On the Road with USGlass, USGlass

Contract Glaziers Viva in Las Vegas

MARCH 30–When you walk down the hall at the Paris Hotel and see three guys practically dismantling a huge Vegas mirror from the wall, or sit down at a breakfast table where the hot topic is embeds, you know you are at the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference.

With all due respect to the companies that start with sand and end with glass, or those who take it and fabricate it in a myriad of ways, the guys at the BEC Conference make the glass and metal world go round.

They scale tall buildings and crawl into tiny spaces. They are the work engines of this industry and are engaged in one of the riskiest parts of it. Their customers are among the most demanding, their working conditions among the toughest, they deal with financing, unions and bonding issues, and they work for customers (notably contractors, owners and architects) who want none of the responsibility and all the glory. That they are able to exist at all is amazing; in this environment, it’s miraculous. They are my heroes.

So yesterday was a great day. I got to learn a lot more about their business and spend time with a bunch of great guys. The seminars were excellent, with a special shout-out to the one on curtainwall failures presented by CDC.

It was also neat to meet some of the metal industry’s newer faces … Jeff Leone of Arch Aluminum, and Diana Perreiah, general manager of Kawneer, who made an excellent presentation about the state of the aluminum industry. Bunches of people are here, too; even Leon Silverstein of HHH made it in for a day.

This morning’s sessions have offered an interesting juxtaposition of topics that actually worked well together. The session opened with a presentation by John Rovi, also of CDC, who spoke about personal growth and the things that should be important to you in life. “Even if you haven’t invested in your self in the future, it’s the one thing that you can start to do at any moment in your life. You can start today,” he said.

Rovi was followed by Courtney Little of Ace Glass. Little is typical of the new generation of contract glazing company owners. Not only does he run Ace Glass in Arkansas but he is also an attorney. “When you lose a job over price, you have to ask yourself if the guy who won it is doing something wrong — or something right? True, he may have made a mistake, but he may know how to do some things cheaper than you.”

Little also mentioned some downward diversification. “We are a large contract glazier. We do hospitals and big buildings,” he said. “But we also started advertising locally and people now come up to me and say ‘I didn’t know you do shower doors.’ Now, I don’t mind doing shower doors because the margins on them are much better than they are on hospitals.”

In just a few hours, the BEC Conference 2011 will be history. It will be back in Vegas in 2012.

And what of Vegas itself? I come to a lot of meetings here, and it looks more active and busier than it has in the last 18 months. And there’s a new “industry” that has developed. It seems a fair number of people have taken to dressing up in costumes and walking the street in search of willing tourists who want their pictures taken with them. They then tell the tourists that there’s a “mandatory donation” of $5 for the privilege. The new profession must be growing because I saw Yoda, Superman, a number of showgirls of both genders, and a Batman and Catwoman all working the streets, although Batman really should have been working the gym. (I know, I know, like I should talk.)

“Yeah, some guy started doing this up on Fremont Street last year,” the cab driver told me. “And it worked, so now there are lots of people doing it.” Smile.