Volume 41, Issue 8 - August 2006

Chain Gang
How Contract Glaziers Work with National Chains to Get Repeat Customers
by Sarah Batcheler

Sooner or later the glass in commercial locations such as stores, hotels and restaurants breaks. For a locally-owned business, the replacement solution may be a simple one: call local glass shops for prices and choose the best one. But it is not quite as easy for national retail chains. What process do they go through in order to have the glass replaced?

USGlass talked to managers of retail locations across the country to find out. Contract glaziers who shared their experiences agree it is a difficult niche in which to thrive. Familiarity breeds success, however. Once a retail chain location becomes a regular customer of a specific company, the arrangement can be lucrative for the glazing company.

Broken Glass

Many retail chain companies have a set protocol to follow when a large lite of glass is broken. 

“We go though our company’s building and services team that contracts out the job,” says Kalli Keys, a store manager of Target in Pensacola, Fla. “We fill out a work order and a [member of the building and services team] dispatches someone from a list of people we have.”

Walgreens also has a corporate policy for such replacements.

“We have had glass broken before, and it gets fixed right away through a process with our corporate office. We file what we call ‘open a ticket’ to fix any item in our store with our corporate office and they communicate with a local glass shop and call in the order,” says Bridge Alviar, the manager of a Walgreens located in San Antonio, Texas.

Still, other companies simply call a local glass company directly.

“We use a local glass shop down the street because we’ve done business with them in the past and they are always able to get here quickly,” says Gerry Brown, manager of Days Inn in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Wal-mart and Sam’s Club, the largest retail company in the world, typically use local contractors to repair large storefront glass, according to Kevin Thornton, spokesperson for both.

Glass Shops

So who are the contract glaziers who handle replacements? 

Brown says she uses City Glass for her Days Inn work. Employee (and the owner’s daughter-in-law) Mary Townsend, says her company replaces all kinds of glass, including retail and storefront jobs.

“There is one main manager [here] who does the storefronts. He will take a guy or two from the shop with him,” says Townsend. “We market ourselves as being able to do any kind of installation.”

On some occasions, national glass chains will make arrangements with retail locations.

“They [retail locations] have charge accounts and if they want to set up an account, we run a credit check and then they’re in our file and if they need a replacement, they call and we send someone out and then bill them, which is once a month,” says Townsend.

“Typically the owner of the building will call the subcontractor that was involved in the original construction for glass replacements,” says Bill Sullivan, general manager at Heartland Glass Co. Inc. in Waite Park, Minn., who adds that 3 to 5 percent of his job orders are for commercial retail customers and 70 to 80 percent of his business is new construction/remodeling. 

“We have a blanket purchase order with some large companies,” says Tim Jimerson, vice president of marketing and sales at Lee & Cates in Jacksonville, Fla. “It’s kind of tricky as to what corporate retail companies do to schedule a glass replacement. It depends on who the customer is. A lot of the larger companies deal with a third-party management company that is responsible for finding someone to replace the glass.”

“Sometimes a corporation will have a contract with a nationwide glass chain, but usually, sooner or later, they will set up with a local company,” says Ron Deeble, a glazier at Access Windows and Glass LLC in Tacoma, Wash. “Probably 95 percent of businesses will call a local glass company and get bids over the phone. Then they will book the replacement and if it goes well, they will usually stick with that company,” he adds.

Janette Montalvo of Clear Vision Facilities Management, a service provider of glass, door, window blinds/shade, safes and locksmith services to several retailers, explains how large chain retailers handle getting storefront glass replaced.

“Most large chain retailers normally have an in-house facility department, however, most facility maintenance is outsourced to several nationwide service providers,” she says.

So-called “flat-glass networks” are a rapidly expanding industry phenomena. 

Tim Byrne is president of Stadia Industries, a company that specializes in nationwide door and glass service in Canada for retail customers including Zellers, Wal-mart, Toys R Us and the CN Tower. The company has more than 30 affiliates nationwide, according to Byrne. 

“When we started the company in 1990, we used friends across the country [Canada]. A lot of them had worked for my dad, who was in the glass business beginning in 1969. Since we started, we have application forms and our own set of criteria and brand loyalty,” says Byrne. “We’re only as good as the last job we do.”

Joe Sousa is the owner and president of Glass America Commercial Services, a national company based in Providence, R.I., that specializes in glass replacements for major retailers.

