Brick & Clay Record: Supplier Support
Suppliers are working hard to help the brick industry adapt to a challenging marketplace.
The brick and structural clay industry has seen a number of very difficult years due to the ongoing worldwide recession. I recently got some feedback from key industry suppliers related to the economy in general, as well as challenges in the construction sector.
What role can suppliers to the brick and clay industry play in helping the industry grow and adapt?
Ralph Ruark, Swindell Dressler International Co.: One of the challenges that the brick industry will always face is volatility. And, unfortunately, most brick manufacturing systems are not built with flexibility of output. As a kiln manufacturer, we have developed highly efficient firing systems for structural clay products that also offer flexibility in multiple ways.
John Dowdle, Prince Minerals, Inc.: Our focus is to ensure security of raw material supply and increase the value we bring to our customers through service and technical support. Our business is driven by customer service. By providing innovative new colors, designs and application technique ideas, we are providing our customers with the ability to bring new products to market faster.
How has your company fared during the economic downturn?
Ruark: As a kiln design and build company, we’ve been fortunate to be well diversified. The dreadful decrease in brick shipments (down 66% during the recession) reduced our participation in the structural clay market, but our other sectors have done very well.
Dowdle: With the market downturns of the mid-2000s, we began to focus on a much bigger global picture. Through several acquisitions, we have entered new markets and identified new opportunities. With some of our recent acquisitions, we are now able to offer new products into new markets, such as color-coated sands and glazes for European brick and clay roof tile customers, and porcelain enamels for domestic and international markets through our most recent acquisition, Pemco. Acquisitions have also helped strengthen our technical capabilities by bringing new people into the company.
Domestically, we have focused on our core strengths and increased our ability to provide technical support and aid in new product development for our North American brick customers.
Now that the construction industry seems to be rallying from the economic downturn, is the worst over for the brick/structural clay industry? What does the future hold?
Ruark: Planning for the future is great, but the reality is that the next downturn is sure to occur with fluctuations in housing starts. As output increases, it is good business to consider how to handle the next downturn. The low-set concept will help plants ride through the next downturn with stable operations at the lowest possible per-unit costs regardless of the economy.
Dowdle: Is the worst over? We certainly hope so! In the new global economy, our U.S. economy seems to be more sensitive to demands and changes experienced by other parts of the world. “Flexibility” is the key to dealing with rapid changes in our markets and to keeping our supply lines open, providing value-added technical support and customer service, and exceeding customer expectations.
To find suppliers to the brick industry, visit www.ceramicindustry.com/suppliers.