Glaziers Speak Out: Working Through an Economic Slowdown

Some economists are predicting an economic downtown is expected to hit the United States within two to three years and will impact glass and glazing companies across the board, affecting all regions of the country and all markets.

Individuals interviewed for this report aren't worried. They say an economic downturn is just one of the many challenges they face in this industry. While they may not have control over the economy they do have control over how they operate their business. All have diversified their operations and continue to apply strategies to improve their reputation and operating efficiency in order to compete and survive in any market condition.

Gary Yamashita, president of Tri-City Glass a full service glass shop based in Carson, Calif., knows just what to do in an economic slowdown. "As a full service shop, we have a number of divisions [auto, residential, commercial, film] that bring in work from the various market segments," says Yamashita, whose company has been in business just outside of Los Angeles for more than 30 years. "When a slowdown occurs in one segment of the market we step it up in another. When new construction and remodeling opportunities dwindle we shift our mode to service work. When the rainy season hits here and work dries up, we send our estimators out to quote for reseal work on area high-rise buildings."

Yamashita also takes on the mid-size jobs that larger companies don't want and smaller companies can't handle. "Mid-size jobs [$30,000 - $40,000] have a way of growing into larger jobs [$80,000-$90,000] with all the change orders that occur over the course of the project," Yamashita points out. "The diversity of our operations and the caliber of our staff are benefits but being flexible and able to refocus our talent to areas of need also helps keep a steady stream of work no matter what changes are taking place in the economy."

Like Tri-City Glass, being diversified has also helped Lakeway Door and Glass weather the ups and downs in the industry. In business for nearly 20 years, the company based in Morristown, Tenn., works on projects from Texas to the East Coast.

"We have built up a solid reputation for our workmanship and this brings in plenty of opportunities," says Russ Keller, president of the mid-size contract glazing company. "We aren't the cheapest on the block and our customers pay a competitive wage for the quality, dependable and professional work we provide. For example, a long-term customer in Fort Myers, Fla. has another project for us and we will be heading there for a couple of weeks to install glass and a storefront. As a matter of fact, about 80 percent of our business comes from existing customers. I think that also makes a difference especially when the industry tightens up. Overall, having diverse operations, a good reputation and being in a position to travel helps offset the decline in business during an economic downturn."

Admire Glass' Bob Rodriquez is in a unique situation. As a sole proprietor serving the greater southern San Diego area, Rodriquez is able to get by in the lean times while enjoying the fruits of his labor when work is robust. "As a one man shop, my overhead is low and when the economy takes a downward turn, I exercise self-control and discretionary spending by buying only what I need when I need it," says Rodriquez, who has had his own business for 16 years and been in the industry for nearly 35. "I have also diversified my operations so I am able to keep a steady workload."

For example, Rodriguez hasn't replaced a windshield in over a month but he has been very busy with mirrors and tabletops. Rodriguez also credits the fact that he is bi-lingual as being a key in serving the large Hispanic customer base in his neighborhood.

"We have developed a business mix of remodels and new construction work," says Susan Stevens, who along with her husband, Scott, own and operate SGS Glass, a small glazing contractor, based in Kent, Wash. "This, along with cultivating strong relationships with our core customers, helps keep the work flowing in."

"Being versatile definitely has been a plus for our business," says Anita Scheidler about Scheidler Glass, the company she co-owns along with her husband, Dan. The business, a full, complete glass service in Greensburg, Ind., turns 20 this month. "A key to our longevity and weathering the cyclical nature of our industry has been that we continue to add products and services to our operation," says Scheidler. "We install residential, commercial and auto glass. We cut and edge glass and mirrors and our custom framing department stays very busy, especially during the winter months, when the glass work traditionally slows for a few months."

"We do not lay our people off no matter what," she continued. "When times slow we take that opportunity to go through our equipment and make repairs, take inventory, cut mirrors, re-stock product, service, wash, wax and detail our vehicles, get our office and operations organized and prepare for when work will pick up in the spring. Recently, we added another division, a wood shop, where we specialize in sawing, cutting, drying and producing wood moldings. This has been going great and brings in additional revenue all year round."

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