Checking in with the Fabricators: Glass Suppliers’ Outlook Heading into 2023

By Nick St. Denis

It’s the time of year that we conduct substantial research on the glass and glazing industry to get a read on prospects for the year ahead. As you’ll see in the first several issues of the magazine each year, there is a focus on sentiment among glazing contractors, with our annual Industry Outlook reports and the Top Glazier articles coming fresh out of the USGlass oven.

We don’t forget about the fabricators’ views, either. That is our focus here.

We recently surveyed several dozen glass fabricators throughout North America to get their perspective on the outlook for the next 12 months. Expectations are very strong among fabricators, with nearly two-thirds anticipating an increase in sales in 2023 compared to 2022—a majority of whom expect an increase of 10% or more.

A share of the growth can be attributed to improved pricing. Supplier costs across the board—and notably in flat glass—saw significant spikes in 2022, so those are being passed along. That aside, most expect, from a sheer volume standpoint, demand would stagnate or decrease for glass in nonresidential construction project starts during 2023. This seemed to be a reasonable hypothesis, given the overarching commentary surrounding the
construction industry.

Based on the best available data, that’s not necessarily the case in our corner of the construction industry. There had been a massive expansion of manufacturing and warehouse space over the past two years, which is likely to slow down (at least temporarily) in 2023 and could be responsible for a pullback in nonresidential construction. When looking specifically at the most glass-relevant building categories, there is still room for growth. Commercial sectors such as office, lodging and retail, and institutional categories such as educational and healthcare, collectively show signs of continued expansion. More detail is available on that on page 36.

Now, getting back to the fabricators. While the outlook is positive in the near future, fabricators do have some major concerns. The largest one (and one that has been chief among both fabricators and glazing contractors for the past decade) is the labor shortage. Long-time experienced employees continue to retirine, and fabricators, like many manufacturing and industrial-type businesses, are having difficulty passing their valuable knowledge and skillsets to the next generation. General concerns of inflation and the supply of materials also plague the industry, though these should dissipate to some degree in the year ahead.

There has been a theme of cautious optimism the past two years, and really for most years since the great recession aside from the depths of the COVID pandemic.

And while this time it is coming as economists warn of a potential recession in 2023 or 2024, experts can’t pinpoint how severe it may be nor the exact timing. So until then, it’s business as usual for glass fabricators.

Nick St. Denis is the director of Research for Key Media & Research (KMR), parent company of USGlass magazine. To subscribe to his free Glass and Glazing Quarterly Review report, or for any other research-related inquiries, email nstdenis@glass.com.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.