A Ferry Ride Makes All the Difference
Dahl Glass Expands Toward Seattle and Grows Commercial Projects
Since taking over Dahl Glass almost three years ago, company President Gabe Rees has seen gross revenues for the already thriving glass and window business double. He attributes much of that success to increasing services in the local market and a focus on increasing business in the Seattle metro area.
“Downtown Seattle is just a ferry ride away from our headquarters in Poulsbo. The biggest challenge has been managing the growth,” Rees says. When Rees purchased the company from the Dahl family, it had been focusing on the local market, providing commercial and residential services ranging from small repairs to mid-sized new construction projects.
Aiming for the Sky
“We saw a big potential to grow by focusing more on Seattle and the surrounding metro area,” Rees says. “The company has been in business since 1946, and that goes a long way to open doors for us. The company already had a lot of the right pieces in place: good people, good relationships with general contractors, and a well-established and respected track record. With all of those things, we were able to mold the company more to what we wanted rather than trying to start a new business from scratch.”
While Dahl does more residential glasswork on the Kitsap Peninsula than anyone else, two-thirds of the company’s business is commercial, he says. The company maintains a residential crew on the peninsula and regularly sends commercial crews to the Seattle area.
Much of the work in the Seattle market includes storefronts and curtainwalls up to eight floors on new construction and renovations. Most activities are performed on the lower podium levels, but work often includes interior glasswork, showers, railings, mirrors and more. Rees says contractors often come to Dahl with their full glazing scope on construction projects. “Being located on the Kitsap Peninsula, we have developed a broad scope of abilities and this often gives us an advantage,” he adds.
“The goal over the next few years is to continue to focus on our people and keep building that team where it makes sense, continue to focus on quality work—adding value for our clients—and building our reputation in the market. Success brings success and, in my experience, when you focus on quality and service, people notice. We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing and add to our crew and staff organically,” Rees says. “There is so much work available in the Seattle market,” he says. “As long as you’re providing a quality service and have the manpower, the sky is the limit. We are keeping the repeat business coming, and we’ve already grown our crew to 23 employees since buying the company.”
The team needed to grow as the company stepped up its commercial work of retail storefronts, mixed-use projects and short curtainwall projects, which have been the company’s bread and butter, Rees explains. One of the company’s recent projects was the Grant Street Elementary School in Port Townsend, which involved the installation of storefront windows, doors and interior glass. Dahl also recently installed bullet-resistant glass on the guard towers of Naval Base Kitsap - Bangor, and also provided a complete glass package of storefronts and curtainwalls, interior glass, shower doors, railings and more at Heron’s Key senior living retirement community in Gig Harbor. The firm also installed all the storefronts for The Trails at Silverdale, a 30-acre shopping and dining destination on the peninsula.
Exceeding Client Expectations
“For us to stand out from the competition, it is all about the service and how we add value. A major part of that is quality. Maybe it’s in part because we do a good chunk of residential work, and residential customers are just pickier by nature, but our crew really pays attention to detail and does its best to provide quality work,” Rees says. “I drill that into the staff; we must focus on quality and doing the job correctly.” He tells his staff members that if they are working just for a paycheck, they may want to look elsewhere. “People need to understand why their work is important,” he explains. “When you finish a job and you’ve done it right, there is a sense of satisfaction to it. I worked for my grandfather in the summertime when I was younger—he was a builder—and I’ve always enjoyed building and the sense of satisfaction and being proud of completing a job correctly.”
“Understanding the why of what we do is critical,” Rees says. “What we do lasts and makes a difference, whether we are replacing a foggy unit in someone’s house so they can see out the window, or if we are putting in the exterior glass on an eight-story mixed-use building. Those storefronts and curtainwalls will be there for a long time.”
“What we do matters and our people need to recognize that,” Rees explains. “If you have that why, then you understand there is also a what and a how to what you do. The why is your end goal. From caulking the joints on a storefront to cleaning the metal with alcohol so that it adheres properly—all of that can impact the longevity of that project. Doing it correctly makes it meaningful.”
Fieldwork Learning Curve
Rees learned how to do the job working side by side with his employees. Coming from a finance background, he knew the business side of the company but didn’t know how to do the fieldwork. “I had to learn the technical skills, and my employees are still better than me, but now I understand how difficult the job really is,” he says.
“I worked overseeing a door and hardware company before I bought Dahl Glass, but what we do here is a lot more labor-intensive,” he explains. “I wasn’t used to managing labor. That was a big challenge for me—getting a feel for the practical applications and managing labor. And, it all goes back to the why again. We have to look for quality people who are attracted to a company that has a purpose. We have a really good team here now and I’ve had enough time in [this field] to adapt and learn. Everything generally runs well now and I don’t have the same problems as I did early on.”
There are several competitors in the region, but Rees says Dahl stands out because the business isn’t just about the bottom line. There is a labor shortage in the region, but he has a backlog of glazers who want to work for him. “People recognize when a company cares about what it does and its employees. The best employees want to make a difference, not just work for the company that pays them the most. It’s about the quality of the work environment and the better that is, the better their work will be.”