Selectivity helps glaziers control backlogs

August 1, 2006
COMMERCIAL
In the midst of a busy nonresidential construction season, many glazing contractors nationwide face growing backlogs that stretch personnel resources and force managers to more carefully consider what projects they accept.

Backlogs in July for Harmon Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn., reached about $194 million, up 19 percent from last July’s $162 million, says Tom Niepokoj, vice president of sales and new construction for the company.

“The backlogs are forcing us to turn down some fabulous opportunities, because we don’t have the management available to execute,” Niepokoj says.

Backlogs can be measured in time—how far out companies have contracts—or in dollars—the total contract amount minus revenue to date.

Don Deister, senior project manager for PCC Construction Components Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md., says executives can make the mistake of growing their backlogs too much by accepting more projects than they can handle.

“The quickest way to failure is to try and grab everything you can now and then worry about doing it later,” he explains. “If you have three superintendents and six projects, it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got in those contracts, you’re going to fail.”

Instead of becoming overwhelmed by large backlogs, Deister says managers should only accept the projects that provide the best fit—and reward—for their particular companies.

Niepokoj agrees. “You have to ask what the perfect job is for your company. We’re much more selective today than we were a year ago in the types of projects we’re looking at, and with the customers we’re working with.”

In addition to increased selectivity, glaziers look for personnel to add to their management teams—a difficult process, as there are more jobs open than qualified applicants, Deister says.

Niepokoj says Harmon found 11 recent college graduates to join the management staff and help reduce backlog pressure. However, the new hires require about two years of experience at the company before they can manage projects.

Gary Evans, vice president and owner of TSI/Exterior Wall Systems in Landover, Md., looks to the glaziers’ and ironworkers’ unions to find already qualified and trained personnel to fill these positions.

“You have to teach someone a highly specialized subcontractor category. We pull from within the union to find people who have this training and make them project managers,” Evans says.

Neither Evans nor Deister will report the exact increase of backlogs for TSI and PCC, respectively. However, both said backlogs have increased since last year—Evans estimates TSI’s has doubled.