April 10, 2007

A New Birth in the Glass Industry

By Paul Bieber

The most obvious sign of spring is hearing “Play Ball”. I was going to give my predictions this week, but some interesting news came my way and it’s worth a few words.

In addition to baseball, spring is considered the season of rebirth. More species of animals give birth in the spring than any other season. Flowers blossom, trees sprout their new leaves and construction crews start digging.

And businesses get started. I received a knock-my-socks off phone call yesterday from an old friend, Larry Tumminia. Larry was the AFG sales rep covering the Mid-Atlantic region for at least a couple of hundred years. That may be a bit of stretching on my part, but I’ve known Larry for twenty years and no one represented their company better than Larry. That’s why what he told me was all the more surprising. Larry had retired from AFG and along with his friend, Tom Zaccone, who also had run AFG’s laminating plant in Pennsylvania, are starting a new laminating company.

During the last couple of years I have heard a lot of talk about the decreasing competitive status of our industry, fewer sources to buy from, and lock-step pricing and surcharges. I called Larry and Tom back and discussed some of their business plan. Phrases like ‘full range of laminated products’, and ‘blast resistant’ were tumbling out of their mouths, but what caught my interest was how they were stressing their independence from any one source and their desire to sell to the trade are among their primary goals. That is full speed ahead into change. Most laminating lines today are controlled by parent companies who, as the right of ownership does exist, favor their own product lines and in-house usage. All of the growth we read about in US Glass has been about the industry heavyweights expanding.

This is why I feel that Northeast Laminated Glass Corp will be such a breath of fresh air for the glass business. I have no doubt that these two guys will succeed. Their experience, the cooperation they received from the economic development programs from Pennsylvania, and a work force that is well trained and actually wants to work rather than collect government benefits all point in one direction. And they will open a door for the glass shops and distributors to buy where they don’t have to support their competition.

This blog is not intended to be a plug for Tom and Larry, but it is an observation on the state of our industry. Solutia and DuPont have worked tirelessly as industry sources in setting standards for hurricane protection and ever increasing needs for blast and ballistic lami. Of course, they sell more vinyl, but they are pulling an entire industry up with their future thinking. Solutia has a great new web page, (saflex.com) which in addition to showcasing their products lists their fabrication partners in the US. Out of a total of just 40 laminating sites, 26 of them belong to parent companies. This is 65% of the industry concentrated in a handful of companies. The lami business has a high financial cost of entry, needs a lot of space, and tons of technical knowledge. Tom and Larry are betting their futures that an independent company is just what our industry needs.

So, back to what’s really important…next week I will present the scientific proof that hot dogs eaten at a ball park contain no calories.