A Leap of Faith
Professional Glass achieves 100% growth under new owners
In 2016, Pete and Jennifer Zanmiller were looking for a business opportunity that would allow them to relocate to Florida to be closer to two of their three grown children. At the same time, Stanley Baker, owner of Professional Glass, was ready to retire and sell the business.
The Zanmillers, residing in Louisiana, stumbled across Baker’s ad for the business. It seemed like a good investment, as the business had a sound financial position, a solid employee team and a strong customer base. Motivated by a desire and opportunity, they decided to go for it.
Pete previously had a long career in the newspaper industry, leaving that career in 2012 to work for a logistics company, and Jennifer had a lengthy career as a court reporter. While neither Jennifer nor Pete had any experience in the glass industry, Jennifer says, “Pete has a strong background in business, and we learn fast.” Today, they both play an active role in the day-to-day operations of the company and have achieved significant growth—100% in fact—since the acquisition four years ago.
Located in Thonotosassa, Florida, a suburb of Tampa, the company offers commercial glass and glazing services to customers anywhere in the state and is also licensed in Georgia.
By Leaps and Bounds
Henry Bennett (Smitty) Smith started Professional Glass in 1977 by offering glass installation services to gas stations all over Florida, and the company quickly grew from there. When the Zanmillers purchased the company in 2016, 95% percent of its business was for the fast food industry. Since then, the Zanmillers have diversified the Professional Glass customer base to include office and retail space, auto dealerships, clubhouses, medical offices, hotels and schools, with fast food business still comprising about 60% of the company’s business.
“When we took over, we made a conscious effort to diversify in the event of an economic downturn,” Pete says. “We didn’t want all of our eggs in one basket. We’ll go after any job that fits in our wheelhouse.”
Today, the company’s services involve installation of storefront glass systems, including a variety of finishes and glass types for a wide range of design attributes including curtain wall glass systems, interior partitions and doors, projects up to three stories and all tertiary service needs from window replacement to door adjustments.
The Zanmillers are proud of their efforts to diversify the Professional Glass customer base, noting recent accomplishments such as the downtown Tampa Burger King, Mosaic at Oak Creek apartment complex in Bonita Springs and numerous ALDI grocery stores. The company just completed the largest project in its history, a remodel of a solar-powered McDonald’s at Walt Disney World. The restaurant was redesigned as a green building with curtain walls featuring nuances such as electronic louvers. Pete notes that the job was completed on time, within budget, and the general contractor was pleased with the results.
Before the new McDonald’s, Professional Glass’ largest job was for the Erwin Technical College in Tampa. This project involved installing an impact-graded storefront and entrances on an older existing building, requiring the resolution of many complications with the architect and general contractor. For example, many of the windows were on the second level and located behind a brick facade. The team had to devise a method to reach the windows and change them while operating within a tight space, ultimately receiving praise from both the architect and the general contractor upon completion of the project.
Strength in Numbers
Professional Glass has retained all of its customers from before the Zanmillers’ acquisition in 2016 and has also kept all employees on staff, offering an impressive 140-plus years of collective experience. While the staff has grown by six employees for a current total of 24, Pete and Jennifer also attribute much of the company’s growth to efficiencies gained by new equipment, improved processes—and by “pounding the pavement” to acquire new business.
Pete and Jennifer believe that a team with decades of experience allows them to provide the best service to their customers while offering a vast amount of knowledge to the next generation of glaziers. Operations Manager John Emerick has 36 years of service, Vice President of Operations Bob Henchey has 15 years and Senior Technician John Legg has 27. Jennifer notes that many of the staff members have been with the company for 15 to 20 years, offering significant experience in the field and added value for the customers.
Pete and Jennifer reward their team’s dedicated service with a positive company culture. A big family picnic is held every September celebrating the Zanmillers’ purchase of the business and the staff’s loyalty to the company. Jennifer says, “We try to show them how much we appreciate everything they do for us. The company would not be successful without them.”
More Than Just a Good Glass Company
Pete says, “We have a lot of repeat business, which speaks volumes about what we do. There are a lot of good glass companies in the state, and the end product is usually not much different.”
However, there are three things that Pete says set Professional Glass apart from its competition.
First, having worked in the fast food sector of the industry, Professional Glass is very cognizant of tight deadlines. The staff works closely with general contractors to ensure schedules are met and owners are satisfied. “We are customer-centric,” Pete says. “We work to meet deadlines even when our workload has us spread crazy thin.” He explains that fast food renovations demand particularly quick turnarounds. He says that, in most cases, the restaurants’ drive-thru services remain open while a storefront is replaced. “Being able to complete a job on time, in a short time, while maintaining quality is a big differentiator,” Pete says.
Second, technicians provide solutions and value-engineering opportunities whenever possible, capitalizing on the team’s collective knowledge and experience. Pete says that internal collaboration has helped the staff reach valuable and creative solutions when met with challenges on the job. The Tampa Burger King job is a good example. He says, “This was a curtain wall job with sunshades, and we had never done sunshades before. We knew we could do it, but we had to put our heads together and use all of our experience and knowledge to come up with the solution. It challenged us to think outside of the box, and in the end, we were able to produce.”
Third, he cites pride in workmanship. “We deliver the highest quality of work possible,” he says.
Looking to the future, Pete and Jennifer hope to experience more of the same—providing glass and glazing services throughout the state of Florida with strong growth in both volume and customer base. They will continue to focus on their core strengths but, potentially, branch out into the multitenant residential arena, such as apartment buildings and condominiums.
Pete says, “Our focus will continue to be on storefronts, curtain wall systems and interior glass wall systems, but we are always willing to expand our services when our customers need it. We are proud of our work and our team and look forward to continuing to provide the highest quality glass and glazing services to our clients.”