Is it just me, or is January the best time of the year for sales calls?

Sure, it’s a real pain to travel in January when the weather is at its worst, but if you sit down with a door and window fabricator this month, you’re often rewarded with a much more relaxed and contemplative customer or prospect. Think back to the sales calls made during the recent busy months, and you might recall harried visits of much shorter duration. Customers had a lot on their minds, such as getting production out the door.

However, in January, with the seasonal decline typical of the fenestration industry, door and window fabricators have more time to discuss where their business is headed and what challenges they face in the year ahead. They’re much more open to change. There is definitely a breathing-room factor at play.

What’s in Demand

So what are the expectations, fears and challenges for the year ahead? The expectations are for solid growth. The single-family housing market is expected to grow much faster in 2015 while the multifamily market is also expected to stay strong, with total starts edging back up to the million mark. The market is still heavily influenced by multifamily, however, which affects both product mix as well as average selling price. Five years ago, the multifamily market was a fifth of the total housing market, whereas this year it’s expected to be about a third. At any rate, demand is looking good, right?

Now for Supply

But what about supply? This is where the fear factor is in play. There’s a real fear of a glass shortage. Everyone knows that glass suppliers significantly reduced capacity when the great downturn occurred, and everyone also knows that rebuilding this capacity involves a huge capital outlay. Therein lies the problem. Rebuilding float glass capacity doesn’t happen overnight. Not only is there fear of a glass shortage, but it also translates to the logistics part of the business. The trucking industry is also going to be stretched thin.

The same concept applies for the labor pool. As the housing industry recovers, many door and window companies will look to add skilled laborers, but they’ll face the “lack of experience” factor. During the downturn, many experienced door and window workers left the industry for other types of jobs, and many are not coming back. We’ve seen this same phenomenon with window installers, who are currently in very short supply. This means our industry faces a considerable training issue as the market rebounds. We will have to rebuild the average experience level of our workforce, and this also doesn’t occur overnight. Yes, training will be a challenge. This will, in turn, put much more stress on the quality assurance part of the business. The domino effect translates to challenges in every aspect of the operations side of the business.

Another factor coming into play is the need to modernize equipment and production software. During the downturn, many door and window fabricators put off purchases of new equipment and software. The trend was to keep the old equipment running for as long as possible. If replacements were absolutely necessary, there was plenty of used equipment to be found. One only needed to wait for the next window company to close and then workable equipment could be purchased, often for pennies on the dollar.

Those days are over.

The supply of used equipment is drying up. With the recent advances made in output per man hour, new equipment is back in vogue. And guess what? If you still have a glass optimizer running on Windows XP, you’re putting production at risk. It’s time to modernize.

One particular trend I’m seeing is the desire for new glass optimizers built with edge deletion heads mounted on the bridge. This is due to the exceptionally strong demand for high-performance low-e coatings fueled by more stringent energy standards such as Energy Star 6 and 7, coming in a few years.

Yes, door and window fabricators are contemplating all of these factors. On one side, they’re excited as they look ahead at this upcoming hill—the demand curve— but at the same time, they’re thinking about the challenges they face when it comes to climbing that hill faster than their competitors.

Yes, it’s quite a refreshing view of the horizon. A very refreshing view indeed.

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