Volume 40,   Issue 12                      December  2005

Growing Up Vegas

With Youthful Exuberance, Giroux Glass Helps Shape the Vegas Skyline

Las Vegas, once a hoping-to-get-rich-quick hot spot, has evolved into a city worthy of just as much glitz, glam and celebrity as Manhattan or L.A. Yes, there’s more to today’s Las Vegas than just 24-hour wedding chapels, Elvis impersonators and all-you can-eat buffets. Today’s Las Vegas offers style, class, the finest in dining and hotels and a booming construction market to boot, with high-rise condominium projects leading the way. According to Emporis (11/2005), a provider of building related data, there are currently 101 completed high-rise buildings in Las Vegas, 30 that are under construction, 28 that have been approved for construction and 17 proposed.

With this massive building and construction growth in Las Vegas, the city offers, without a doubt, a plethora of opportunities for the construction industry—especially the glass industry. After all, those skyscrapers are certainly going to need glass—windows, shower enclosures, walls, floors—and what’s Vegas without mirrors? —the list goes on.

Branching Out 

Enter Giroux Glass. For the Los Angeles-based company, the growth taking place in Las Vegas became the deciding factor in opening the branch there in 2000. With annual sales of $9 million in Las Vegas ($18.5 million company-wide), the company has enjoyed continued growth, focusing primarily on custom interior work, such as the chocolate fountain at the Jean Phillipe Patisserie inside the Bellagio Hotel & Casino. And that job is not the company’s only work that can be seen at the Bellagio; Giroux installed the hotel’s shower enclosures during a remodeling that began in August 2003 and completed in February 2004.

And speaking of shower enclosures, over the past five years Giroux has installed a big chunk of the city’s—more than 5,000 of them.

Operating in Las Vegas, it’s not surprising that the company’s primary work has been in the hospitality/gaming industry, though occasionally they do work with preferred owners/contractors. 

“We find it to be in our best interest to maintain a strong relationship with a selected group of contractors as this allows us to focus on an established relationship where we have developed a high level of credibility,” says Jonathan Schuyler, 26, chief estimator. “We strive to negotiate the majority of our contract work as this allows us to present a quality package to our customers. Many times when hard bidding work you are forced to value-engineer a lot of the quality products the architect is interested in completely out of the project in order to provide a competitive price. This can lead to problems down the road with an inferior product. By working with the owner/designer/contractor right out of the gate we are able to establish a budget based upon quality building products and established relationships.”

Though Giroux Glass may appear to be much like the “typical glazing contractor,” the company is unique. Giroux Glass has overcome what many believe to be one of the industry’s biggest challenges: finding, keeping and training young, talented people. In fact, of the company’s ten office employees (70 field employees) at its Las Vegas branch seven of them are under the age of 40.

“Our L.A. office was well-established before [we] opened the Las Vegas branch,” says Stephanie Lamb, general manager of the Las Vegas operations. “Once the business started to grow [here] I looked for [people who were] younger, less experienced in the glass business versus what I call the seasoned veterans of the industry. For the most part, it all had to do with overhead.”

Giroux also employs union workers and Lamb says this has been a positive experience as well.
“In 28 years in this business I have only known union employees in the field who are out there getting the job done,” says Lamb. “The local union in Las Vegas has created an apprentice program to let the younger men and women learn the trade while on the job, along with instructional classes so they may represent the industry in years to come.”

Youth Do

Today these employees take on the roles and responsibilities of project managers, estimators and office administrators. They work with architects, general contractors and an array of suppliers. So how did they all end up at Giroux? For many, it was by one word: referrals. 

“A lot [of our employees] come from referrals,” says Anne-Merelie Murrell, owner of Giroux Glass [Note: Giroux Glass is a 100-percent women-owned business]. “They bring in people they feel are qualified. If you suggest someone and you are enthusiastic … then you know if they are qualified and have potential.”

Other employees, such as Jacob Johnson, 27, project manager, and his brother, Eric, 23, also a project manager, grew up in the industry.

