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Monday, February 9, 2009
Business is tough as the United States—and the world—trudge through this recession. As profits slip, many company owners and execs are revamping their business strategies to make it through.

One Redlands, Calif., glass shop repairman chose a less-than-legal strategy to attract new customers. The Sun reported last week that Redlands police arrested Timothy Klenke for “launching spark plugs with a slingshot at [car] windows and then planning to solicit his victims for the repairs,” according to the article.

Klenke’s money-making strategy is a bit more rudimentary than Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion scheme, certainly, but is still every bit as illegal.

So, what are some companies doing legally to survive?

Home Depot made a sharp change in business plans, ending its trajectory of dramatic growth by laying off 7,000 employees and closing its 34-store subsidiary Expo Design Centers. Home Depot officials say they are retrenching, returning to business basics by focusing on in-store sales improvements.

IBM plans to get through the recession by targeting new customers in less-developed industries, officials announced Feb. 9. The manufacturing and utilities sector, for example, are less electronically savvy than other industries, such as banking, officials say.

GM’s strategy seems to be getting even more bailout money from the government. (Anyone know how I can get in on some of these bailout funds? I wouldn’t need anywhere near GM’s $13.4 billion—maybe just half that.)

Business Lexington, Kentucky, ran a column Feb. 5 offering some alternatives to closures and downsizing, including reduced work schedules and salary cuts. Dell and FedEx have both employed such techniques, according to the column.

What are you doing to help your company survive? Is your strategy working? Post a comment and let us know.

Katy Devlin, commercial glass & metals editor, retail glass co-editor, Glass Magazine
Friday, January 30, 2009
The House passed an $819 billion stimulus package, 244-188, Jan. 28. The stimulus is expected to create as many as 3 million to 4 million new jobs nationwide, according to a Jan. 29 bnd.com article. Construction workers, contractors and union officials across the country are hoping that the money set aside in the bill for building roads, bridges, schools and more will create jobs, according to a Jan. 30 article in The Washington Post.

The plan comes at a time when the percentage of the workforce receiving unemployment has reached a 25-year high, according to a Jan. 29 AP article in The New York Times. The construction industry has suffered its worst job losses in more than two decades, with 900,000 workers across the country unemployed, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, Arlington. And it could get worse. The trade group lobbied the Obama administration and Congress with 10,000 letters from its members, and expects most of its 33,000 member companies to lay off more workers, according to The Post article.

The stimulus plan, which sets aside about $150 billion for construction projects, would create or save more than 660,000 construction jobs, according to the AGC, of which about 13,300 could be in the D.C. region, according to The Post article.

The package is expected to give $638 million to the District, $1.23 billion to Maryland and $1.65 billion to Virginia for construction-related projects, according to the Post article. Illinois would get $1.8 billion for infrastructure, according to the bnd.com article.

Parts of the country have already started to see an uptick in construction. Other parts--such as Las Vegas, which experienced a major construction bust in the $3 billion Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino, the Crown Las Vegas, the Pinnacle Las Vegas, the Plaza Las Vegas and more--could follow suit.

What is your take on the effect of the stimulus package on “shovel-ready projects”? How will it influence your business and how soon?

By Sahely Mukerji, news editor/managing editor, Glass Magazine
Friday, January 23, 2009
If your company serves the residential market, you’ve no doubt witnessed the growing trend in building environmentally sustainable houses. It’s a movement that might never slow down.

The recent confluence of events--the housing/mortgage/foreclosure crisis, energy spikes, increased environmental awareness, the Obama administration with a stripe for ‘going green’--is simply accelerating a nationwide trend that had already begun to gain steam in several regions around the country.

A recent construction study by the National Association of Home Builders estimates that by 2010 as many as 10 percent of all housing starts in the U.S. will include some eco-friendly features. I’m not sure if that’s encouraging, especially when “some eco-friendly features” is an awfully vague term. Sprinkler timers, waterless toilets and attic vents are eco-friendly features, after all.

