Where’s the glass?

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell reports on the current glass shortage.

There is a glass shortage in the UK, which is threatening to affect the supply of glass IGUs to the industry, according to the views of some IGU manufacturers who I spoke to at last week’s Glass Times Race Day.

Most glass suppliers were reluctant to make any comment, but a spokesperson for Saint-Gobain Glass said: “Saint-Gobain is manufacturing normally. We are aware of other supply issues in the industry so we are being careful to look after our customers as much as possible, allocate where absolutely necessary, and not over commit.”

One IGU manufacturer told me that certain glass types are not available until August, and even glass that has been allocated is turning up two to three days late.

This particular company had invested heavily in premises and machinery, which is now potentially underused and not as efficient as the company is considering increasing prices.

Another company said it had been on allocation for two months, and had switched suppliers because of the shortage.

“We are running things extremely tightly,” they said. “Employees are being told to be more careful than usual.”

They said that the affected products were 4mm float and 4mm low-e. Higher value products were not affected.

Pragmatically, one unit manufacturer said: “We are taking a serious look at our customer base. Should the shortage get worse then we’ll need to take a look at the bad payers.

“We’ve not run out yet; we are still functioning but I’m concerned about where it’s going.”

A spokesperson for a glass merchanting business with supply agreements with two of the glass suppliers said they were not running out, but they were well aware of the shortage.

“People can’t make spot deals like they used to,” they said. “There just isn’t enough glass.”

As would be expected, I’ve heard many reasons (and opinions) for the shortage of glass, but without a more robust response from the suppliers it wouldn’t be fair to list them here.

However, the issue of price came up time and time again. On the one hand the price for high volume glass has been pushed very low, and on the other, the larger unit manufacturers can absorb price increases (if/when they come) better than the smaller independents.

One company said: “I’m selling a unit for less than was in 2002. I’m looking for other avenues into the market – maybe building relationships with smaller companies and not putting all my eggs in one basket. If I have to take it back a bit to build it up again, then so be it.”

Interestingly, none of the people I spoke to regarding this situation wanted their names mentioned. They were all happy to share their thoughts (even if I have not shared all of them here!), but they were concerned what effect ‘putting their head above the parapet’ could have on their relationships with their suppliers, and how it could affect their businesses.

It’s a precarious situation, but price, severe competition, and a sense of mistrust are not helping matters.

Back to the Race Day. Despite what turned out to be a congested date in the glazing industry’s social calendar, more than 500 people descended on Haydock Racecourse for the annual Glass Time Race Day, where they were treated to glorious wall-to-wall sunshine and a fabulous day’s entertainment, followed by a barbecue back at the hotel.

All details and photos will be available in the August issue of Glass Times.