“I had great opportunities when I was younger, having my father, Dwight Johnson, for a mentor. He owned a glass company when I was in high school and was a long time veteran of the residential and commercial markets. I was able to gain a lot of practical knowledge coming from a long tradition of glaziers including my father, my retired grandfather, four uncles and two brothers, most of whom are still involved in the industry,” says Jacob Johnson. “As a third-generation glazier, I really did not want a career in the industry. But for a recent college graduate the money was really good. After a one-year duration as the division manager of a residential mirror and shower door subcontractor, I was in the market for a new job and heard that Giroux was hiring, and I wanted to make the jump from residential to large commercial projects full time. After sitting down with Stephanie [Lamb] and meeting the employees at the time, I knew I would be a good fit for the organization and vice versa. The attitude of the company was really attractive. It was a rare and unique group of dynamic young people and seasoned veterans all with a lot of drive and commitment.”

23-year old Eric’s story is similar.

“I began at the bottom, learning the trade and progressing my knowledge, eventually becoming the general manager of the company at a very young age,” he says. “This was a key step, along with my employment at a few additional glass companies, that led me to Giroux Glass.”

The Johnson brothers aren’t the only ones with family ties. Lamb also referred her son, Christopher, 23, a project manager who joined the company four and half years ago.

“I was hired on to work at the front desk, answering phones and performing basic office tasks,” he says.
Stephanie Lamb also helped bring on board Mary Humboldt-Shawver, 35, office administrator, whom she had known for many years.

“When the opportunity was presented [to join the company] I was quite eager to be a part of [Stephanie’s] team,” says Humboldt-Shawver.

Jonathan Schuyler, 26, chief estimator, had studied architectural drafting and design at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan for two years before joining Commercial Glass & Glazing in Grand Rapids as a draftsman. 

“I moved to Las Vegas in June, 2002, and after doing a bit of research and interviewing with several local shops I met with Stephanie Lamb here at Giroux, a company that was regarded by the local union hall as an up-and-coming glazing contractor. I knew within five minutes of my initial interview that this was where it was at, regardless of what I would be offered.”

And it was Schuyler who referred Daniel Rodriguez, 26, project estimator.

“I grew up with Jonathan in Grand Rapids. After entertaining the idea of working with him in the industry for several years, the opportunity presented itself and I eagerly took the position,” says Rodriguez.

But referrals don’t just come from family and friends—they can also come from others in the construction industry. Such was the case for Thomas Taitano II, 35, project estimator. His career in the glass industry began when he lived on the Island of Guam. 

“I started in the glass industry on the beautiful Island of Guam as a glazier trainee and quickly became fascinated with the field,” says Taitano. “I eventually worked my way up to supervisor, running the glass shop.” 

He continues, “After relocating from Guam to Las Vegas I did a bit of research into the local market. My only construction contact recommended Giroux Glass Inc. I met with Stephanie and Jonathan and the rest is history. I am now proud to be part of a growing success story.”

ABC’s, 123’s
To prepare these fresh faces and new recruits to take on the industry, on-the-job training and mentoring are key.
“They learn by doing,” says Stephanie Lamb. “We are fortunate to have a few of those seasoned veterans on our team to help mentor them along.”

Murrell agrees that a learn-by-doing philosophy is what has helped make the team such a strong one.

“Working with a mentor, young people learn well from the beginning and are eager to learn as much as they can,” she says. “They ask questions and they gain great knowledge.

“And once they get their foothold,” she continues, “They are off and running, but they still have the back up off their senior mentor.”

“Our younger generation is surrounded by a talented core of experienced men and women,” says Schuyler. “For us to soak up the knowledge so readily available is to throw pennies in the piggy-bank.”

Humboldt-Shawver agrees that as young employees, it is most beneficial for them to take advantage of the knowledge with which they are surrounded.

“We have an outstanding group of people working here. The importance of hiring young employees is to surround them with (those I know to be) the best in the glass industry,” she says. “Our management and superintendents have such an awesome professional knowledge of this industry that it becomes quite advantageous for us, in turn, to surround them with eager minds.”

Jacob Johnson says he sees the construction industry altogether getting younger, which is helpful when it comes to relationship building.

