Veka North America president and CEO Joe Peilert occupied a unique position at this year’s Fensterbau trade show, which was held last week in Nuremberg, Germany. He’s a German native who has been running the North American operations of a major German business for about eight years now. That gives him unique insights into the markets on both sides of the Atlantic. DWM sat down with Peilert for a chat in Veka’s huge 11,000-square-foot booth at Fensterbau.

Joe Peilert.

Q: What are your impressions of Fensterbau this year?

A: The show has been tremendous. I think the traffic is greater than we saw two years ago. What I like particularly is that this is a marketplace for ideas. It draws people from every different part of our industry, and we’re getting together here to share ideas and see how we can move the industry forward. That’s really exciting to me.

Q: What are some of the product trends you’re seeing here that are new or different?

A: I think what’s really an encouraging trend is we are looking way beyond who can produce the cheapest window. That is important. What we’re focusing here on is what we can do to differentiate our customers in terms of design, colors and home-automation features. It can’t be a race to the bottom line. We’ve got to innovate and provide differentiation and create excitement for windows. You can’t achieve that by just focusing on who can make the cheapest window. The product inquiries we’re getting are looking more toward higher-featured windows. That’s where you can show a lot of your innovative strengths. That’s a healthy trend for the industry. I think the new generation of buyers is looking for differentiation. That provides a lot of opportunities for our industry.

Q: Tell us about workforce development.

A: Fensterbau is the perfect place to talk about this, because what we’re doing in the U.S. is part of our Global Schooling Initiative. We realize that education and knowledge are going to be the springboard for innovation and sustainable success for us. The German apprenticeship program is one of the reasons why this country has been very successful at manufacturing. They have this multi-year approach to combine external schooling with internal development.

Q: Can this catch on in the U.S.?

A: I think it is catching on, actually. Veka in Western Pennsylvania is associated with the German-American Chamber of Commerce. We are a pilot company that is developing this, and what is really exciting is that people who go through the apprenticeship program now get state recognition. This is a certificate that has meaning, so it’s a lot easier to win students over, and parents are getting excited about it. It’s a real alternative to pursuing a college degree where you end up in debt at the end and maybe have a hard time finding a job in the field you studied in.

Q: What can you tell us about Veka’s new plant in North Carolina?

A: We closed on the deal on March 7, so now the real work starts. We are converting the existing plant into an extrusion facility. We anticipate that we will be in production by the third quarter. That’s an aggressive timetable, but with the resources we have, we feel comfortable we can achieve that.

Q: What are some challenges in the U.S. market beyond labor?

A: Labor-cost pressures are there and material costs are increasing, but yet it’s still a highly competitive market. We are really focusing on internal efficiencies to make sure we are staying competitive. That means you have to compensate for a lot of increases that are outside of your control.

Q: Will the recent tariffs enacted by the White House affect your business?

A: No. The impact will be minimal. We’re 98 percent U.S.-produced. That’s actually something we’re very proud of.

Q: What about new tax laws?

A: I think that this year, more so than in prior years, we’re going to see more consolidations and more acquisitions and mergers. We already started off the year with a bang with the Ply Gem-Atrium merger, and I think we’re going to see more of that this year. It’s going to be a very dynamic year. One of the great things about being a family-owned company is that we will always be a strategic investor. We will acquire when it makes good sense. We are not necessarily forced to jump on something because a tax window opens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *