August 9, 2010

The Year is 1977 and the Place is Boston

By Paul Bieber

I joined the CR Laurence team in 1976, hired by one of the great men of our industry, Phil Saitta. I covered Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and boy, could I sell razor blades. I began to learn quite a bit about the glass industry spending time in about sixteen glass shops daily, talking with the owners. Each one taught me something.

There was one special shop in Brighton, Mass., a section of Boston with a lot of college kids and old-time residents who had lived there for decades.

I saw Leo, the owner, about every six weeks, and I always looked forward to his shop. Leo was probably 75 years old. He repaired picture frames and windows. He didn’t understand what this new-fangled “tempered” glass was all about. He was comfortable selling single and double thick, and repairing screens. Leo was a class act; always neat and presentable to his customers, who were mainly the ‘senior citizens’ of the area. College kids didn’t have any use for glass shops. Leo wasn’t the busiest guy in the world, so he always had a minute to talk to me, and never let me leave without an order, even if it was only for $10.

One day I am talking with Leo and this little old lady comes in. (I know this sounds trite, but it is true). She had a picture frame and a small piece of glass, wrapped in newspaper with her. Leo greeted her like an old friend. She said, (as roughly as my memory remembers), “Leo, you sold me this glass for my grandson’s picture, but I told you the wrong size. I asked you for a three inch by five inch, and look, my picture frame is four inches by six.”

She went on, “How much would it cost to put this in your glass stretcher machine? I don’t know if I can afford to buy a whole new piece.” Back in the day, twenty-four inches of single might have cost Leo two cents and he would have sold it for a quarter.

Leo looked at her, and with a big smile, told her that he was having a special on glass stretching and it wouldn’t cost her a penny. Her smile could have lit up a dark night. Leo took the small piece and he and I went into the back of his shop. He turned on his belt grinder, turned on a bench grinder and a drill press. He banged some tools together and rattled around his steel garbage cans. He took out a cutoff of single, and quickly cut the new piece. Leo turned off all the machines and we went back to the lady. Leo quickly apologized for all of the noise, saying his glass stretcher was old and needed some repair work.

The lady was so happy. She showed Leo the picture of her grandchildren and Leo helped her put the glass in the frame. That day, Leo taught me that getting a smile and a thank you was more valuable than a quarter.

I continued to call on Leo, even thought he would never be a large customer. No sales training I ever received was more potent than that day with Leo.

Last week I received a letter from Mr. Ken Gamble of North Alabama Glass Company in Huntsville, Alabama, commenting on my blog. He reminded me of the times when tempered glass was just being phased in to our industry, which prompted my memory of Leo. Thanks, Ken.

If you have a memory of something special in the glass industry, drop me a note. We’ll work it into a future blog.