Clear Focus on Quality
Binswanger Glass recognized for top performance in glazing industry
Unlike any other building material, glass requires a refined expertise for proper installation. A company that has been doing this work since 1872 is Binswanger Glass (Binswanger), with 60 locations in 13 states in the Southeast and Midwest.
“Binswanger is one of the largest full-service retailers and installers of architectural, residential and automotive glass and aluminum products in the United States,” says Art Rouse, Assistant Area Manager for the Binswanger Glass locations throughout the Carolinas. The company, always on the list of top 50 glaziers, was recognized as No. 11 in 2020 by the National Glass Association and Glass Magazine. “Each of our branches is different, but in North Carolina we have a focus on construction, especially commercial construction,” Rouse explains. In this market sector, the company handles storefronts and entrances, interior office partitions and handrails, curtain walls, security glass and even emergency board-up services.
In the Carolinas, the company has branches in Charlotte, Greensboro, Hickory, Pineville and Raleigh, North Carolina; and in Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina. The Charlotte branch is the “mother ship” for North Carolina, Rouse says, with a 30,000-square-foot plant. “We buy glass and aluminum extrusions (for frames) by the truckload. We have a full-service fabrication shop and ship to our other locations in North Carolina,” he adds.
A recent example of Binswanger’s work is the 10-story One Glenwood office tower in downtown Raleigh. The Charlotte shop cut and fabricated the frames for the glass and shipped them in 12 truckloads to Raleigh.
The project, a cornerstone of the Glenwood South neighborhood’s revitalization efforts, incorporates five different metal systems and multiple glass types for a unique look, Rouse explains.
Now the company is working on a second 10-story building next to One Glenwood, Tower Two at Bloc. (Bloc 83 was the original designation of the site, which is in a warehouse district.) In Cherokee, North Carolina, Binswanger is working on a new casino and hotel for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. “Transporting all that glass through those mountain roads is tricky,” Rouse says.
A 148-Year History
Binswanger Glass was founded in 1872 as a small glass store in Richmond, Virginia, by Samuel Binswanger. His four sons joined him, and the company began serving clients throughout the South. In 1903, a second branch opened in Memphis, Tennessee (now the company’s headquarters), followed by a third location in Houston, Texas, in 1923. When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, Binswanger was financially strong and committed its resources to keeping its employees working and providing high-quality work to its customers.
After World War II, the company began to grow again with the postwar building boom. Binswanger Mirror was founded in 1947. The company sold a full line of glass and mirror products as well as other building materials such as doors and cabinets.
Today, the company focuses on installing glass and glass-related products in residential and commercial construction and is also a major installer of auto replacement glass, according to Jennifer Brereton, Director of Marketing. Binswanger has a retail business selling framed mirrors, shower enclosures and replacement glass to the public.
Focusing on Safety: Glass as a Hazardous Material
Safety is a priority for the company. “Glass is a hazardous substance,” Rouse explains. “If it’s not handled properly, someone can get hurt or killed.” Binswanger is fully licensed and insured, and the company invests in safety training and equipment. Installers no longer build scaffolding but use lifts to get workers up several stories.
“More and more, we use manipulators with vacuum cups to put glass into place,” Rouse says. All new buildings use double-pane glass, which is twice as heavy as single-pane, so new systems must be designed to avoid repetitive motion and back injuries.
Keeping Current and Innovating
Building codes are complicated and constantly changing. Binswanger’s multistate operations require expertise with codes, provided by a team of specialized professionals.
In some parts of the country, building projects have fallen off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy, Rouse says. When that has happened, Binswanger locations have found innovative ways to keep busy. The Topeka, Kansas, branch made intubation boxes for hospitals and plexiglass shields to protect voters and poll workers. The team also made breath shields for the city buses in Kansas City and Topeka.
“In areas where our regular work dried up, we got into COVID-19 safety, shipping items all over the country,” Rouse says.
Tackling the Challenges of Logistics
Among the toughest challenges Binswanger faces are shortages of important components, Rouse says. For a long time, the capacity for glass manufacturing was lacking, but new lines are now being produced in the United States. Fortunately, Binswanger’s purchasing department secured a supply of Lexan polycarbonate sheeting and acrylics earlier in the year, as these are not available now due to high demand for COVID-19-related work, according to Rouse. These materials are being used by Binswanger to meet customer needs for shields and barriers to protect against virus exposure.
“Now the big issue is getting the glass from one place to another,” Rouse says. Raw glass from the manufacturer comes in 10-by-20-foot sheets, stacked in blocks that weigh 10,000 pounds each, four to a truckload. There is a shortage of truck drivers, who must have a special certification to transport the glass. The load must be checked every 150 miles; even something as simple as going over a railroad track can cause the load to twist and break.
Among Binswanger’s other projects in North Carolina is a 16-story building for Pfeiffer University’s Charlotte campus. A concrete office building was gutted, and Binswanger installed thermal framing and high-efficiency glass. An exterior concrete shelf on each floor was incorporated into the building’s square footage, with the glass placed on the outside edge, Rouse explains.
The Charlotte branch also provided all the glass at Concord Mills shopping mall except for one department store and the Bass Pro Shops location.
The branch has established road crews that can travel as needed, which is especially useful for doing work for insurance companies. “We did a medical office building in Mississippi,” Rouse says. “A hurricane came through and stripped the building. There was so much damage that there was no one local to do it. We will go anywhere in the Southeast.”
Another project Rouse points to with pride is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. At the time, a division known as Binswanger Glasscraft Products (Glasscraft) engraved the more than 50,000 names of the dead on the memorial. Glasscraft was absorbed into Vitro, S.A.B. de C.V. when the latter became Binswanger’s parent company. Later, Binswanger Glass was spun off as Binswanger Enterprises, LLC dba Binswanger Glass.
Promoting From Within
Binswanger has a tradition of taking care of its employees and helping them develop their careers, Rouse says. As a result, many of them, himself included, have had long careers with the company. “Our company culture is a little different,” says the 46-year Binswanger veteran. “The family put their wealth on the line in the Great Depression. We have a tradition of promoting from within. Our managers have gone up through the company.”
Rouse mentions Russell Nails, Director of Contract Operations, who he says is responsible for building the Charlotte branch into a major player in construction, and Michael Robinson, “a hometown guy who is taking over as Area Manager and keeping it going.” Robinson started as a Project Manager 15 years ago.
Transferring Employee Knowledge to the Next Generation
The longevity of so many employees has led to an issue with the age of the company’s workforce. “Our average age is 50s. Much of our leadership are in their 60s and 70s,” Rouse says. “Our lead fabricator is 68. They don’t want to leave.” The company is making use of its collective knowledge in training younger employees to be prepared to take on leadership roles.
“It’s a challenge to bring on new people,” Brereton confirms. “Glazing is unique. There is not a trade school program for this; employees train on the job. When they receive training and mentoring with our managers, they generally stay.”
Supporting Community Causes
Binswanger supports charitable projects in its communities. The Charlotte branch supports Big Day at the Lake on Lake Norman, which matches boaters with at-risk children for a fun day and also raises funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters. In Columbia, the branch co-sponsors a golf tournament that raises $10,000 or more for charities each year. Binswanger branches also participate in Habitat for Humanity projects, sending crews to install the glass for houses that general contractors are sponsoring.
Several ownership changes over the past 20 years resulted in the formation of Binswanger Enterprises, owned by Wingate Partners, with capital to invest in the latest equipment as well as developing the workforce. Binswanger Enterprises, doing business as Binswanger Glass, is well-positioned to meet the needs of the clients and communities it serves.