Top Metal Companies: 2017’s Challenges

Tips From Top Metal Company Survey Respondents
Bethany Stough and Norah Dick
November 2, 2017
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : TOP METAL COMPANIES 2017

What Has Been Your Company’s Biggest Challenge In 2017?

  • 46% Labor & Training

  • 19% Lead Times

  • 8% Code Changes & Regulations

  • 8% Capacity

  • 4% Healthcare & administrative concerns

  • 4% Pricing

How Top Metal Companies Are Tackling The Biggest Challenges Head-On

 

TIPS FOR LABOR & TRAINING

  • Train from within for specific skill sets.
  • Invest in continuing education training programs.
  • Work with the local union, local colleges to promote the industry to young people.
  • Encourage and reward experienced workers to mentor new hires. 
  • Invest in automated equipment to free up skilled workers.
  • Manage turnover with document management and corresponding training of new hires. 
  • Offer bonuses for referrals leading to successful new hires.
  • Increase wages, improve benefits packages. 
  • Consider flex-time and part-time workers.

Challenge no. 1: Labor & Training

Top Metal Companies, like many in the glazing industry, struggle to find enough people to fill open positions, or to find the right type of candidates to fit the job. “Many of our customers, and the glazing industry as a whole, are seeing a generational gap that has created a shortage of skilled labor,” says Andrew Haring, vice president of marketing, C.R. Laurence Co. “This poses big problems for business owners in terms of growth and competitiveness.” 

Beyond skill sets, metal manufacturers express the challenge of finding people who are dependable. “The hardest thing currently is finding people who actually want to work and take pride in what they do,” says Shannon Chappell, business development manager, Techniform Metal Curving. “When we find those individuals, we do whatever we can to develop them.”

“We continuously search for candidates [who] would be a good match for our company and the individual,” says Holly Seidel, inside sales and marketing manager, Architectural Grilles & Sunshades Inc.

Survey respondents say that finding employees who are a fit for the job and the company, and remain loyal, isn’t a quick fix. However, company culture and employee appreciation go a long way in retaining the workers companies do manage to hire.

“We have created a place where people want to work. We understand people need some flexibility as family needs change, and we accommodate that. Our employees recognize this and we feel work even harder for us,” says Tom O’Malley, partner, Clover Architectural Products.

“You have to strive to be the best employer as possible to attract, develop, and retain talent, regardless of your size … Provide a work environment and culture that people want to be a part of,” says Steve Schohan, marketing manager, YKK AP America Inc.

TIPS FOR LEAD TIMES

  • Constantly communicate with customers; be persistent. 
  • Communicate and forecast with partners and vendors to plan ahead and troubleshoot.
  • Expand international partnerships.
  • Purchase new manufacturing equipment to help meet demand; expand production capabilities.
  • Add an additional shift.
  • Work backwards to ensure materials are available to complete the project on schedule.
  • Keep ample inventory in stock; set up localized inventories.

Challenge no. 2: Lead Times 

Demand is up for commercial construction. While a good problem to have in the industry, busy schedules coupled with labor challenges is still a problem, sources say. The combination of more work and fewer workers has caused major issues with lead times. 

“With demand high for commercial construction, lead times and capacity became even more critical,” says YKK AP’s Schohan. “It has been important for us to take a close look at our manufacturing and production processes on an ongoing basis in order to understand our needs as they evolve.”

Walt Lutzke, promotions coordinator for Tubelite Inc., agrees. “We’ve approached lead time challenges with process improvements and planning. To do so, we’ve made updates to equipment, procedures and staffing as related to these process improvement projects.”

Additionally, constant communication, early on, is key. “Gamco frequently communicates with its regular customers to keep them apprised of anticipated lead times so delivery times are as accurate as possible,” says Davidson Chen, sales manager, Gamco Corp.

SUPPLIER SOLUTIONS

Challenge no. 1: Lead Times

“Long lead times for products plague contract glaziers who are contending with a busy construction market and fewer field workers. This causes delays on the jobsite, where schedules are condensed, and can completely shut down a project for an extended period of time. So many variables affect lead times and often, it’s out of our control. Suppliers’ lead times, material availability, approved submittals, job load, and time of year all can [have an impact]. There really is no simple answer to this issue other than constant communication with customers and persistent work.”—Kirk Jewell, sales manager, Cross Aluminum Products.

Solutions:

“Lead times continue to be a major challenge for our customers. With that said, we added equipment, manpower to increase our capacities as well as working much more closely with our customers to jointly work through the challenges.”—Mike Wallace, president, Quality Metalcrafts, LLC/Americlad.

“We’re applying more focus to the capacity planning and submittal workflows to help improve net lead times.”—Josh Wignall, marketing manager, EFCO Corp.

Challenge no. 2: Compressed Solutions

“Our customers’ biggest challenge has been compressed schedules that, at times, seemed unrealistic based on material lead times and our product-specific realities.”—Mike P. McGrath, president, MG McGrath.

“We have seen our customers at times feel overwhelmed because they have too much work and not enough people to always do it.”—Tom O’Malley, partner, Clover Architectural Products.

Solutions: 

“We try and be proactive with schedules and let customers know when things need to be released. We also try and get critical things done … [to] allow everyone more time. We have also found ways to ship partial orders so customers’ teams are not slammed with everything at once.” —O’Malley

"[We are] attempting to provide as much of a completed product to our customers, in order to guarantee a high-quality product and reduce labor time in the field."—Jewell

Challenge no. 3: Field Labor & Regulations

“Glazing contractors are often competing with dozens if not hundreds of other sub-contracting companies in the building trades, and they are often competing in dense urban markets.”—Steve Schohan, marketing manager, YKK AP America Inc.  

“At all levels in our industry, there has been an extreme shortage of qualified workers. This has required suppliers, manufacturers, glazing contractors, everyone in this industry to do more with less.”—Jewell 

Solutions:

“[We’re] developing and promoting more assembled and glazed product solutions to help reduce the amount of field labor required to install systems."Wignall

“[We’re] creating more robust client training programs.”—Walt Lutzke, promotions coordinator, Tubelite Inc. 

“[We] … design and produce products with a focus on quality, and offer on-time and complete shipments so that contractors can quickly and efficiently execute the obligations of their contract. By offering customers a hassle-free experience, we help them most efficiently execute and utilize their constrained labor resources.”—Schohan

Challenge no. 4: Navigating Codes

“Compliance to evolving energy codes is an ongoing challenge. There are a lot of questions that arise when bidding projects in regions affected by new energy codes.”—Andrew Haring, vice president of marketing, C.R. Laurence Co

“Due to energy efficiency, we have seen stricter requirements (yearly) in regard to storefront and curtain wall systems. Required U- and R-values are appearing in plans more and more.”—Jade Moore-Esposito, director of sales and marketing, American Products Inc. 

Solutions:

“We've addressed these issues by having technical personnel receive certification from AAMA's FenestrationMasters program to provide project consultation. We also have the ability to provide glaziers with NFRC bid reports, NFRC label certificates, area weighting calculations, state energy commission document coordination, and thermal performance glass selection charts.”—Haring

“Monitor material cost fluctuations and take steps to control costs: value engineering, sourcing, and maintaining close working relationships with key suppliers.”—Schohan

Intro

The List - Top Metal Companies

The List - The Top Metal and Glass Fabricators

The Market

2017's Challenges