A recent blog post by my old colleague Jim Plavecsky caught my eye earlier this month. In the piece, which is specific to the residential side of our industry, he writes: “Many of my customers were still so busy at the end of the year that they had to forego their annual plant shutdowns. This is a ‘good news – bad news’ scenario. The good news is: They were so busy they could not afford to shut down their plants. The bad news is: They could not afford to not shut down their plants!”
Jim goes on to highlight the importance of preventative maintenance for window and door manufacturers and the benefits it can bring to a business. While the commercial side of the fenestration industry hasn’t experienced the huge demand spikes residential has witnessed, the message remains an important one: Taking time to shore up your manufacturing process and address any maintenance issues is critical to success.
This got me thinking about some of other ways that commercial glass pros can strengthen their businesses and operations during slower periods or when demand softens. Here are a few of them:
Take time for training. We all know how difficult it is to find labor right now—that makes it especially important to equip the people you do have with the right skills to do the job. Periods of slower production are a good opportunity to do so.
But as we continue to grapple with the pandemic, investing in training opportunities is easier said than done. Many plants continue to limit visitors, for good reason, making it impractical if not impossible to bring in trainers.
Unprecedented times call for creativity. Consider virtual training options if available from your suppliers, which can be an effective alternative. And while it is no true substitute for hands-on, in-person training, it can potentially be more efficient. A virtual training session that lasts a few hours—perhaps over a provided lunch—can pay dividends later during busier periods.
Strengthen your health and safety protocols. One reason the labor shortage has become more pronounced throughout the pandemic is worker hesitancy to enter what they might perceive as an unsafe working environment. As such, our current conditions have made workplace safety a competitive advantage.
This of course means more than paying lip service to the guidelines that are available for manufacturers. Making sure that you are walking the walk when it comes to pandemic-related protocols, as well as all other safety measures, can go a long way to keep up employee morale and potentially help bring in new hires who are confident you have their health and safety prioritized.
Stay with what works. Our industry moves in cycles. Certain scenarios can require a bit of belt-tightening. However, if we look at where our industry has been recently—and where we’re likely headed—it’s easy to identify one area we can’t compromise. High quality component products are essential to making reliable, durable and high-performing glass and glazing. Cutting costs or corners here is not a viable strategy.
We’ve seen building codes become increasingly stringent when it comes to thermal performance all around the country as broad sustainability and energy goals become more mainstream. Consider some of the new policy proposals from President Joe Biden, as noted recently in this USGNN™ article:
Among the most ambitious goals put forth under the Biden presidency is ensuring that the U.S. derives 100% of its energy needs from clean energy and achieves net-zero emissions no later than 2050. There is a great deal of discussion in the Biden platform of solutions to this goal that don’t include glass, including concepts like appliance efficiency and on-site clean power generation. One Biden proposal does call for weatherizing 2 million homes over four years and singles out more efficient windows as a key solution. Given their central role in determining the energy efficiency of homes and buildings, we will hope that fenestration products receive stronger billing when these energy efficiency policies are actually enacted.
Another building related proposal includes tightening and unifying building codes around energy efficiency. Fenestration manufacturers that improve products in order to meet tougher codes would benefit most if those codes were uniformly enforced everywhere.
Whether or not these proposals make it into actual legislation or regulation remain to be seen, but they make clear the kind of perspective the new administration has toward greater sustainability. We know that glass and glazing play critical roles when it comes to creating highly efficient buildings. Continuing to choose necessary high-performing products will be essential to our collective success throughout this year and beyond.
These are just a few strategies that can contribute to a stronger business in 2021. I hope your year has gotten off to a good start!
Joe Erb is commercial sales specialist for Quanex Building Products.