A key challenge, of course, is “designing green” affordably. Ironically, the size of the average American house has grown 140 percent since 1950, from 1,000 square feet to 2,400 square feet.

New houses in the U.S. are still dramatically larger than those in other developed countries. In fact, new construction starts is a key barometer of economic growth. When new construction falls, the markets react negatively. It’s ingrained in our thinking ... an American “virtue.” After all, bigger is better, right?

And yet there is no widely reported barometer of environmental sustainability. And even if there was, would fluctuations in the metrics move markets? Hmm ... an interesting notion.

Gas guzzlers and factories get the lion’s share of the blame for our environmental problems; but according to the “Architecture 2030 Study” constructing and operating commercial and residential buildings is responsible for almost half of the country's energy usage, with residential buildings comprising 21 percent.

Compare that to the transportation segment’s 27 percent and you see that residential home energy costs are more significant than most people realize. In the future, design will be essential to any solution. Some architects believe the focus should be on retrofitting existing buildings, rather than razing them and building anew. That, of course, would be a blow to new construction.

Perhaps it’s time we adopt a “new” mantra: Small is beautiful. At least that is the way a certain in-flight magazine author would have us think. Sarah Susank has just published her bestselling book: The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Think. The book stresses quality over quantity.

And a ‘MarketWatch’ article further confirms the degree of this movement. The headline reads: “New homes get smaller. Say Goodbye to McMansions, Americans are buying ‘right-sized’ homes.” The topic de jour at the International Builders Show this past week.

But it requires us to look forward in a big way. Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, a collection of essays by British economist E.F. Schumacher, resonates loud and clear. Sustainability may well become a new status symbol.

Check out the prefab Cellophane House on display at New York's Museum of Art: Could this be a vanguard of what’s to come? Note the solar panels: Now there may be a large opportunity worthy of exploiting.

We at the NGA are taking heed. We’ll soon announce a blue-chip executive industry discussion on the solar panel market at GlassBuild America on Oct. 1, 2009. Stay tuned for details on this must-attend event.

Remember: Small may be beautiful! That is, if the expected market shift does occur and your company is prepared to exploit the trend.

David Walker, Vice President of Association Services, National Glass Association
Friday, January 23, 2009
I'm sure you watched coverage of last week's plane crash in New York City. What a miracle that with a crash landing in the Hudson River, no one was killed or even seriously injured. Besides the obvious skill and courage of the pilot, what struck me was the rescue effort. Within seconds of impact in that icy water, the plane was surrounded by scores of ferries with rescue workers, dry clothes, blankets and first aid.

When asked how they could respond so quickly and efficiently, the rescue workers all cited one thing - training. One of the ferry captains said this: "You train so much, you don’t have to think about it. I didn't have to give any orders to the crew.”

While it may not be quite so dramatic, many businesses resemble their own version of a plane crash these days. With the current state of the economy, there are projects being delayed, payments not coming in, plant closings, and layoffs. When the moment of impact comes for you (and it just may), will you be able to say the same thing as that captain?

Here at the NGA, we believe in training. Moreover, we see first-hand that the best companies in the industry are the ones that continuously invest in their people; in good times and bad. That's why we work so hard to produce industry-leading training platforms like the Glass Management Institute, the Glazing Executives Forum, and MyGlassClass.com. If you don't have your people taking advantage of this resource, then you're missing a significant opportunity to improve your business. (Visit www.glass.org/edu_train/edu_train.htm for more information on all our training programs and services.)


We know times are tight. We read the newspapers and watch our bank accounts. But now more than ever, you need to train your people right. When your own moment of impact comes, I hope you have the same level of confidence as that boat captain; that your employees are so well-trained, you don't even have to tell them what to do.
Monday, January 12, 2009
I don’t know about you all, but amidst the seemingly unending grim economic news, I occasionally need a pick-me-up, which is why I appreciate the positive comments we’ve received from industry members regarding the year ahead.

