Optimistic and flat-out busy

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell shares more thoughts from this year’s Glasstec.

Last week’s newsletter and leading comment were posted from Glasstec in Germany, and the summary of my first morning there was (and I paraphrase) “uncertainty over Brexit, but lots of confidence”.

Which sounds like a big contradiction, but what it actually means is that despite Brexit, people are getting on with their jobs and their plans for the future.

We report almost monthly in Glass Times (and, as editor, I really try not to make a big thing out of it) about how confidence levels are being knocked, investors are delaying big decisions, and construction companies can’t hire the tradesmen they need – all thanks to the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

I understand that that there are some genuine concerns all the way through the supply chain to the end user, and no-one is happy that there isn’t a plan in place come March 29 2019 (“I’m having to plan for about 15 different types of Brexit,” Bohle’s UK MD Dave Broxton told me), but two unrelated people said the same thing to me: “It is what it is and we have to make a fist of it.”

As I said last week, the Europeans at the exhibition seemed more anxious than the Brits, who were shrugging off negative thoughts.

After just a day and a half at the show, Nolan Millard and Dave Hargrave of Unilam – who were on the Cooltemper stand – said that they could go home with enough leads because the show had been so popular from the moment the doors opened. Furthermore, the trend was that decision makers from customers came without an entourage, but with a firm idea of what they wanted.

“It doesn’t appear that people are holding back,” Nolan said. “They are optimistic and flat-out busy.

“In fact, one customer is so busy that he is putting up his prices.”

Dave agreed: “We saw 15 UK-based customers in the first day and a half of the show, and they have all come to talk about projects rather than simply meet up for a coffee and a chat.”

Interestingly, Nolan and Dave said they are seeing typical IGU manufacturers turning to higher value glass processing to offset poor margins. Laminated glass is one popular area, and is leading to an uptick for machinery suppliers as customers establish extra lines through their factories.

Another reason I heard for the confidence shown (repeated by several UK exhibitors and visitors), was how cheap money was to borrow – and how the fear of an uncertain Brexit is encouraging companies to invest in machinery now in case it is withdrawn next year.

(In fact, the FMB reported this week that they have received reports of banks withholding previously agreed funding for projects which is delaying start dates and dampening growth. This may or may not be related to Brexit nerves.)

For my part, I saw fewer people this year than previous years because stands were so ludicrously busy. I saw one familiar face on Swisspacer’s stand as he got up to fetch a brochure for someone he was talking to, and all I got was an apologetic shrug.

I understood – I was only there for a coffee and a chat.