Read news from the convention in the May 20 issue of e-glass weekly.
The swanky swag bags of lavish jewels, cutting-edge gadgets and trip vouchers from the Hollywood awards shows can easily top $40,000 in value (celebs must pay taxes on these high-priced “gifts” since an IRS cracked down in 2006, according to E! Online).
While there were a few flat-screen TV and iPod giveaways, as well as a car raffle during the AIA Convention last week, the giveaways on the tradeshow floor were markedly less glamorous than this year’s Oscars. Even so, free is free, and many of the more than 20,000 attendees came home with packed bags of their Boston swag.
Of course, there was an ample selection of lanyards and pens and bags (oh my!), in addition to the expected edible goodies—mints, Jolly Ranchers, chocolates and popcorn. But, in my walk amid the about 800 exhibitor booths, some swag items really caught my eye.
Officials from Edgetech IG, Cambridge, Ohio, took a traditional giveaway and upgraded it with its “Predator Pen.” Thanks to Joe Erb, product manager at Edgetech, for helping us catch the pen in action.
Thermique Technologies, Chicago, provided one of the most popular giveaway items at the show—a plastic construction document tube. One of the other high-demand items was the perpetually filled bowl of Bayer Aspirin packages from Sheffield-Plastics, Sheffield, Mass.
Our booth neighbor, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, Schaumburg, Ill., handed out tape measures, very popular among the architectural crowd. While Linetec, Wausau, Wis., handed out yo-yos, very popular among the Glass Magazine crowd.
Apple Cookie & Chocolate Co., Turtle Creek, Pa., provided one of the more unique swag treats—solid chocolate molded into hard hats, hammers and other construction-related shapes. Stuffed animals were a popular gift, including the Dalmatians from Schott, Elmsford, N.Y. And many companies also gave green. Edgetech, Weyerhaeuser Co., Federal Way, Wash., and several other companies gave trees to plant.
My personal favorite swag item was the fine pair of glasses from Arkema Inc., Philadelphia. Now, be honest, who looks better, Amanda Behnke, the NGA publication department’s special projects coordinator, or me?
With the cost of everything from gasoline to coffee to stamps on the rise, the thought of spending money on retail glass services may be less than appealing to many of today’s consumers. Let’s face it, it’s more fun to spend that economic stimulus check on a new TV than a shower door.
But before you lower prices in an attempt to attract customers, consider the following statement from the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan: “Quality plays a more important role in satisfying customers than price in almost all … industries. Price promotions can be an effective short-term approach to improving [customer] satisfaction, but price cutting is almost never sustainable in the long term.”
Companies that focus on quality tend to fare better over time in the American Customer Satisfaction Index than companies that focus on price, according to the research center.
And it’s OK to charge a premium for that quality service. Higher prices and customer satisfaction are not mutually exclusive.
Take supermarkets, for example. Food prices rose at twice the rate of overall inflation in 2007, yet customer satisfaction with supermarkets reached its highest level in 14 years, according to the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index results.
On the flip side, low-price provider Wal-Mart saw customer satisfaction rates slip to an all-time low in fourth quarter 2007, trailing all other department and discount chains in the ACSI, said Professor Claes Fornell, NQRC director, in his fourth quarter commentary.
“With quality lagging, low price in town is not enough to keep Wal-Mart in the middle of the pack in customer satisfaction," Fornell says.
“As customer satisfaction improves, the demand curve shifts upward, making room for more pricing power," he explains. "It is not that higher prices lead to higher satisfaction, but higher satisfaction makes it possible to charge higher prices."
Officials from Wawa, the 24-hour convenience store that oft served as my temple for midnight cravings during college, upped its coffee prices by 6 cents, according to a May 2 Associated Press report. The cause: rising gas price.
According to the Energy Information Administration, gas prices on April 28 were at about $3.60, up 62 cents compared to last year. Diesel fuel, at $4.18, was up $1.37.