While most agree 2009 will be difficult across all segments of the glass industry, it will not be without its opportunities, says Guy Selinske, president, American Glass & Mirror, Prior Lake, Minn. “There is one bright spot [in the retail glass market],” he wrote in an e-mail. “Because people are staying in their houses, we’re seeing an increased amount of remodeling. People are looking around at their houses and saying, ‘This is the room that needs work.’ Sometimes it’s a kitchen, sometimes a master bath and even some additions.”

Of course, the economic picture varies significantly depending on your geographic location. While the New York Building Congress predicted continued strength in all building sectors in the state in 2009, for example, Arizona’s future is decidedly less positive. Click here for a complete listing of 2009 state and regional forecasts.

Still, everyone has the opportunity to grow their customer base, even in hard times, says Paul Heinauer, president of Glasspro, Mt. Pleasant, S.C. “We are constantly talking about bringing value to our customers and striving to over-deliver,” he said in an interview. “I’m hoping that if we can do that—because our customers are also looking hard at value—we can grow our business … We must give customers reasons to choose [our company]. We have to be conscious of our reputation and what customers’ expectations are. We’ve got to bring value, and if we can do this, we can maybe actually grow our business. It’s not an easy road, but I feel that it’s an opportunity.”

In response to Sahely Mukerji's blog last week, another subscriber said they believed “we can learn and improve from every situation if we choose. This is a good time to learn some new things or to reflect on the things you learned in 1982, 1990, or 2001. Believe me, times are no worse now than then.”

What do you think? Is the forecast as bleak as it seems, or is there opportunity for growth in 2009?


—By Jenni Chase, Editor, Glass Magazine

Friday, January 2, 2009
Salute glass folks, and welcome to the new year! Looks like we've started the year on a good note. The Dow was back up above 9000 on Jan. 2, its best close in two months. GM, Alcoa, Boeing and Citi were ahead among the 30 blue-chip stocks of the Dow average, raising it 2.94 percent, or 258.30 points, to 9034.69, according to an article in The Washington Post. Only one component, JPMorgan Chase, finished lower, down 18 cents to $31.35.

The S&P;'s 500 index rose 3.16 percent, or 28.55 points, to 931.80, while Nasdaq composite climbed 3.5 percent, or 55.18 points, to 1632.21, according to The Post article.

Last year, the Dow declined 33 percent, its biggest drop since 1931, and the S&P; was down almost 39 percent, its worst since 1937. The Nasdaq was down more than 40 percent for the year.

In Big Three news, on Jan. 1, Chrysler was still waiting for its federal handout, while GM had gotten its first $4 billion in loans, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. The loans come from the $700 billion bank rescue plan, approved by Congress in September. GM is spending approximately $33 million a day, based on spending $1 billion per month during the third quarter. That daily amount is likely lower for the fourth quarter as GM has reduced spending on operations, sponsorships, utilities and even office supplies, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

To this positive news, add the new president-elect's rescue plan that intends to create up to 3 million new jobs, provide tax relief to middle-class families and help governors cover the soaring costs of education and Medicaid ... not a bad way to start the new year.

How will you contribute to make this year better? What is your resolution to improve your business and your professional community? Is there a particular problem that the industry needs to tackle more effectively to make this a better year?

By Sahely Mukerji, news editor/managing editor, Glass Magazine
Friday, December 19, 2008
In a February 2007 e-glass poll, 83 percent of industry representatives reported they offer employee incentives such as bonuses. Almost two years later, the U.S. is up to its eyeballs in a recession, with a bleak forecast on the horizon. What can glass companies do to motivate employees when bonuses just aren’t in the budget?

In my elementary school days, my slim allowance money couldn’t quite get me through the holiday shopping season. Macaroni-cover tin cans, and homemade coupon books with promises of hugs and car washes, however, served as cost-free and greatly appreciated gifts. But for cash-strapped companies looking to provide holiday incentives to employees, macaroni art likely won’t cut it.

