it comes to resilience of a business, it is imperative to be disciplined with the use of cash.

“Having enough cash to sustain a major crisis without reliance on financial institutions or the government is the key to building a resilient organization,” he says.

“Thankfully, our very conservative German approach to money and credit is paying off in situations like this.”

Others agree that now is the time to be conservative when it comes to spending.

“We definitely believe this unfortunate crisis will heavily impact the glass industry, especially the small businesses. So, we are taking extra precautions now for the future,” says Syndi Sim, vice president of marketing and business development for Diamon-Fusion International. “We really need to be cost-conscious during this time as we, unfortunately, do not know what the future holds for the small businesses that will be affected by COVID-19.”

Customer Connections

Even though in-person meetings are not possible right now, companies are still focused on staying connected. They recognize that now, more than ever, communication is critical.

“Our entire staff, while working from home, is available and guarantees that Schüco is open for business,” says Arian, explaining they continue to attend virtual project meetings. “Our engineers are all working from home. They have their daily virtual coordination and review meetings and are remaining on schedule to deliver shop drawings and design proposals. Our design assist team is working like the rest of the team from home. They are attending design and coordination meetings via video or phone conferences. We created a communication line for updates to be sent out to our network and partners and for any questions during this difficult time.”

“We are learning how to stay connected in a disconnected environment,” says Casey Mahon, CEO of St. Cloud Windows, who adds that it’s a definite challenge to not be able to have those in-person connections.

“I miss the face-to-face, spontaneous communication and interpersonal dynamics that are compromised presently in our remote meeting environment. Communication now must be much more deliberate,” he says.

Greg Galloway, ProTek brand manager with YKK AP America, agrees.

“Visiting customers is like taking vitamins. You can stop for a while and it doesn’t seem to hurt anything. But you need to do it for your long term health. Everyone is adjusting to handling issues through phone calls and web conferences that previously were handled in person. We all will get a lot better at it and this will bode well when the pandemic passes. But there will always be terse situations that can best be resolved face to face.”

“I am a salesperson at heart so this has been challenging for me because I thrive off of human interaction and being around large groups of people,” adds Amber Deimler, vice president of global sales for MyGlassTruck.com. “Socialization is a huge part of a sales person’s role. This has helped me re-focus and learn to slow down a little and enjoy some of the simple things.”

Protecting People

The thing about a crisis, is that in so many cases, it brings people together. As a result, companies and employees across this industry are supporting each other, and their communities, better than ever.

“Everything we do has been centered on our most valuable asset, our people. We are very transparent and keep everyone to the best of our ability up to speed on business operations and next steps as COVID-19 news evolves each day. Our number one priority is to keep our people safe, with jobs,” says Ryan Park, global vice president, marketing and product management with SageGlass, a Saint-Gobain company. “We are still able to serve customer needs with most of our commercial staff working from home, and with minimal impact to delivery commitments as a result of working with our suppliers in advance.”

These feelings are shared across other Saint-Gobain businesses.

“Our No. 1 focus in this pandemic has been our employees’ health,” says Kevin Norcross, general manager of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain. “As an essential business, we had to balance very carefully the safety of our employees with the need for the life-safety products we provide to the commercial building industry. Our products save lives and are actively being installed in hospitals, public institutions and other vital buildings.”

With much of the U.S. on stay-at-home mandates through April and even into May, glass—more than ever—has an important role to play.

“There are remarkable images and stories going around right now, and in many of them, glass is being used as a vital protective barrier to keep people safe while at the same time being a medium that allows connection,” says Norcross. “Glass is connecting and protecting our world more than ever. The product that we collectively spend our professional lives focused on is allowing people to stay safe apart while remaining together. You don’t need to stay 6-feet apart when you’re separated by 1 inch of glass. That’s a powerful takeaway in a difficult time.”

Glass Companies Anxious Over Stimulus Package

By Drew Vass

The federal government sent a message to America’s corporations and small businesses by enacting a $2 trillion stimulus package. As companies and employees are held up by the effects of the Coronavirus, lawmakers assured them that help is on the way.

After days of deliberation between political parties, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (also known as CARES) was signed. It appropriates $377 billion for companies with 500 employees or less. The resulting program is designed to provide immediate relief through grants, while allowing the Small Business Administration (SBA) to administer loans of up to $10 million per small business—portions of which are labeled as forgivable.

As glass companies face fallout from COVID-19, officials say they’re busy looking forward, weighing those benefits.

“From the 1,000-foot view, it looks like it could not only be helpful to FeneTech, but to our clients as well,” says Ron Crowl, the company’s president and CEO. “We’re actively talking to our accountants and having them direct this for us, so we understand the fine print and what we need to do to move forward on it … it looks pretty encouraging.”

Though at press time, fine print is yet to be provided, as government officials establish specific guidelines for emergency lending. In the meantime, not every company falls within the range of 500 employees or less established for small businesses. At the discretion of SBA officials, those requirements could be loosened on a case-by-case basis, however, as the program allows for exemptions to the 500-employee cutoff when company sizes are “no greater than the number of employees set by the SBA as the size standard for certain industries,” officials say.

“Speed is the operative word,” says SBA administrator Jovita Carranza.