Stamp costs will increase to 42 cents, with fuel costs also to blame, right along with grocery prices—milk prices are up 26 percent and egg prices 40 percent since last year, according to a March 9 article from The Boston Globe.
I finally got over the sticker shock of seeing prices at the pump top $2, then $3 and now at times $4, and now it’s started with my coffee, my stamps, my milk and my eggs, too. Don’t even get me going on the jumps in my subway fares and Zipcar rates.
The industry has been feeling price increases for even longer than I’ve suffered my 6-cent bump in coffee costs. The first three issues of e-glass weekly in June 2006 all contained articles about pricing. Click here for the e-glass weekly archives. Aluminum, in particular, has been on a price rollercoaster.
Mike Petersen, president of Petersen Aluminum in Chicago, told me last week he worries customers will start looking for alternatives because of the high cost for aluminum products; prices for aluminum on the London Metal Exchange have spiked 21 percent since the start of the year. But he added that prices for those alternatives are also on the rise. “Vinyl has gone up just as much,” he said. Read an article in this week’s e-glass weekly to learn more about rising aluminum costs.
The industry has also seen glass prices and fuel surcharges rise, right along with related products including PVB.
How high can gas prices go? And what impact will we feel from the falling dollar?
While these questions are worrisome, the scariest thing about these price increases is that I’ve started saying things like: “Why, when I was a kid, I could go to the movies for $4, send a letter for 25 cents and fill up my parents’ Ford Escort wagon for $10.”
I recently got an e-mail from Todd Lang of Development Counsellors International who offered an interesting bit of info about Toledo, the U.S. city with the 10th fastest population loss since 2000. Home of Pilkington NA, Toledo, is using an old industry—glass—to power a new industry—solar cells.
Lang backed up his statement with the following:
First Solar, a leading solar cell manufacturer in the U.S., has added 365 employees at the Toledo facility in four years. The company’s revenue for the fiscal year ended Dec. 29, 2007, was $504.0 million, up from $135 million in fiscal year 2006. The technology developed in Toledo allows First Solar to sell panels 35 percent lower than the competition, yet maintain a 45 percent profit margin.
Pilkington supplies to First Solar. Two years ago its sales in glass used for solar cells barely registered on the spreadsheet. It is expected to reach 10 percent of overall revenues in the next five years.
The University of Toledo recently devoted more than $20 million to researching solar power and build additional lab space to spur future spin-offs. This is in addition to $3.6 million spent last year to establish The Center for Photovoltaic Energy and Hydrogen.
Xunlight Corp., formerly MWOE Solar Inc., a technology spin-off from UT, received its initial funding of $7 million to produce lightweight and flexible solar cells. The financing was led by Emerald Technology Ventures, a globally active venture capital firm specializing in energy, materials and water technologies along with NGP Energy Technology Partners, an energy technology private equity fund. Xunlight will begin production next year increasing their staff from 18 to 40.
DCI, a privately funded economic development group, is working to establish venture capital funds to assist in building this solar power cluster in NW Ohio. Please write me if you have more to add regarding Toledo’s rejuvenation efforts.
The Mid-Atlantic Glass Expo came to Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt, Md., again April 16.
About 82 exhibitors had table-top displays at the venue. Maureen Heavner, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Glass Association of Buckeystown, Md., reported that 839 people attended the expo, which lasted from 4 to 9 p.m.
This is truly one of the networking and social events each year in this region. The room had the feeling of a Happy Hour as attendees walked the floor, shook hands, won door prizes and had a beverage or two. The free soft pretzels made my night.
The MGA also welcomed nine new members to the floor this year.
With the credit crunch a relevant topic these days, I asked Paul Schodorf of Schodorf Truck Body & Equipment Co., Columbus, Ohio, if he has felt any effect. His company relies on new truck purchases. Schodorf said the slowness he is experiencing is due to the economy in general and not because customers can’t secure credit.
“New trucks nationally follow the economy and, in the case of trucks to haul glass, residential and commercial construction,” Schodorf said. He said the prevalent forces are incredibly weak consumer demand along with the downturn of the housing market and commercial construction.
