February 27, 2007

The Glass Business is a Great Business

By Paul Bieber

Last night, my wife and I lit a candle on the anniversary of my Father’s death. It reminded me of some of my dad’s conversations with me about the glass business.

In 1976 I had the fortune of joining CR Laurence Company as their field representative in New England. I told my dad about this job. He was excited for me, but asked some questions. He said,”You are selling supplies and equipment to an industry. You can have the greatest supplies and be the best salesman, but if the industry is declining, be real careful.”

He went on,”You don’t want to be selling Black and White Picture Tubes for televisions, you don’t want to be selling house paint as everyone is going to aluminum siding.” He asked me about the glass industry. I told him what little I knew at that point, and he wished me great luck, but reminded me, again, hard work trumps luck.

Ten years later I had the honor or joining Floral Glass, a glass fabricator and distributor in New York. A month after joining Floral, I called my Dad, asking him if he recalled our conversation of ten years ago. Frankly, it would make a great story to say he did, but he remembered WWII more clearly than he did our recent talks. Elaine and I went to visit a couple of weeks later and again I told him how great the glass industry is, and I do remember this conversation, so I thought I would share it with you:

I told him the glass industry was great because we dealt with great people. Our customers, let’s say 85% of them, were owners of their own small and medium size businesses. We spoke with real people every day. People who cared about their businesses, and their vendor relationships.

I told him that glass as a building product would be here forever. It would change in some ways, but everyone likes to look outside. Glass won’t be replaced. I explained to him that our name was on the spacer of insulating glass, (after I explained what insulating glass was), and it was a huge thrill to walk down the street, pointing out to our kids that we made that specific piece of glass. My Dad had been a salesman all his life. I explained to him the immense pride in actually making something. He had a rough time with that one. We would receive raw sheets of glass in one side of the building, and a couple of days later would ship out custom IG, or tempered or a table top. We actually added value to product. I explained to him that this was declining in America, that we were becoming a nation of information gathering, and not manufacturing. So he said, If I knew that was the future, why was I making glass? (If I was really listening to him, and myself, I would have bought stocks differently, that’s for sure) We talked about the thrill of custom manufacturing, that you are making something that is needed, and needed now. We did not make for inventory. We made products that were waiting to go into an opening within a day or two. Customers were depending on us to get the correct piece of glass to the correct location, and their whole business counted on us. Well, most days we were great, but occasionally an error was put on the scoreboard. I would call my Dad and tell him about a big job we just finished, making all the glass for a building in New York that he might have heard of, and he began to understand my pride.

When he would visit us, I would take him for a ride and show him the buildings we did. Of course, we didn’t install, but it was still our building.

The glass trade has such great rewards. We see the results of our work every day. The plumbers are just as important, but their work is hidden in the floors and columns. The glass, the doors, and the masonry are the only things that everyone sees. If you are reading this blog, you are in the glass industry and you know that pride. Once you touched the glass in installation or fabrication, that was your building.

One time when we were visiting my parents, we met some of their friends. The friends asked if I was the son who put up every great building in the world, or if I was the other son, (who was a biochemist). My dad actually was bragging about my job, rather than my brother, the Doctor. I knew then that the glass business was the greatest business in the world.

Today, we know that we are helping the world with energy saving low-e glass, that we help with safety glass and decorative glass. The pride continues to build.

What are you most proud of? Tell us at the USGlass Forum. It will be a thrill to read.