In its November issue, Fortune magazine asked three business leaders what they do for employees when times are tight.

Laura Sejen, global director, strategic awards for Watson Wyatt, an HR consultancy out of Arlington, Va., said employers should strive to cut back bonuses rather than eliminating them completely. “Start a recognition program that gives spot bonuses based on performance. It’s a low-cost way to reward employees and allows you to be selective in granting awards,” Sejen said.
Jim Weddle, CEO and managing partner of Edward Jones, a brokerage firm out of St. Louis, said his company cuts bonuses when the alternative is layoffs. “I’ve been asking managers to simply tell folks that they’re appreciated,” Weddle said.

Weddle said being upfront and honest about the situation eliminates the surprise. “Explain how they system works, and they’ll get it. Revenues are down, so variable compensation is down too.”

Paul Amos II, president and COO of Aflac, Columbus, Ga., agreed that honesty is the best policy when cutting bonuses. “Tell [employees] via every means possible. First, look them in the eye and tell them. They may not fully absorb the changes, so you need to follow up in writing. And then third, make sure to give employees a forum to ask you questions about the change,” Amos said.

Weddle and Amos said they also get creative with their incentives. “We do little things like add casual days. We hired the Ringling Bros. circus to perform for our associates,” Weddle said. “We also recognize folks by giving them a day off to volunteer for causes like Habitat for Humanity,” Amos said.

Glass Magazine publisher Nicole Harris asked glass business owners what they were doing about end-of-year and holiday bonuses in her January 2009 Publisher’s Notes. She received varied responses, including one from an owner who was still undecided about 2008 bonuses. “We stopped doing a Christmas bonus and are doing—or were doing—a bonus on profit. I am considering eliminating that this year in an effort to conserve cash. We are fortunate that we still have work and have only reduced our staff by one. In an environment where many people are losing their jobs, I think my employees will be understanding.”

So, what are your bonus plans for employees? Hopefully nothing with macaroni.


Katy Devlin, commercial glass & metals editor, fabrication co-editor, Glass Magazine
Monday, December 15, 2008
With Democrats soon to be in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, organized labor has begun to flex its muscles.

At the top of their legislative priority list is the Employee Free Choice Act, better known as the Card Check Bill. This bill could have devastating consequences for glass shops nationwide. Even the smallest shops could be affected.

The bill (H.R. 800, S. 1041) is designed to simplify and short-circuit the long-established union-organizing process. Blocked in the Senate in 2007, labor made support of the bill a litmus test for candidates it backed in the recent elections. You can be sure those elected officials will now be called upon to make good on their pledges of support.

The Card Check Bill will substantially change the process for union organizing, giving organized labor an unfair advantage. Currently, if organizers collect signatures from at least 30 percent of employees in a given bargaining unit, an election by secret ballot is held by the National Labor Relations Board to determine whether to certify the union. The secret ballot ensures that workers will not be intimidated into voting one way or the other, either by management or labor.
The new bill would shortcut the process by certifying the union as soon as a majority of signed authorization cards is collected. No secret ballot. No organizing campaign during which employees can weigh all sides of the issue and make an informed decision. Instead, union organizers would be in a position to potentially bully and coerce employees into signing the card on-site.

That’s hardly what we call “free choice,” as the bill’s formal title would have you believe.

Among other objectionable provisions, the bill would increase penalties for employers who violate union organizing laws. Curiously, penalties on unions would not be increased.

Even companies in Right to Work states will be affected by this law, as organizing campaigns would become cheaper and easier to wage.

The NGA strongly opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, and encourages our members to get informed on the issue and its implications for their business. At a time when some of the finest firms are teetering on the brink of insolvency, largely due to the burdensome provisions of their outdated and uncompetitive labor agreements, this is no time for organized labor to expand its reach.

