Innovative Glass Solutions
From installations to custom bi-fold doors, the Glass Depots team loves a good challenge
Glass Depots started out 18 years ago as a one-person operation. Today, it is a thriving company, providing glass and storefront installation and custom-fabricated bi-fold doors primarily in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
With a staff of 28, Glass Depots features a 2,500-square-foot showroom in Raleigh, where customers can view shower enclosures, custom glass and hardware options, and a manufacturing workshop for fabricating custom aluminum bi-fold doors and sliders that offer seamless openings, allowing customers to bring the outside in.
The business is owned by two emigrants from South Africa, Glass Depots President Ron Stern and Vice President Wally Wallis, who got their start in the glass business more than 35 years ago. When they came to America in the 1990s, they both established successful independent glass companies in Atlanta, Georgia. Ron focused on high-end custom shower enclosures, while Wally’s expertise was in commercial storefront and curtain wall projects. Over the years, Wally and Ron teamed up on various larger jobs as both of their companies grew.
In 2003, desiring to be in a smaller city, Ron moved his business, Glass Depots, to Raleigh, and by 2011, he had grown to a staff of 14. That’s when the two friends and former colleagues decided to partner, and Wally joined Glass Depots.
“When Wally joined the business, he came in with a huge amount of energy and dedication that squarely matched my own,” Ron says. “We had done very well with our custom shower enclosures at that point, and Wally brought in the commercial side with storefront and curtain wall projects, allowing us to serve an even larger variety of customers.”
In 10 years, business has grown dramatically. Today, Glass Depots specializes in three categories of work: custom shower enclosures, commercial storefront and curtain wall, and the fabrication and installation of its bi-fold door and slider systems.
The company has installed more than 25,000 heavy frameless shower enclosures, worked with small independent retail shop owners to enhance their entryways, and installed storefront or curtain wall systems for large apartment and office buildings.
“In addition to these main areas, we provide custom mirrors and glass tabletops, window glass replacement, and all manner of residential and commercial glass solutions to our customers,” says Chief Operating Officer Jack Wallis, Wally’s son. “On the residential side, we don’t contract out any of the work. When you hire Glass Depots to bring to life your dream shower enclosure or to create a seamless integration of the interior and exterior with bi-fold doors, we are the company doing the measuring, the quoting, the fabrication and the installation. And, we back that all with installation warranties so that our customers have peace of mind,” Jack says.
The firm works with individual homeowners and business owners, as well as contractors and builders. The company has done jobs for many builders in the area, including Messer Construction Co., Clancy & Theys Construction Company, Samet Corporation, Choate Construction Company, Wood Partners and Focus Design Builders LLC, to name a few. While the company’s work is focused in the Triangle area of North Carolina, Glass Depots has also done projects in Charlotte and many other surrounding areas. Its latest manufacturing division of the business ships bi-fold doors across the country.
Over the past year, Glass Depots has provided and installed commercial storefront, curtain wall, interior glass paneling and door lites for the Raleigh Law Enforcement Training Center. “It’s been a large job with a variety of different types of installations, and we’re very proud of how it turned out,” Ron says.
When asked to share the projects that stand out the most, the partners say they are proud of every single job they do. “Every customer wants to be treated with respect and dignity,” Ron says. “If you’re spending hard-earned money with us, we want to earn your satisfaction. So while the large jobs are absolutely impressive and feel amazing to complete, we feel just as strongly about all of the work we do.”
“Our staff members are natural problem solvers. We pay attention to detail, and we always aim to get it right the first time.” Wally Wallis, Vice President, Glass Depots
Experts in Glass
With over 70 years of combined experience in the glass business, Ron and Wally say that there isn’t a glass job or problem that they haven’t encountered. “We’re experts in the field of glass,” Ron says. “We know the work. We’ve done literally every single job ourselves in the past, from building frames, to installations, to glazing and more. This equips us to deal with any problem that comes up.”
Glass Depots’ experienced staff includes office employees, installation crews and fabricators, many of whom have been with the company for eight to 10 years and many more for at least five. “Our staff members are natural problem solvers. We pay attention to detail, and we always aim to get it right the first time,” Wally says. “Over the years, we’ve grown organically through exceptional work and work ethic, and a commitment to ensuring our customers are well taken care of.”
The company provides bonuses to employees to reward them for their collective success and recognizes them for their years of service during monthly meetings. “We’ve got great people here and want to show them how much we value them,” Ron says. “We’re very much invested in creating a great workplace and culture and keeping them here. That means being flexible and supporting them through the joys and trials of life, such as time off for the birth of a child or a family emergency.”
The company donates to local fire departments and over the years has supported various charities, like the Durham Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter. Several employees also volunteer with organizations that support marginalized groups, Ron says.
The two partners’ leadership has set an example for quality work and outstanding customer service. “Wally and Ron are hands-on with the business and provide our employees with knowledge, support and their decades-long expertise,” Jack says. “On each job we take pride in every step of the process, which ensures our customers receive the very best service. The honest truth is that we care.”
“Our growth can also be attributed to a willingness to adapt and to change,” he continues. “One of our greatest assets is our agility and our desire to pursue new avenues of business within our field.”
New Manufacturing Capability
The company’s newest foray into manufacturing—its Visionary Series Bi-Fold Door System and Signature Aluminum Sliders—began about four years ago, when Wally noticed the popularity of large-scale, modern sliding doors and aluminum bi-fold doors in Europe and South Africa. “They are gaining in popularity because they provide open integrated spaces and beautiful vistas to the outside within a home or business,” he says.
With the costs of the doors being high, Wally set out to create a Glass Depots manufacturing division that could allow clients in America to realize the lifestyle bi-folds enable without prohibitive costs. The journey took him to China; but after much testing and experimentation with various offerings there, he concluded that none of the door systems met the standards he expected.
Ultimately, Glass Depots landed on using slim aluminum profiles sourced from Spain and hardware sourced from England to create an incredibly high-end aluminum bi-fold door system at a price point that works well for its customers.
The system is packed with features and options. First of all, it is bottom-rolled, meaning the weight rests on the sill plate instead of hanging from a header above. This eliminates the need for structural engineering beyond what is required to create the opening. The door systems are thermally broken, meaning they are made up of two separate pieces of aluminum joined together by a polyimide midsection that Wally says drastically reduces the transfer of heat or cold from the exterior of the frame to the interior. “Think of it as a barrier designed to keep you comfortable,” Wally says. “In winter, it reduces the cold temperatures from penetrating to the interior aluminum; in the summer, it reduces the heat from doing the same.”
The door system also features a double-seal compression gasket, so as the bi-fold doors close, a specially designed rubber gasket, lining the outer frame of each door panel, compresses to form a near impenetrable seal.
Last year marked a huge year of growth for the firm and to meet the demand, Glass Depots installed two brand-new, state-of-the-art manufacturing machines from Emmegi USA—an automated double-head saw and a fully automated computer numerical control (CNC) machine. “They allow us to drastically shorten lead times for manufacturing and installations, all while maintaining utter precision,” Wally says.
The company’s willingness to pursue new avenues of business to meet customer needs is one of the firm’s greatest assets, Ron notes. “We’re constantly looking at trends here in America and overseas so that we can grow our offerings and provide exceptional and unique products to our customers. We always encourage people to reach out to us if they have something unique in mind,” he says.