Coming Up Short: Supply Chain Challenges Affect Glass Trucks and Handling

Price increases on everything from raw materials to fuel, lack of materials and labor shortages have taken a toll on companies across all industries, including glass and glazing. For some, simply getting a product from point A to point B has not been easy, even for those in glass handling and shipping.

The Ups and Downs of Reality

“It’s been the hot topic in our business and, in general, in our industry, for a while now,” says Amber Deimler, vice president of sales for MyGlassTruck in Glassboro, N.J. “You couldn’t really have a conversation without supply chain [concerns].”

One of these concerns for transportation and shipping companies has been the shortage in microchips.

Deimler says most of her company’s customers need vehicles in order to purchase and install product from MyGlassTruck. “I think the first [concern] has been for our customers: they need vehicles.”

John Weise, president of F. Barkow Inc. in Milwaukee, agrees this has been a problem for both his company and customers. He says the manufacture of new vehicles has slowed down. And while some vehicles are finished, they are still waiting for microchips that are built overseas.

Weise adds that in the past, truck dealers would have hundreds of trucks in their inventory. Right now, however, they may have 30 trucks, but they’re sold. “We’re feeling it just like most business people are feeling it,” he says, explaining the slowdown of supplies and the increase of prices are affecting everyone.

As a result of these challenges, Deimler says, they’ve seen customers start buying used vehicles because of the lack of new ones. “We’ve had to make some adjustments,” Deimler says. “It’s been a really good opportunity for us to revisit those [old] vehicle models,” she says, explaining this drove them to start exploring whether they could make their products for older vehicles better.

Supplies Down, Prices Up

Building new racks and carriers, however, brings its own obstacles. These products typically are made from aluminum, and while the material hasn’t been in short supply, it has seen significant price increases.

“That obviously, drives the price up,” Deimler says. “It’s no small feat.”

F. Barkow Inc. also uses raw materials such as aluminum, stainless steel and rubber in its products, and has also been impacted by escalating prices. Weise says a year ago the company paid $4.50 per linear foot for materials. Now it pays $17 per foot. “I tell people, ‘please don’t shoot the messenger, but the price is way up.’”

“It’s pretty normal now,” says Brad Wixson, co-owner of Skip’s Petoskey Glass in Petoskey, Mich., which has worked with F. Barkow since 1992. “Everything is back ordered for at least weeks if not months now.”

Wixson says his customers are not happy, but all he can do is explain the situation. “It’s [the lack of supplies] drawing the jobs out for a lot longer than they should be. It’s making a lot of our customers angry with us, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The supply chain issues are in addition to the labor challenges, Wixson adds. “I just don’t see much of what we can do,” he says.

Protective Measures

Deimler says that connecting customers with other resources has helped her company navigate these challenges, as well as “really getting creative with our partnerships.” She says the company uses its time and resources to stay knowledgeable about these issues. “So, then, we can have a good conversation with our customers.”

She says they also look at pricing for each product regularly, as well as on a per project basis. Factors affecting a company’s pricing are changing daily, she explains, and the company’s pricing for customers must reflect those changes.

Staying focused on customer and vendor relationships is also a must.

“We won’t cut corners,” Weise says, adding that his company has not slowed down and no employees have been laid off. The company continues its tradition of good customer service, such as giving a customer a lift from the airport to see the truck they ordered. Then the customer drives the truck home. “We’ve always [focused] on strong customer service,” says Weise.

Working with multiple vendors, including three different aluminum mills, has also helped F. Barkow. “If we can’t get material, we’re out of business, so we have to improvise a little bit.”

Wixson says his company buys extra product when possible, but predicting the needs of customers is difficult.

Reflections on the Times

Innovation is the answer when businesses face challenges. New ideas and ways of doing business are helping companies get through unexpected challenges.

“We, as a company, feel these challenges have only made us stronger,” Deimler says. After 32 years in business, MyGlassTruck has had “a fantastic year” despite the pandemic continuing and the supply chain disruptions.

Wixson says he keeps hearing the supply chain challenges will improve. “Right now, I’m not seeing any changes in it.” In fact, some of his suppliers are telling him the challenges will continue for much longer. “It is what it is. We just have to try to work through it.”

Weise says that business is okay, but margins are down. He’s been told inflation will be transitory, but doesn’t believe that.

“We are surviving. We’re doing okay, but I think we live in pretty scary times,” Weise says.

Rebecca J. Barnabi is a special projects editor for USGlass magazine. Email her at rbarnabi@glass.com.

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