Architects Guide to Glass, USGlass

New Year’s Predictions

Welcome to 2015! It didn’t seem that long ago that we were all hoarding water and paying software consultants to get ready for Y2K. And now, here we are, a very quick 15 years later. It’s hard to predict what the future will bring, but I am going to try.

Predictions are based on perspective. What is even more amazing than how fast the last 15 years went is that a full 20 percent of the current U.S. population wasn’t even born by the year 2000—and that there are many parts of the world where that number is much higher. Nearly half (a full 46 percent) of Afghanistan’s population is under 15.

The disparity between the perceptions of those who are older versus younger continues to increase. Look at the differences in the glass industry today versus 15 years ago, let alone 20 or 30 years. Our industry evolves in starts-and-stops and will continue to do so. Here are some things I’d watch for this coming year:

  1. The rise of mega fabricators will continue. By dividing into a nation of super fabricators that specialize in and control certain types of glass, and small local fabricators that concentrate more on the commodity model of glass, our industry will continue to bleed its “middle class fabricators”—those with a strong regional presence and wide variety of inventory. They will continue to feel heat from the super fabricators and the smaller fabricators and, with the exception of the heavily populated major metropolitan areas, it will become challenging for them to remain in business, though the savvy ones will.
  2. It’s going to get worse before it gets better—in a number of areas, that is. These include lead times and the availability of certain types of glass, as well as access to jobs that follow a conventional bidding process. Also continuing for the time being is the consultative grip that a handful of forward-thinking glazing contractors have that allows them to be part of the process, before the final project is even drawn. Technology will continue to advance in such a way that the process will eventually open again, but only to certain companies.
  3. You’ll need “more” to be one of those successful contract glazing companies. In this case, “more” means advanced engineering and estimating capabilities, and the ability to undertake and communicate through BIM, as well as an ability to install photovoltaic, dynamic and other types of new glasses. This requires more training and additional capabilities. If I were a contract glazier who won the lottery, I’d hire more estimator/engineers, BIM trainers and electricians—yes, electricians–or you are going to be donating out your profit to the electrical companies you’ll need to complete your job.
  4. Those who can’t will do labor-only. Those who can’t provide the types of services I mentioned in #3 will evolve into small local storefront dealers and/or do more work on a labor-only subcontract basis. Labor-only used to be a quiet secret, but in this age of Internet RFPs, disintermediation and uber-models, providing the labor only comes out of the shadows and offers some great opportunity for high-quality installation companies.
  5. International influence will increase. I know I say this just about every year, so I will explain. I believe that by the end of the year, we will see at least two large international glass suppliers that have had a cursory presence in North America increase that presence significantly and change the way all primaries do business here.

Change is never without bumps, and most times, it’s exciting and scary at the same time—a knife with two sharps—as the Spanish would say. But it is always interesting to cover, and we plan on doing just that throughout the year. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the changes you expect in the way you do business. Please drop me a note and let me know.

And Happy New Year to all! May your 2015 be healthy and successful. And if you already know that 2015 will be a tougher year than 2014, because of illness or loss or other circumstance, I wish you comfort, peace and prayers.