The Current Situation: How We Got Here, and the Path Forward

By Nick St. Denis

2022 has been an interesting one for the architectural glass and glazing industry. It’s included mixed messages from leading indicators and forecasts, abrupt material price spikes, shifts in demand from sector to sector, and much more.

When I started in this industry about nine years ago (as an assistant editor of this very magazine). We were amidst a strong and steady construction recovery, with seemingly no end in sight. During those first several years in the mid-2010s, after taking a liking to the market insights and economics side of the business, I was given the opportunity to expand on this interest. It was then we founded the glass and glazing industry-focused research division for what is now Key Media & Research (KMR), the parent company of USGlass magazine.

Early in that venture, things were relatively straightforward. “Construction was strong last year. This year, it could be even better.” That was easy news to break. Over the past several years, things have not been as stable, with the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy— followed by supply chain chaos and shortages in materials and labor.

Despite the recent volatility, the industry has mostly remained resilient.

Maintaining Perspective

In the early years following the Great Recession, business leaders on all sides—from manufacturing and fabrication to the glazing contractors and glass shops—preached level-headedness. They learned a lot from the late 2000s, and weren’t about to let their guard down amidst a near decade-long period of expansion. So even when something as unexpected as a global pandemic dropped on a thriving economy, the industry was as prepared as one could hope.

Through the 2010s, businesses in the glass industry did everything but stand still. Manufacturers became leaner, more productive and efficient. Fabricators invested in machinery to meet the future demand for emerging products. Suppliers identified specific geographic markets that were under-served. Glazing contractors diversified by addressing a broader range of building sectors and project types.

This allowed the industry to adapt to a changing market. When commercial building activity slowed during the pandemic-induced recession, single-family and multifamily residential construction boomed. At the same time, while the hotel sector took a beating, the healthcare segment emerged. In areas where new construction prospects started to wane, there was an opportunity for renovation and retrofit work. The most-prepared suppliers and contractors were able to shift gears on the fly.

Ready for Battle

Looking ahead, challenges loom. Drastic cost increases in flat glass and architectural metals shocked many industry firms earlier this year, and recession uncertainty has raised questions about whether construction starts can sustain their elevated levels. Glass- and glazing-related construction spending, according to KMR’s proprietary models, continues to strengthen year-over-year. However, the rate of increase is behind the rate of inflation related to glass and glazing construction materials. This suggests actual volume is moderating.

Industry stakeholders should remain diligent in keeping ahead of trends and maintaining diversified offerings in products and services to zig and zag as the construction economy takes on the inevitable hurdles.

Fortunately, this sector is as prepared as any based on what we’ve seen from glass and glazing professionals over the past decade.

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.

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