Tom Smith Celebrates 50 Years in the Glass Industry
December 22, 2010

Tom Smith Sr. has plenty of reason to celebrate this week – 2010 marked 50 years in the glazing industry, while 2011 will be the 40th anniversary for Tom Smith Glass Inc. in Columbus, Ind.

Smith started working at PPG Industries as a drafting detailer in their contract department in Dayton, Ohio, in 1960. From PPG he moved on to Kenny Glass Inc. in Columbus in 1962, and started Tom Smith Glass Inc. in Columbus in 1971.

“Back then most of the contract work was just aluminum doors and full sash and plate glass, with a little bit of curtainwall stuff,” Smith recalls. “Now most of the glass and glazing is high-end work with the curtainwalls and insulating glass and all the types of glass, heat reflective. None of that was available then. Blue tint and green tint was about all they really had back in the ’60s. Everything was pretty much plate glass and as time moved on it moved into tempered and insulating – so it’s a lot safer now.”

Smith has been semi-retired since September 2005 when his son, Tom Smith Jr., purchased Tom Smith Glass Inc. from him.

“Since 2005, Tom Smith Sr. has been involved with the company in estimating and keeping me out of trouble,” says Smith Jr. “My father and I are pretty close and I call on him on a regular basis for advice and support. There is not a replacement for someone whom has had 50 years experience in this industry, from running the business to running projects to working with the vast amount of employees - all very challenging in the best of times, not to mention the current times.”

Smith Sr. agrees, starting a business today “would be a lot tougher.”

In some ways, the challenges and solutions Smith Sr. faced early in his career were similar to those today facing glass shops today. Forming relationships with customers and suppliers proved instrumental in getting his new business off the ground.

“One thing that helped me when I started,” Smith Sr. says, “was I was the individual there at Kenny Glass and the customers … they knew me, they trusted me, they stayed with me.”

In addition, he adds, “I had a couple contractors that really helped me, they got behind me.” One construction company with whom he worked helped his build and get his building financed “after I was really in business for only two years. Without people like that it would have been a lot harder. That was developed over 9 or 10 years at Kenny Glass - they got to know me and they trusted me, so they would help me.”

Adopting new technology also proved important.

“One of the major things that helped us maintain personnel was when we went to computerized estimating. That basically saved me an employee back in the ’80s,” Smith Sr. shared.

Still, Smith Sr. does say he had an advantage in getting started that individuals new to the glass industry could benefit from today.

“For someone to start in the glass business [today] I think they really need to be involved with the industry somewhere before the try it on their own so they really know what they’re doing. Back in the ’50s, ’60s, and probably in the early ’70s PPG was almost like a school for my generation. Almost everybody you’d find getting started in the industry came through Pittsburgh in some way or another, salesman or estimator or whatever,” Smith Sr. says. “You don’t have that anymore.”

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