Making it in America

As the glass industry in many parts of the world maintains its relatively small growth rate, the U.S. glass market continues to look very interesting to many overseas glass companies looking to expand. With the United States’ reasonably good recovery after the global fall-out of 2008, and with strong infrastructure spend rhetoric that has many people somewhat optimistic, there are very few reasons why companies would not pick the United States as part their next expansion move.

The first step to identifying this untapped market has been helped by the internet and the globalization of the glass industry over the last 20 years. But, it’s a long, difficult and expensive process to succeed in the U.S. glass industry.

Besides the measurement systems that broadly divide Europe and the U.S. in terms of everyday processes, there are several other fundamental differences that European companies find challenging to work through.

For example, the process of working with an architect to get a product specified. In Europe, the glazier has a much bigger role in this process due to his level of status based on his education and experience. In the U.S., product placement generally comes from the top down, from the architect or designer choosing the products, and the glaziers following the requirements. Understanding and reacting to this small yet amazingly important concept means certain European companies must change their complete sales and marketing approaches.

This is also true for product development in the United States, with key differences in glass thickness requirements, product style and function being a few factors that can basically dictate whether something will sell or not. For example, the American glass door, used in either a residential shower or a commercial storefront application is generally heavier, wider and bulkier by design compared to the European equivalents. Generally, there is also more metal in a U.S. glass product, and the finishes will differ considerably to what is available and sold across the pond.

What is the recipe for success in the United States? If you look around, there are certainly notable examples of global companies that found significant success in the United States. Likewise, there are some examples where some great companies just did not work out at all. The real question becomes: what are the differences between the two? Besides having a great product that everyone wants and building a solid operational business, success comes from the amount of time invested in the market. And by time, understand it as money invested. The cost of serving the market is much higher than overseas companies generally expect, from employing salespeople, to working out logistics, to building infrastructure. Likewise, the local market's positive perception of an overseas player will simply take longer to develop.

The result is that the investment of time in the market leads to an understanding of how the U.S. glass market works. There is no shortcut in getting this knowledge and insight; it simply takes time and an openness to working with the differences.

Gareth Francey is the president of Bohle America, a supplier of glazing & handling tools, hardware, consumables, and machinery, for all levels of the glass industry. Francey has been with the Bohle organization since 2001 and led the American division since 2010. Contact him at gareth.francey@bohle-america.com.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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