“There is a directional move happening in which a lot of general contractors are hiring engineers and construction managers either our age or straight out of college,” says Johnson. “So more often than not our contacts with the general contractors are close [to our] age, which seems to [help in] building good relationships.”

A Step Back
“It’s refreshing [to work with a group of young people]; they are not so set in their ways,” says Stephanie Lamb. “The challenge sometimes, is making them slow down and pre-plan. Their eagerness can get the best of them on occasion.” 

Las Vegas, she explains, is a very different environment compared to other cities in that schedules are extremely fast paced. 

“The quicker [the building] is built and opened the quicker it turns a profit,” she says. “The contractors don’t always allow our finish trade enough time to complete those accelerated schedules, which can create an overwhelming sense of urgency on our end to make it happen for them. [For our trade] the ultimate goal needs to be assisting the contractor in planning and scheduling [beginning with the initial] awarding of the contract, so to provide the quality and service we are known for.”

The rapid pace of the Las Vegas market leads to another challenge the young crew at Giroux Glass is learning about: tight deadlines. How do they handle them?

“It all starts with preparation,” says Eric Johnson. “In the estimating phase we include a budget for expediting fees and when a vendor has been selected we notify them that the related material will require an expeditious lead time. This allows the vendor to store the material before it is in demand. Delivery is also a key role in getting material on site in a expeditious matter. Again it is all in the preparation, if you schedule ahead of time we can get a designated truck for us that can save an additional few days.”

“It is our job as the glass sub to provide the contractor with accurate lead times with the hopes of producing accurate schedules,” says Eric’s brother, Jacob. “In the Las Vegas market, manpower is very rarely an issue, so it comes down to being able to get the materials onsite in a timely manner. I think to resolve this issue there are two key components. First, keep your vendors informed and up to date with what is going on with regards to the project and get them the initial paperwork before the materials are ordered. Second, keep the contractor updated and give him accurate lead times as soon as possible. The more information the contractor has and the better that information is, the better the project schedule will be. “

Schuyler agrees the role of vendors plays a major part in meeting deadlines.

“We must rely heavily on a few specific vendors to produce matches to a lot of the custom glass and specialty metal requests we run into,” he says. “By doing this we are able to cut lead times, on occasion, in half.”

He continues, “In order to achieve any level of success however, we must qualify on our contract proposals all of our scheduling conflicts. By doing so we are able to grasp the customers attention from the start which allows us to establish a game plan as to what steps must be taken on the order to achieve the desired finished product while maintaining the construction schedule.”

And whatever they are doing at doing Giroux is working. Stephanie Lamb says their turnover is “next to none.”
“We make every effort to maintain a family-type atmosphere, constantly working as a team,” she says. To keep employees up-to-date, employees attend industry trade shows and vendor presentations. “They are eager to learn and grow with the company.”

But for the young generation working to find its place in the industry, gaining the respect of those seasoned veterans can sometimes be a challenge.

“As young people working within the industry, often times we are initially looked upon as a ‘check-number,’ so to speak,” says Schuyler. “To combat this, we go above and beyond what is expected of us. Attention to detail and presentation are initial brow raisers. Customers want to work with enthusiastic and compassionate people. Once we are able to establish a level of credibility our energy, coupled with [talent], paves the way to repeat clientele.”
For Jacob Johnson it’s not so much about employees’ ages, but the way by which they do their jobs.

“Age aside, you need to know what you’re talking about on any project; come to the table prepared,” he says. “In other words, study all the drawings, project schedules, possible issues, etc. Once a contractor knows that you understand your product and what needs to happen I think all uncertainties drift away.”

Looking toward the future, the employees, as well as their mentors and supervisors, are optimistic about what they will find and accomplish.

“As the owner, my hope for the future is that [as they are mentored] they absorb it all; they have so much creativity and enthusiasm,” says Murrell, who adds, “So much enthusiasm, energy and knowledge … and they work well as a team. It is exciting to be there.” 