“We call it the pain of change. Some [retailers] were responsive and others weren’t,” he says. “Right now, lots of companies are getting into outsourcing, so it’s a good time to be in the business,” says Sousa, who adds that his company serves retailers nationwide, in Canada and the Caribbean and has more than 6,000 subcontractors that do work for the company.

“Besides glass replacements for big customers such as Marmaxx, Limited Group, Office Max and Helzberg Diamonds, we have also started doing some plumbing and electrical [work] because our customers asked us to do it,” he adds.

Byrne says his company only does glass replacement work.

“The rule [for our company to work on it is] that the building has to be occupied,” he says, adding that he spends money on trade shows and direct mailings, but today, about 70 percent of his customers are from a referral basis.

How do national glass networks get selected for a job? Byrne says most of the bookings are made through a company’s head office or through its store manager.

Deeble says he also gets the majority of his customers through word-of-mouth.

“For us,” Jimerson explains, “we work a lot with the City of Jacksonville, Fla. But, they [the city] cannot pick one contract glazier to work with exclusively; they have to spread the wealth for the glass companies in the area.”

He explains that in order for a company to be considered by the City of Jacksonville for glass replacements, it has to get in the pool, which can be competitive. 

“You have to be competitively-priced and excellent in your service and then the city might give you a blanket purchase order good for one year. Then, the company will receive jobs from the city continuously, which would all be on the same purchase order,” Jimerson explains. “But, other glass companies are also being called by the city to do jobs.”

“About 90 percent of all of our jobs go through some type of bid process,” says Sullivan. “Either through leads generated from the builders exchange or negotiated work that we have developed through client relationships.”

The large nationwide glass replacement companies have individual methods for finding subcontractors for their networks.
“We acquired our subcontractors through visits in larger markets and through questionnaires and criteria. We also have a rating system based on [being] on time, satisfaction and cost effectiveness,” Sousa says.

“About 50 percent of our jobs are given to us, no quote, no nothing. The other 50 percent is quoted at a flat rate,” says Byrne.

Glazing companies need to be prepared for the workload.

“We keep some glass in stock [for which] we have a lot of turnover, and then we have wholesalers in the area who can usually deliver glass we may need within a few hours. Some glass takes longer, depending on how special it has to be,” says Townsend.

“About 60 to 70 percent of the glass our subcontractors use is shipped to them from Stadia. We ship to them within 12 hours,” Byrne says. “It works out well because there is no mark-up for the subcontractors, which means they save money, and the standards are achieved. I’ve taken the risk out of my guys putting in the wrong glass,” he adds.

Montalvo explains that using a nationwide glass replacement chain can be beneficial for all parties involved.

“It allows the retailer to concentrate on what they do best and it still provides the local company sales. The network is just the stop gap in between that truly is providing a service to both the retailer and the local independent glass shop,” says Montalvo. “We all want the same thing, to run a successful business.” 

In fact, most nationwide glass replacement companies only serve large retail chain companies.

“All of our customers have more than 100 locations,” Sousa says. “It is more cost-effective for them [the retail company] this way. If it is less than that, it’s usually better for them to use a local glass shop.”

Job Challenges

Many contract glaziers agree, replacing glass curtainwall and storefront glass has its challenges.

“Typically you are dealing with a building that is occupied,” says Sullivan. “You have to be concerned with the safety of the occupants as well as weather-related issues. In that situation, we will cover the window opening and in extreme cases we will build a temporary shelter. We use caution tape and construct a barricade if the situation merits,” he adds.

“We have a policy that our glaziers don’t leave a store manager alone until they can lock up,” says Byrne, who adds that the majority of retail store managers are women.

When it comes to glass replacement, corporate retail companies will stay with a system that works. When they find a local glass shop that does a good job, they will return to that company in the future.

“We try to stay on the cutting edge. It’s a challenge to help all the glass shops get on that level of technology. We are also always trying to keep costs down for our customers. We try to help each individual glass shop if we can get them into buying groups,” says Sousa.

“Depending on the system there can be fewer parts [than a residential window] to deal with on storefront systems. Also, there is less of a chance to damage the framing in storefront glass replacements versus a typical residential window,” says Sullivan. 

“If the job’s not that difficult, it’s a good profit-making job. You can make a good amount of money in a short amount of time,” says Townsend.

Summing up the work, Sullivan adds, “Everyday is a unique experience!”  

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.