Improvise, Adapt and Overcome
Windows of opportunity allow Vista Glass to forge lasting impressions
“Glass breaks, and that’s OK.”
That may seem like an odd credo for a man whose professional life revolves around glass—but for Richard Main, who co-owns Vista Glass Inc. with his wife, Maria, it’s a way of saying the glass itself is less important and durable than the relationships forged with their customers.
“Glass is fragile, as are relationships,” Richard says. “But if we make an impression on the customer, they’ll remember us, they’ll call us back.”
The youngest of five brothers, Richard has been around the glass business since he was a child. When his oldest brother took a job installing auto glass to help the family make ends meet, and then each brother in turn followed suit, Richard spent his summers watching them work until he too was old enough to go into the business. But while each of his brothers went on to a different profession, Richard always found his was back to glass.
“Back then, I never thought I’d own my own glass company one day,” Richard says. In 2000, not long after he and Maria married, they borrowed some money from her father to launch Vista Glass. Like many fledgling business owners, the Mains operated their business out of their home to keep costs low.
“My wife was working out of the laundry room, while I did installations,” Richard says. “We had customers coming to our home and sitting in the living room while I installed glass in their cars. We had glass all over the house. I did sales and installation while my wife handled bidding and coding.”
Within two years, Richard and Maria repaid the loan from her father—and moved Vista Glass into a commercial area. In those early days, the majority of Vista Glass’ business was in auto glass, but soon the company was expanding into residential and commercial glass projects.
“We were mostly auto glass to start,” Richard says. “And that was great because I loved working on cars. But my brother told me I had to learn it all, every kind of installation, so I’d be more valuable in the marketplace. Whether you’re talking about residential, commercial or auto, the glass itself is mostly the same, but there are substantial differences in the actual installation.”
Building a Resume
For its first 15 years, Vista Glass remained a successful, steadily growing business serving the southern Arizona counties of Cochise and Pima. In 2015, the company took a huge leap forward when Richard and Maria bid for—and won—the glass installation contract for a project called Hub on Campus Tucson II, a new off-campus housing complex at the University of Arizona.
“Our largest project prior to Hub II was $250,000,” Richard says. “This was a $1.8 million project. A lot of people doubted I could do it, since we’d never had a project that size before. It was a huge job, but I’ve always said I’d rather give something a shot than regret not trying. Five months later I got the job done on budget and on time. You improvise, you adapt and overcome.”
Richard’s success with the University of Arizona project opened more doors for Vista Glass. Soon, the company was winning contracts with clients such as Northwest Medical Center in Tucson, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Marriott Hotels, Hampton Inn & Suites, multiple automobile dealerships and Discount Tire locations, and the Girl Scouts Resource Center in Tucson.
“We’ve had tremendous success in the area,” Richard says. “That was my main reason for coming into Tucson. I knew there was a gap to be filled.”
As the Vista Glass resume continues to expand, more opportunities have opened up, and the company has several large projects underway or about to start. In September, Vista Glass began a $600,000 project for a new government building in Pinal County between Phoenix and Tucson, installing storefront glass and aluminum. Richard is also gearing up for a $400,000 contract installing blast-resistant glass at an Arizona Air National Guard base in the Tucson area.
Naturally, the influx of larger projects is showing up on the bottom line. In the last five years, gross revenue for Vista Glass has jumped from an average of $1 million per year to $3 million or $4 million per year.
“We’re hopeful for breaking $4 million this year as well,” Richard says. “We’re always looking to earn more projects in local counties. If things go well, we anticipate opening another location in Phoenix.”
“Glass is fragile, as are relationships. But if we make an impression on the customer, they’ll remember us, they’ll call us back.” Richard Main, Co-Owner, Vista Glass Inc.
Vista Glass began its life doing mostly auto glass, but commercial work quickly overtook it and now accounts for about 80% of the company’s business. In keeping with his brother’s advice about learning every kind of installation, Richard offers a variety of services through Vista Glass, including installation, replacement, repair, tinting and custom-designed window production.
“We have the facilities to manufacture our own insulated windows,” Richard says. “We can produce what’s needed for a job on the same day, rather than waiting a week for it to arrive.”
Vista Glass now boasts a fleet of 13 vehicles, including glass trucks and boom lifts, as well as 25 employees certified with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Richard says. For the last four years, the company has been in a strategic alliance with Kawneer, an aluminum-producing company, as one of only three licensed dealers in Pima County. The minimum annual purchase to qualify as a Kawneer dealer is $250,000, Richard adds.
The relationship Vista Glass enjoys with The Blue Book Network has also been a financial boon for the company.
“Blue Book has helped our business tremendously,” Richard says. “I reached out to get into the Network, and it has worked out great. We’ve been a loyal customer with The Blue Book for the last five or six years, and it has helped us win a lot of projects. It used to be I had to drive from plan room to plan room, but now I can use the Network to find out about and bid on projects all over our service area.”
The company’s expanding resume of successful projects has led to some new and unusual contracts. Recently, Vista Glass installed 2-inch-thick bulletproof glass in all the border entry kiosks at the United States-Mexico border crossing in Nogales, Arizona. The company has also installed a 30-foot curtain wall of blast-resistant glass in the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) hangar at Fort Huachuca in Cochise County, Arizona.
A Clear Vision
Through all the company’s growth and change, one thing has remained the same: Richard’s core belief that the relationship with the customer is a business’s most valuable asset.
“I always tell my daughters that glass and aluminum are everywhere,” Richard says. “What makes us different is our people and our service. When you’re calling for glass, you’re looking for the personal touch. You’re looking for the person who does the follow-up. That’s why we’ve become successful. A good business owner is a good marketer. I give the customers my face, my smile and my promise to get the job done on time and on budget.”
Twenty years of owning their own glass company have taught Richard and Maria that whatever technical changes and challenges come along, from the old days of single-pane glass to new products in which the window itself acts as a solar panel, the biggest hurdle often lies in finding the right employees. The average glazier is 45 to 50 years old, Richard says, and though the National Glass Association offers a glazier certification, it takes one to three years of mostly on-the-job training to earn journeyman status.
“I’m a get-it-done person,” Richard says. “Show me what you’ve got. Show me what you can do. I’ll judge by actions; that’s the way I work. Give me 100% and even if you fail, I’ll applaud you. My biggest pet peeve is quitting without trying.
“Glass is what shows off the building,” Richard continues. “It’s the handshake of the building, the presentation. Glass reflects, and when you install it in your car, your home, your business, it’s a reflection of us. It’s the perception you give out. Glass can’t bend or stretch; it has to be installed perfectly. All of that is why we have to take our job so seriously.”