Eric Johnson, Project Manager
Age: 24
Number of years in the glass industry: 10; with Giroux Glass: 10 months
What do you like best about the glass industry? 
Observing someone as they see a finished glass project. It could be because of the massive structure, color or overall design. This trade is not common to most people so it always seems to be an eye catcher.
What do you like least?
Especially living Las Vegas, I would have to say the demand for quick lead times in such a fast past construction area.
Lessons learned?
Relationships will make or break the project. You must establish a relationship with all parties involved. This includes all vendors, other subcontractors, owner reps, contractor personal and all the way to the guy who sweeps the floor. You never know with whom you will have to deal.
Biggest challenges?
Taking people from the old school way of the past and integrating it with the people from the young new way of the present/future. I believe it is the same for any young person in most of today’s businesses or trades.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Working for a company that stands above the rest because of character, honesty and efficiency.
If you could offer advice to the next generation that will be joining the industry, what would it be?
Think twice before you speak or react; don’t respond out of frustration.

Jonathan Schuyler, 
Chief Estimator
Age: 26
Number of years in the industry: 6; with Giroux Glass: 3 ˝ 
What do you like best about the glass industry? 
The finished product. There is a certain satisfaction that comes along with playing a major role in a structure’s aesthetic appeal that cannot be replaced. Here in Las Vegas, we also have the opportunity to work with world-renowned architects and interior designers who are always pushing the limits of our industry’s capabilities. I find this to be extremely challenging and exciting.
What do you like least?
Energy surcharges, rising aluminum prices and accelerated schedules.
Lessons learned?
Communication is paramount. With our industry being a constant deadline, it is absolutely critical to maintain a frank and honest relationship with all parties involved, from our foreman and general laborers to the general contractor and owner.
Biggest challenges?
Bridging the gap between the technology available in today’s world and the methodology of years past. 
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Sitting atop our terrace at Giroux’s state-of-the-art facility with [the Giroux team] looking upon a breathtaking Las Vegas skyline that we played a major role in constructing.
If you could offer advice to the next generation that will be joining the industry, what would it be?
Be excited. Soak up all the knowledge your peers bring to the table and think outside the box. A door will always be a border until you open it.

Mary Humboldt-Shawver, 
Office Administrator 
Age: 35
Number of years with glass industry: 3; with Giroux Glass: 3
What do you like best about the glass industry?
I enjoy the construction industry as a whole. I particularly enjoy working in the glass industry, as it is truly a work of art. It is amazing how an architect’s vision, teamed with so many craftspeople, can put these intricate puzzles together in a matter of months to create masterpieces.
What do you like least?
That would have to be projects that utilize OCIP: Owner Controlled Insurance Programs. I am responsible for project billings and when we have an OCIP project the billings need to include change orders to compensate for these insurance policies. They not only tend to take up valuable time and energy on our part, but also on all parties involved in the process. I have found the construction industry to be one of a never-ending deadline. Couple that with form upon form of documentation and you have yourself one hell of a dance.
Lessons learned?
Pay attention to detail. The more information you collect the better prepared and equipped you will be. Our industry here in Las Vegas runs at quite an intense pace and requires one to be on the ball in order to maintain a competitive advantage.
Biggest challenges? 
You must keep up with the pace of change. Working in an ever-evolving world it is, at times, difficult to initiate the changes necessary to utilize the available resources.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I see myself and all my co-workers maintaining and expanding the high level of energy and success our predecessors taught and shared with us. I see Giroux Glass Inc. as a number-one glass company and our teachers and trainers retired on the sidelines enjoying their creation.
If you could offer advice to the next generation that will be joining the industry, what would it be?
Enjoy the ride! We have had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing architects and contractors in the world. I can only imagine what this industry will have created and accomplished in the next ten years. My advice is to go beyond the flow and set goals, not limits. 

Thomas S. Taitano II, 
Project Estimator
Age: 35
Number of years with the glass industry: 13; with Giroux Glass 2 years
What do you like best about the glass industry?
All the diverse possibilities and products we have to offer our clients. 
What do you like least?
Las Vegas is moving in such a fast pace, that I would say the [short] amount of time we are expected to review a job and have a bid number back to our client. 
Lessons learned?
Be meticulous when reviewing plans, specifications and bid documents. Organization is key.
Biggest challenges? 
With Las Vegas moving so fast, again, I would say the amount of time in which we are expected to review a job and have a number back to our client can be a bit unreasonable.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now? 
Being a person with a vast knowledge of the products and options the glass industry has to offer based upon the experience our market provides. 
If you could offer advice to the next generation that will be joining the industry, what would it be? 
Be content at what you do and always be open to learn new things. 