“In other words, we don't notice people not buying because they can't get credit,” Schodorf said. “Everyone is spending as little as possible.”
Schodorf said his company does accept credit cards for a large percentage of its sales. While the fees are unpleasant, he says, it's quick secure money.
The MGA has two social events upcoming. Its golf tournament is June 25 at Worthington Manor Golf Club in Urbana, Md. The annual crab feast is July 16 in Baltimore. For information, call 301-831-8338 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
People often ask me about the glass industry, and I find myself mentioning tempered glass and low-E glass and decorative glass. A scene from the movie “Forrest Gump” always comes to mind when Forrest meets Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue for the first time on an Army bus. Bubba, in his Southern drawl, goes on about the shrimpin’ business and the many ways you can prepare it. Through ensuing scenes he tells Forrest how you can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it and make shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, etc.
Greg Carney, technical director for the Glass Association of North America, is from Mississippi and has a bit of a Southern drawl himself. He is extremely knowledgeable about glass. I can image Greg striking up a similar conversation: “Glass has been around for thousands of years. You can cut it, shape it, bend it, drill it, paint it. There’s monolithic glass, laminated glass, annealed glass, tempered glass, heat-strengthened glass. You have your decorative glass, channel glass, low-emissivity glass, sand-blasted glass, photovoltaic glass, acid-etch glass, reflective glass, fire-resistant glass, cast glass, ceramic frit glass, dichroic glass, slumped glass, spandrel glass and stained glass.”
I'm sure Greg could keep going.
Before making the jump to the glass industry, I worked at newspapers and at a newspaper Web site. At both places, I had a chance to write about film and do some interesting pieces. One such online project was about movies filmed in Washington, D.C. I also did another feature on journalists in film.
I thought about trying to do a column about glass that is significant in movies, but no specific films jumped to mind. But one scene did.
In “The Lake House” (2006), which features a glass house, Keanu Reeves plays Alex Wyler, an architect in Chicago who has a troubled relationship with his father Simon (Christopher Plummer), a renowned architect. Alex moves into the glass house that was designed by his father and finds a letter from a former tenant, Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock). It just so happens, Alex is living in 2004, but Kate is living in 2006. Yep, only in the movies.
Alex has a meeting with his father, who gives a passionate speech about the use of light in architecture: “You mentioned Meier. His Barcelona museum stands in the same area as Casa de la Caritat. It drinks the same light. Meier designed a series of louvered skylights to capture that light and cast it inward to illuminate the art within, but indirectly. And, that was important, because although light enhances art, it can also degrade it. … Now, come on. You know as well as I do that the light in Barcelona is quite different from the light in Tokyo. And, the light in Tokyo is different from that in Prague. A truly great structure, one that is meant to stand the tests of time never disregards its environment. A serious architect takes that into account. He knows that if he wants presence, he must consult with nature. He must be captivated by the light. Always the light. Always.”
Thanks to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com) for supplying the quote.
The Internet is the place to be to attract new customers. But for the small retail glass shop that doesn’t have a Web site, creating a Web presence can be a daunting task. Here are a few easy and free ways to get your company’s name out there.
MySpace & Facebook: These aren’t just for kids anymore. Reputable businesses on the cutting edge are setting up profiles that explain what their business is and how it can help serve customers’ needs. Make your profile public and it will be indexed by major search engines. It only takes about an hour to create a decent company profile on each of these sites, but they can be as customized and detailed as you want to make them. Think about it as free advertising, and remember to update it often. These sites display the date of your last login; if people see you haven’t checked it in months, they won’t take you seriously.
Blogs: They can be a great tool for any business. There are many blogging sites out there to choose from, and the majority of them are free. The easiest and most widely used tool is blogger, the site you are on now. Go to the top, right-hand corner of your screen and you see the words, “create blog.” Click on that link and it will walk you through all the necessary steps. All simple, all free.
