Gary Brown taps life experiences to build Houston Glazing Contractors into thriving business
Gary Brown understands the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. Like a tried-and-true champion athlete, he’s capitalizing on his experiences in this marathon called life to build a thriving commercial glass installation company in the nation’s fourth largest city.
Within a year’s time since founding Houston Glazing Contractors in April 2018, Gary has created a company with 11 employees and over $1.5 million in sales. Houston Glazing Contractors offers 35 years of expertise in commercial glazing applications, including curtain walls, storefronts, panel systems, aluminum and stainless cladding, and doors and hardware. While the company works in Austin and will go anywhere in the state of Texas, the majority of its business is in the Houston area.
A Family Tradition
To understand Gary’s overnight success story in the Houston market, one must look at the entirety of his life’s experiences—the ups and downs over more than three decades as a glazer involved in field installations, sales, and project and company management.
Gary is a third-generation glazer who began cutting glass when he was just 8 years old in the shop of his father’s successful glazing company in Los Angeles. “My father started with a toolbox and a beat-up Toyota pickup truck in the 1960s. His father was a glazer who pulled him out of school when he was 12 years old to work. He couldn’t read or write well, but he built an empire,” Gary recalls of his father’s Diamond National Glass Company. At one time, the firm had 150 workers in the field.
Gary followed in his father’s footsteps, creating his own successful glazing company in Los Angeles in 1997. Some of his larger projects included the historic renovation of Los Angeles City Hall, and glazing projects at the Junipero Serra State Office Building and the Beverly Robertson Design Center.
Gary closed his business in 2001 following a divorce, and then waited two years before starting another glazing company. But the death of his fiancé, coupled with the Great Recession in 2008, were two setbacks too many, and he was forced to close the doors of his new company in 2010 after losing a major contract. “I had used all my savings to keep the company afloat when the economy went bad. I was penniless. Everything was gone, and my whole vision disappeared. I never thought of owning my own company again,” he remembers.
New Opportunities in H-Town
Gary went to work for other glazing companies, first as director of a full-service, small glass shop and then in commercial sales with Binswanger Glass. His work with Binswanger Glass took him to Houston in 2015. “There’s something about this city—the energy and the people. It’s booming here with work. I told my family and friends that if I could get a little bit of money, I’d start my own company again. I could run with this place,” Gary says.
Living in Northern California, he had just started a large glazing job at San José State University with Pacific Glazing Contractors, when he had a conversation with his oldest son, Chase. “At dinner one night, he told me, ‘Dad, your life is so depressing. All you do is work. You have no life. What would you do if you could do anything you want?’ ” Gary recalls.
Gary knew the answer: start his own glass company. “I envisioned what it would be like to have my own business again. And then a friend of mine decided to invest in that vision,” he says.
Gary resigned from his job in February 2018, and traveled to Houston to scout property for his new company. In March, he formed an LLC and in April, made the move from California to Texas.
“I opened my doors on April 10, and my Blue Book representative walked in on the 11th or 12th. Signing up with Blue Book was one of my first transactions after signing my lease. I wrote a check on the spot, as I needed some kind of pool to fish in for clients. It’s where we’ve landed all our big projects,” Gary says.
Gary, aided by his retired father, spent three months flooding the market with bids. “I brought my 75-year-old father in for two weeks. We prepared bids 12 hours a day. Three months later, the phones started ringing and they haven’t stopped since,” he says.
One of his first jobs was for a CarMax location in Houston. “My middle son, Brandon, came to live with me, and we worked side by side on this project. The contractor client was pleased with the job. Afterward, we started another glazing job for a restaurant and very soon, we had so much work, I needed to hire a crew,” Gary says.
He went through several glazers before finding his lead field supervisor, Mauricio Olvera. “He’s one of the best glazers I’ve ever met in my life,” Gary says. “He loves our company and wants to grow with us, and brought in his own team.”
Today, Houston Glazing Contractors has seven people in the field and four in the office in northwest Houston.
The company recently completed glazing for Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille in the upscale River Oaks area of Houston, a project for Panterra Construction. The company is presently doing glazing for a multistory apartment complex and a complicated project for a house of worship in Houston for Habitat Construction, which involves a lot of doors and hardware.
“Commercial glazing is rapidly changing,” Gary says. “In California, the challenge was seismic; the earth never stops moving. We built differently there. Here, systems are built to withstand hurricanes, so I’ve had to get in tune with different engineering specs.”
With the success of the company’s commercial business, Brandon is now working to get a residential glazing division off the ground. “We’ve been working to pick up a window company to represent and we’re training a sales staff,” Gary says. “In the next several months, we’ll be a force to reckon with in the residential market,” he promises.
“There’s something about this city—the energy and the people. It’s booming here with work. I told my family and friends that if I could get a little bit of money, I’d start my own company again. I could run with this place.” Gary Brown, President and CEO, Houston Glazing Contractors
A Change of Focus
Gary’s life experiences have changed his view of what it means to be a success, and that has impacted how he runs his company today. He says, “When I opened my first two businesses, I had one thing in mind—to make money for me and my family, and that was it. When you go from rags to riches twice, and find that you’re 50 years old with nothing, you think, ‘What have I done wrong?’ ”
He continues, “When I worked for Pacific Glazing Contractors, I saw how involved the owner of the company, Michael Wells, was with the trade. He took time with his workers and he gave his time to the union. Everyone who worked for him did well. They made good money. I thought that if I ever get a chance to do this again on my own, I would want to be someone who gives back to his trade, as well as create a place where employees enjoy working.”
That is just the type of working environment Gary is creating for his team. “This is a place where we work hard, but have a good time doing it,” he says.
Office manager Jodie Cash was the first person hired by Gary and Brandon in August 2018. “The growth of the company is amazing, and I feel like I’ve played a role in that,” she says. “Everyone works together. Gary is a good leader and we have a really good crew. He listens to everybody, and if someone has a suggestion to improve the company or a job, he is open to those ideas. We have good relationships with our clients. No job is too small. Whether it’s a little job or a really big project, every customer gets treated the same.”
Gary affirms that sentiment. “I was raised to make money for myself. Now my No. 1 goal is to give my clients what they want—a perfect, great-looking product. That way, they will hire us again,” he says.
Three generations of glazing expertise and longtime relationships with companies such as Weldco Sales, Inc., a manufacturer of glass racks for trucks, help distinguish Houston Glazing Contractors from the competition. “Two things have been key to my growth and establishing my company brand here in Houston: great people in-house and my glass-industry relationships,” Gary says.
Having experienced both the thrills and agonies of business ownership, today Gary envisions a bright future. “We have big dreams,” he says. “We see ourselves five years from now doing high-rise buildings. We’re already doing multistory buildings, as high as six floors. We want to grow to $20 million in work and be one of the top 50 glazers in the U.S.”