Double duty

Storefront and entrance suppliers sell to architects and glaziers
Katy Devlin
June 10, 2009
COMMERCIAL : METALS

The JQH Arena, Springfield, Mo., features and entrance system from Efco Corp., Monett, Mo., with customized hardware for a high-volume application. Photo by Efco Corp.

To best serve architects and contract glaziers, storefront and entrance system suppliers must be able to:

  • Compete on cost
  • Provide high-quality, durable products
  • Offer products that meet performance requirements
  • Provide products that meet safety other building code requirements
  • Have a knowledgeable support staff
  • Develop close relationships with customers
  • Delivery products on time
  • Quickly and accurately match paints and finishes.

Architects expect a lot from their storefront and entrance products: durability, aesthetics, performance and low price.

“In this economy, architects are looking for a high-quality product that is competitively priced,” says Jason Prine, marketing product manager for curtain wall, storefront and entrances, for Efco, a Pella Company, Monett, Mo. “Architects want doors that have an exceptional level of durability and performance, are easily maintained and meet [American with Disabilities Act] requirements. These products will also need to meet high levels of water performance, be easily installed … and be able to meet and exceed the standards of sustainability.”

Tom Harris, president, Oldcastle Glass Engineered Products U.S., Santa Monica, Calif., says that architects also look for suppliers that they trust to know the changing code and standard requirements and have the most up-to-date products. “Architects want systems that are tested and supported by knowledgeable people and materials, such as installation manuals. Storefronts have changed over the past 10 years. Today, storefronts may require hurricane impact testing, thermal performance or even bomb blast testing,” he says. “Architects look for suppliers that can meet all these needs, [and] Oldcastle Glass has taken all the necessary steps to satisfy all of these requirements.”

Harris said a company’s history and experience in the industry also is important. “Entrances are usually a major component of storefront installation, a history in the business is important to demonstrate experience and know-how. Since the architect has a responsibility to protect his client, all of these factors validate the architect’s product selection with his client.”

Architects want functionality and aesthetics, with all glazing products, said Robin Randall, vice president, marketing, Traco, Cranberry Township, Pa. “They want clean sightlines, good hardware and good, solid operation,” she says. “Architects care about aesthetics, but they are also very concerned about functionality, as are the owner, developer and general contractor.” To meet functionality demands, Traco has been developing entrance products that allow for easy operation, Randall says. The company offers products with motion sensors, and doors that open easily with a small turn of the handle.

However, architects aren’t the only players storefront system manufacturers need to woo. Contract glaziers are often the decision makers when it comes to which systems to use on a project. When specifications include phrases such as “or approved equal” when it comes to storefront and entrance products, contract glaziers get to make the call.

“Here are [Trainor Glass Co., Alsip, Ill.], we love to see ‘or approved equal,’ and other phrases of the kind, in specifications. This allows us to use our vendor network to find the highest value system for the customer and architect,” says Mike Tracy, business development, Trainor Glass.

Suppliers need to be able to keep costs down for the contract glaziers, too, but they also need to compete on speed and availability.

Randall says the main reasons a contract glazier or dealer will switch storefront suppliers are: they need to cut their costs even more, or the original supplier couldn’t deliver on time. “We often hear customers say they have two manufacturers for the same project,” she says. “A lot of times [glaziers or dealers] have to go to a different source [than the curtain wall] for the storefront products, and the primary reason is price. The secondary reason is because the original manufacturer didn’t have the product.”

Short lead times are important for any product type, but it is crucial for storefront, says Mike Turner, vice president of marketing for YKK AP, Austell, Ga. “The important thing for manufacturers is to consistently provide the material quickly,” he says. “Storefront is required in a fast turnaround. Usually the contract glazier is pushed to finish their part. They don’t get as much time as the other trades, so they need shorter lead times.”

“The most trouble we had recently in a project was with the delivery time from the vendor,” says Alvaro Correa, project manager, West Tampa Glass, Fla. “We were promised a delivery time of four weeks, and it went up to eight weeks with no notice. Explaining this to the [general contractor] was not easy.”

Harris says Oldcastle Glass has 23 locations nationwide that stock storefront systems. “With today’s storefronts, not all storefront systems are off the shelf, yet quick delivery is a requirement,” he says. “Oldcastle Glass is vertically integrated with extrusion and finishing capabilities that allow a quick response to special profiles and finishes.”

Suppliers also need to be able to deliver custom systems swiftly, Harris says. “Custom, rather than stock, entrances are the norm today. Almost all of the Oldcastle Glass locations have custom door fabrication capacity, and those that don’t are supported with a nearby facility that does have this capacity,” he says.

Contract glaziers not only need the products quickly, they also need replacement pieces, and paint and finish matches in short order. Tracy says finding the right color match is particularly an issue when Trainor is working on an existing building. “Most challenges arise from trying to match existing colors, finishes and metal profiles with new products,” he says. “In Chicago, many buildings can be more than 100 years old, and it takes solid, long-term relationships with vendors and fabricators that Trainor Glass has to get the job done right the first time.”

Tracy say the Palmer House Hilton project in Chicago presented many of these challenges, as Trainor Glass needed to match existing 100-year-old storefront finishes on the interior and the exterior. “The historic classification of the building, coupled with the high profile site gave us an opportunity to showcase the abilities of our vendor network, project management team and field installers,” he says. “Most of the metal pieces on the job were custom fabricated and custom installed, with a result that was on time and under budget.”

Labor affects both installation speed and pricing. If a product can be installed quickly and easily, glaziers require less time on site. Most manufacturers provide the stock lengths to glaziers, and glaziers do as much pre-fabrication as possible before going on site. Tracy says Trainor Glass does as much work in the plant as possible before going on site. “We unitize our frames. We cut our materials, do all the necessary prep work, caulk and glaze the frames in the plant,” he says.

“The advantage of in-house fabrication,” Correa says, “is that we can control it to offer a better quality assurance following our established procedures and have a better response when a problem arises in the field. Generally, field dimensioning is big on storefront projects since the openings are not guaranteed. So, having control and rapid response from the fabrication crew gives you piece of mind.”

Tracy says Trainor Glass also uses its pre-fabrication to load the product in the order it will be installed on site. “Installers know exactly what opening and in what order all of the frames go,” he says.

Numerous factors play a role when contract glaziers have a choice of supplier. But, relationships and past experience can be the final decision maker. If a contract glazier knows a company, trusts their products, knows where they can go for assistance and knows they will get assistance quickly, they will be more likely to look to that manufacturer first for products. Suppliers need to be able to provide prompt and thorough custom service to contract glaziers and dealers.

“A knowledgeable sales organization and customer support personnel within the facilities are important factors to the glaziers/dealers,” Harris says.

Prine agrees. “With strategically located service centers and a dedicated independent sales organization to take Efco products to market, we rely on excellent customer service, along with an expanding and comprehensive product line,” he says.

Katy Devlin is senior editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at kdevlin@glass.org.