Once you create a blog, the most important thing is to update it as regularly as you can. Once a week is good, once a day is better. However much time you decide to devote to blogging, be sure to set up a regular schedule so that users know when to visit your site for new content.
As far as what you can write on the blog, that’s up to you. If you want to take a more personal, diary-like approach about the goings-on in your company, it can help customers feel like they know you better, trust you, and give you their business. You could also use it to talk about products and services you offer, or examples of installations you may have performed. Another winning idea would be tips to consumers on what different types of glass there are and what kind should be used for which project. Even if you can take five minutes once a day to post a sentence or two, it will be helpful.
Link from your blog to your Facebook and Myspace pages, and search for similar or loosely related blogs out there (you’d be surprised by how many there are), and request that they include a link to your blog on theirs. Add comments and include the URL of your blog. This will all help make your blog and profiles more visible to search engines.
This may not be all you need to connect with customers on the Internet, but it’s a great way to start if you aren’t ready to invest too much time and money.
I don’t make a habit of hugging trees, but I do consider myself an environmentally conscious, green person. I don’t have a car, I live in an apartment with Energy Star windows, I recycle and eat organic, I’m a vegetarian, I use those swirly energy-saving light bulbs. Yet, my estimated carbon footprint still sits about four times higher than the world average.
My greenhouse gas emissions average 20 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Nature Conservancy’s carbon footprint calculator. The U.S. average per person is 27 tons, and the world average is 5.5 tons. Have you calculated your footprint yet? The results might also surprise you.
According to the calculator, about 68 percent of my emissions—or 14 tons of CO2 annually—comes from the driving and flying category, which in my case is almost entirely flying.
I found this number unbelievable, so I went to TerraPass to use their flight emissions calculator. Unfortunately, the Nature Conservancy’s estimate was right on track.
In 2007, the 4,483 mile, round trip flight from New York to Las Vegas for BEC created 1,748 pounds of CO2 emissions. The 8,205 mile, round trip flight from New York to Tampere, Finland, for Glass Performance Days, created 3,142 pounds of CO2 emissions. I added my other industry trips and my own personal travel, and my emissions from flight travel alone actually topped the Nature Conservancy’s estimate of 14 tons. Scary.
I know there are many more folks who travel much more frequently. Since I don’t think the industry is ready to host trade shows and meetings via teleconference, I checked out the Nature Conservancy’s site for some other ways to reduce carbon emissions.
Home energy is the next largest target for emissions reductions. According to the Web site, reducing the use of heat and air conditioning, unplugging appliances when they’re not in use and cutting hot water consumption can drastically reduce carbon emissions. People can also purchase carbon credits to offset their footprint even more.
And finally, check out blogger and AutoGlass Editor Jenni Chase’s green tips from the AutoGlass conference here.
In a recent interview with John Dwyer, president of New York’s Syracuse Glass Co., I asked him to identify his biggest challenge as a glass company owner. His answer was one I think many industry executives can identify with: “Maintaining a positive culture and accommodating lots of change day in and day out in an environment of rising customer expectations and costs. This is a fussy business. If we’re not attentive to the details and working as a team, we can get in trouble quickly.”
I have never owned a business, but from a consumer perspective, I agree that attention to detail is crucial to any company’s success. Americans keep their wallets closer to the vest these days, making any expenditure subject to scrutiny. When we do spend money, we want more than just a great product or service. We want an exceptional purchasing experience, and oftentimes, that’s all in the details.
A complimentary mug of good coffee, a follow-up courtesy call and a spotless post-installation vehicle or room can go a long way in the retail world. On the commercial side, a quick, efficient and convenient product delivery can make or break a sale.
At fabricator Syracuse Glass, repeat business is critical to success, says Dwyer. “We put a lot of work into making sure our employees and customers have a good, enjoyable, even fun, experience with the company.”
Fun? Now there’s a concept. If you can make a windshield or shower door installation fun, I have one word for you: SOLD.
To read John Dwyer’s interview in its entirety, check out “Looking Glass” in the May 2008 issue of Glass Magazine.