A Short Take on Shortages

Responsible organizations such as ours are very careful when covering reports of problems in supply chains or scarcities. Get it wrong and you’ve most likely helped create one. (The long-ago Tonight Show host Johnny Carson is generally blamed for starting the great toilet paper shortage of 1973 when he joked about a non-existent one, thereby inciting one.) Pass on reporting on shortages and you’ve kept information your audience needs from them. Questions about deficiencies often come up, and they are being asked in abundance now. Here’s how I answer them.

Actual glass shortages are rare. Float lines run 24/7 and, absent a catastrophe or epic fail, their removals from service are planned and announced in advance. Shortages of fabricated glass are also rare, although more often caused by the scarcity of a material used in manufacturing rather than glass itself. If someone told me, for example, there was a shortage of mirror, I’d be more likely to look for a shortage of silver nitrate, rather than of float glass itself.

Shortages of glass on a local level are often the result of “Acts of God” such as weather events or so-called “force majeure” reasons such as violence or terrorism.

The COVID-19 pandemic checks both those boxes, but has it created a shortage of glass? The use of glass for dividers, sneeze guards and other infection mitigation devices increased as the pandemic grew. This was coupled with the need for replacement glass in locations were protests and rioting occurred this past year, leading some parts of the country to have a longer-than-usual lead time to get glass. But was there a shortage?

After conversations with a number of people, I formed my own opinion. To paraphrase a former U.S. president, “it depends on what your definition of ‘shortage’ means.” If shortage means the inability of supply to meet demand, then the answer is “no.” But if shortage means the inability of supply to be where the demand is, then the answer is “maybe.”

The movement of said glass has become the issue. Services such as UPS and FedEx have been overwhelmed by the volume of freight they are moving right now. COVID has impacted the number of truck drivers on the road as it has all professions. And offshore shipments arriving at docks have been delayed or slowed significantly.

Is there a shortage of laminated glass, for example? No. But there may be a deficiency in ability to get said laminated glass to customers, especially to those buying from some offshore sources.

If it’s difficult to get certain materials in your area, please drop me a note and we will follow up. Rumors of shortages are often just that—rumors that disappear once investigated. We are happy to do that investigation.