It’s never too early to write your congressmen, asking that they oppose the bill when it is brought forward. You may also wish to write the editor of your local paper to express your concerns with this ill-advised bill that would unfairly tilt the playing field toward organized labor to the detriment of your business and your local economy.

Most importantly, we encourage our members to keep an open line of communication with their employees, listening to their concerns and addressing them promptly and thoroughly. After all, the best way to avoid a successful organizing campaign is to maintain a positive relationship with your workers.

—David Walker, Vice President of Association Services, National Glass Association
Monday, December 8, 2008
A day after a CNN poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans oppose bailing out the Big Three automakers, executives of General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC appeared for a second consecutive day of hearings, Dec. 5, before the House Financial Services Committee. The executives testified before the Senate Banking Committee Dec. 4.

The members of the House committee, unwilling to approve taxpayer money to bail out the three, suggested alternatives, including a much smaller emergency transitional amount or a "protected restructuring" under government auspices, according to a Dec. 5 article in The Washington Post.

According to The Post article, in the hearings, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the committee chairman, said “a lot of mistakes were made," referring to what he described as poor decisions by the auto industry in the past. "The consequence of all those mistakes is that the country is to some extent held hostage.”

One among those mistakes particularly stands out: GM mocking global warming and stubbornly cranking out SUVs. Should Darwinism prevail: Adapt or die?

The “mistakes” continued even up until a couple of weeks ago. During their first unsuccessful appearance on Capitol Hill, the Big Three head honchos flew in on their corporate jets. In stark contrast, Richard Wagoner, chairman and CEO of General Motors, Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford, and Robert Nardelli, chairman and CEO of Chrysler, drove or carpooled hybrid or fuel-cell vehicles from Detroit to the December hearings.

On the same note, Chrysler's corporate Web site now touts the following sentence in large type, in the color--you guessed it--green: "It's not a bailout to keep us from failing. It's a loan to help us succeed."

All said and done, Congressional Democrats and the White House still couldn't reach a consensus on how to handle the urgent request for $34 billion in bridge loans—$7 billion for Chrysler, $9 billion for Ford and $18 billion for GM. Democrats and Republicans continued to disagree on where the money should come from, how much should be paid upfront and what kind of conditions to impose. And even though the news of the worst job losses in the U.S. in 30 years--533,000 in November--added urgency to the Big Three's appeal, it still was not good enough for Congress to reach a decision.

Now, I am not saying that the Big Three should not get any loans; given the job losses and the state of the economy, it's a no-brainer that something needs to be done to help the companies stay afloat. But should they get the money without any strings attached? I'm curious to know your thoughts, especially the auto glass repair and replacement folks out there, whose businesses could be directly/indirectly affected by this decision: What would you do with the Big Three? Would you give them the money unconditionally? Not give them a dime? Or give them a lesser amount with conditions, such as producing fuel-efficient cars and serious restructuring within the companies?

By Sahely Mukerji, news editor/managing editor, Glass Magazine
Monday, December 1, 2008
Black Friday provided some surprising and much needed good news for the U.S. economy—retail sales went up! According to a Dec. 1 Washington Post article, Black Friday sales grew 3 percent to $10.6 billion, and online shopping sales for the long Thanksgiving weekend reached $41 million, or about $372.57 per person, up 7.2 percent from the same period last year.

Despite the weekend’s good news, economists forecast tough overall market conditions for 2009. According to a Nov. 4 forecast from CNN economists, the recession will continue through the first three months of 2009; the overall economy will shrink about 0.1 percent in the first quarter and then begin to rebound slightly; and unemployment could climb to 7 percent or 8 percent by the end of the year.

How is your company coping with the tough economic environment? Has business slowed? What are you doing to stay on top?

Respond—anonymously, if you prefer—in the comment section of this blog, or e-mail me at kdevlin@glass.org, or Jenni Chase at jchase@glass.org.

Katy Devlin, commercial glass & metals editor, retail glass co-editor, Glass Magazine
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