Christopher Lamb, 
Project Manager
Age: 23 
Number of years with the glass industry: 4 ˝; with Giroux Glass 4 ˝. 
What do you like best about the glass industry?
I like the variety of work in which we have the opportunity to take part. We have completed projects involving everything from typical exterior storefronts to custom interior glass designs to structural glass walls.
What do you like least? 
I dislike accelerated schedules and bad customer service. 
Lessons learned? 
I have learned that there is something new to learn every day. The industry is constantly changing, and you must keep an open mind to keep up with these changes. 
Biggest challenges? 
One of the biggest challenges for the younger employees in this industry would be gaining the respect of seasoned individuals throughout the industry, including your general contractors, vendors and peers. Younger employees typically have not yet established previous relationships with their customers and/or vendors, challenging them to earn that respect and build those relationships. 
Where do you see yourself ten years from now? 
I can see myself in a position somewhat similar to where I am currently. I thrive on the challenges this industry presents and I see myself constantly moving forward to step up to any challenge with which I am presented. 
If you could offer advice to the next generation that will be joining the industry, what would it be? 
My advice would be to ask as many questions as possible. There are many seasoned individuals in this industry who will offer a lot insight into the ways of the industry. I think this is a strong way to go about starting a career in such a diverse and challenging industry. 

Daniel Rodriguez, 
Project Estimator
Age: 26
Years in the Glass Industry: 3 months; with Giroux Glass: 3 months
What do you like best about the glass industry?
The integration of glass within a structure is, in my opinion, the most appealing aspect of architecture. Understanding the growing potential of what our industry has to offer has become quite interesting now that I am on the inside looking out. The chocolate fountain at the Bellagio, for example, is a monumental feature that pushes the limits of what we can do with glass. This is by far the most exciting aspect of our industry.
Lessons learned?
Attention to detail. When working with architectural drawings to determine our scope of work it is imperative to thoroughly analyze all details and specifications. In such a fast-paced industry, often times critical scope-related items could be overlooked and sometimes left out all together. The key is to clarify this in the design development phase opposed to the post construction document phase.

Jacob C. Johnson, Project Manager
Age: 27
Years with the glass industry: 12; with Giroux Glass, 1
What do you like best about the glass industry?
Because of the nature of the Las Vegas market and level of high-end work, we get to work with cutting-edge products and there is always something new. Since we are a finish subcontractor the majority of our work is out in the open and in view for lots of people to see which is really exciting and it makes you feel good about what you’re doing. I like the architectural and artistic nature of the glass business and, as such, I really enjoy design build projects. 
What do you like least?
The deadlines and lead-time requests get a little frustrating after a while, but as with any construction business, that’s just the nature of the beast. 
Lessons learned?
If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Your reputation is important and goes a long way in making a project successful.
Biggest challenges? 
I have not met with as much negativity as you would think from contractors. But for professionals our age there are sometimes obstacles to overcome in having to prove yourself to others. As we see a lot of veterans going into retirement there are going to be a lot of younger professionals coming into the industry or young people already in the industry stepping up to higher management positions. 
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Ten years is a long way out, but if I am still in the glass industry I would like to see myself as a senior project manager, general manager or even owner. However, I will be concentrating on my MBA in the near future so you never know what might come around the corner.
If you could offer advice to the next generation that will be joining the industry, what would it be?
Although practical experience and street smarts are very important, there is no substitution for a good education. Get that college degree—you can always lose a job but no one can ever take your education away. I also believe networking to be very important—meet as many people as you can and treat every meeting as an opportunity. I would also say to never burn a bridge no matter how right you think you are; you never know when that person might pop up or come back to offer you an opportunity. And lastly, make sure that you are happy at work. Getting stressed out is just not worth it. A happy employee yields successful results.

© Copyright 2005 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.