All loans issued under the program will be 100% guaranteed by SBA, administration officials say, with no requirements for collateral, no personal guarantees, and no borrower or lender fees payable to SBA. Loans will carry interest rates of 0.5%, with maturity set for two years, and first payments will be deferred for six months. In some cases, loans will be available on a retroactive basis, through February 15, 2020, allowing employers to rehire recently laid-off employees through June 30, 2020.

“We have a relief package that looks pretty good, but we can’t use it presently or at least not to its full intended potential,” says Morgan Donohue, vice president of Erdman Automation.

While Erdman continues to operate its parts and services division, the company has dialed back production.

Giroux Glass director of finance Haik Khat-chatrian is hopeful that the CARES Act will save jobs.

“Programs like the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—created by the CARES Act—will help businesses with 500 employees or less to continue their operations without laying off their employees,” he says. “Specifically, in the construction industry, we are relieved that this would save millions of jobs nationwide and help sustain these businesses throughout this turmoil.”

Chuck Mowrey, CEO of JPI Glass in Kansas City, Mo., says the COVID-19 situation has put two of the company’s vision statements at odds with each other: safety and benefits for employees and families. Prior to learning about government assistance, Mowrey was weighing whether to stay open or close, leaving employees without a paycheck. However, the company has decided to remain open.

Other industry companies are facing this question globally. Glaston, based in Finland, will lay off all of its approximately 180 employees in stages during 2020. The timing and execution of the layoffs are reviewed function-by-function and can be at most 90 days per employee by the end of year 2020.

Making the Cut

Often, during times of crisis there are sacrifices that must be made. That was the case for Jack Senecal, production supervisor with Schüco USA. It took him three years to grow a beard in the length and in the look he wanted.

“Needless to say, Jack has been very proud of his beard all these years,” says Attila Arian, president of Schüco USA. “As we started to implement additional safety measures, Jack and his team had to wear masks in the shop. He soon realized that his beard was preventing him from using the mask properly. So he decided to shave his beard to set an example for people on the shop floor, demonstrating how important it is to follow safety rules, even at the expense of sacrificing his beloved beard.”

Ready to Serve

According to Adam Mitchell, marketing manager at AGNORA, since the company is an essential service as defined by their Provincial Government in Canada, the fabrication facility is required to stay open. With that in mind, they have made changes to protect the work family.

“We’ve started the AGNORA Market, which has engaged over five local businesses (produce, dairy, butcher, bakery, etc.) to deliver food each week to our headquarters,” says Mitchell. “AGNORA volunteers sort and organize orders for each staff member. The program is designed to keep our staff out of stores while supporting local vendors affected by the pandemic.”

Resources to Help Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic

There are plenty of government and organizational resources available to help guide glass companies through the COVID-19 pandemic.

• For information about the virus itself, symptoms, how to prevent getting
sick and what to do if sick visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/.
• For the latest data on global COVID-19 cases visit coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.
• For the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidance on
how employers should approach the situation visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/.
• For a complete list of each state’s COVID-19-related executive orders
visit web.csg.org/covid19/executive-orders/.
• To find out in which states construction is considered essential
visit www.constructconnect.com/covid-19-construction-activity-report.
• For a look at seven maps that outline how each state is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic visit www.politico.com/news/2020/03/24/coronavirus-state-response-maps-146144.
• For an overview of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights and how much leave/pay employers should grant impacted employees visit www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave.
• For the full Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES
Act), which includes information about government aid for small businesses and individuals visit www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr748/BILLS-116hr748enr.pdf.
• For the U.S. Small Business Administration’s guidance on loan resources for small businesses and information about the paycheck protection program visit www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources.
• For the Associated General Contractors of America’s COVID-19 resource page visit www.agc.org/coronavirus.
• For the National Association of Manufacturers survey of its member companies on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak to manufacturers visit www.nam.org/coronasurvey/.

Glimmers of Light, Hope and Joy

“My grandkids think they are out of school because the school ran out of toilet paper!”
—Vickie Stewart, Stewart Glass & Mirror Inc.

“What our sales owners wear when working from home is a far cry from being the professional looking group they resemble when they are calling on customers.” —Dan Reinhart

“An employee sneezed and the client ran away and hid (the pollen count in Houston is at an extreme high level).”
—Scott Eaton, Freebird Glass Inc

Giving Back

“We are helping the community where we can by asking local authorities where we can lend a hand or help build needed structures. People have gone above and beyond their already busy lives to take the time to help  others … Our parent company Saint-Gobain
has already donated protective equipment such as masks, gloves, goggles and gowns, we  are working collectively to come up with more ideas on what to donate  in time, materials or manufacturing to help globally.”
– Ryan Park, SageGlass

“We’re very excited to be partnering with our 3-D print supplier to use our printer to manufacture personal protective face shields for first responders and medical personnel on the front line.”
– Casey Mahon, St. Cloud Windows

“We are donating our available inventory of medical and industrial grade gloves, masks and protective eyewear to first responders and medical facilities. The facilities that have received our donations are in the neighborhoods where the CRL team lives and works … the products we make to keep the construction industry safe each day are now providing a valuable resource for medical  professionals and first responders.”
– Barbara Haaksma, CRL

HAVE YOU HEARD?

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