All in the Family
Dennis Clark Honored by Glass and Metal Hall of Fame™
by Penny Beverage
Dennis Clark, president of Lafayette Glass Co. Inc. in Lafayette, Ind., has grown up in the glass business. Literally. His parents, Robert and Helen Clark, opened Lafayette Glass Co. in 1939, four years before his birth.
Dennis’s shop, Lafayette Glass, as it is known today, originally was a product of World War II, founded after Robert returned from the war in 1942. Before the war, he had founded another shop, which he named Clark Glass Co., but his wife was forced to sell it in his absence due to an employee shortage. When Robert returned home in 1945, the couple borrowed $2,000 and purchased another glass shop, Hunnick Glass, and renamed it Lafayette Glass.
“I still have a copy of the half-page ad that was in our local newspaper announcing our grand opening in September 1946,” Dennis said.
Dennis learned the ropes early from his parents, and took over in 1967. His long and illustrious career was recognized last year when he was inducted into the prestigious Glass and Metal Hall of Fame™. The award was presented on November 8 at Glass Expo Midwest ’02 in Indianapolis.
The Wonder Years
Dennis’s first job was that of a summer bellhop at a resort hotel near his home. At age 14, the job on nearby Lake Freeman helped him to pay for gas and the things a boy of that age loves, including several model cars (still a passion of his today). He made 75 cents an hour picking up trash around the hotel and carrying luggage for hotel guests.
He was always attached to the glass business, however.
“When I was in grade school, I would walk to the shop after school everyday and wait until Mom and Dad were ready to go home,” he said. “Naturally, I would sweep the floor and help clean up until I was old enough to cut glass and clean out the putty to fix wood storm windows.”
At age 16, Clark received a work permit and officially joined the company.
High School Sweethearts
Shortly after Dennis fell in love with the glass business, he found another love as well—his wife Bonnie, whom he met in high school. They married on February 20, 1960, when he was a junior and she a senior. At the end of the year, the young couple welcomed their first child, Mick. (In the following years, the couple had three more children—Becky, now 40, Chris, 33, and Aimee, 27.)
“Getting married at such an early age taught me my responsibilities really quickly,” he said. “My senior year, I went to school for half-days and then worked at the shop on afternoons and weekends.”
After graduating in 1961, Dennis stayed on with the company and handled most of its auto glass jobs—with a love for cars from childhood that continues today.
“Auto glass was always my first love, as I have always been a car enthusiast,” he said.
He was named general manager in 1964, at which time he began handling the company’s storefront jobs, plate glass replacements and mirror installations as well.
In 1967, the family suffered the loss of Robert Clark, when he passed away from a heart attack, and Dennis took over the company.
A Growing Business
In 1965, Dennis’s brother, Ed Clark, joined the business, after following in his father’s military footsteps and serving in the Army. With Ed’s help, Dennis was able to add mobile auto glass business to his list of abilities (along with contract glazing and in-house auto glass replacements).
In 1970, Dennis says he brought in Robert Miller, formerly of Ohio Plate Glass, to help the company grow. Later, in 1971, he led the company in purchasing Thirion Glass Co., a division of the Thirion Glass Co. in Danville, Ill., which was at the time a union glazing contractor and Lafayette’s main competitor. Dennis appointed Miller as general manager of the newly-acquired company and changed its name to Central Indiana Glass and Glazing Inc. in 1973.
“[Robert] has since retired, having made Central Indiana Glass (CIG) one of the top leading commercial glass firms in Indiana,” Dennis said. “This wholly-owned sister company is now managed by officers of the corporation, Randy Horton and Steve Julian.”
While the two sometimes end up competing for glazing contracts even today, Dennis has kept both operating under his ownership. However, he is not involved with the daily operations of CIG.
In 1972, Dennis, along with his brother Ed, officially purchased the entire business from their mother, Helen.
Ed retired in 1998, and Dennis purchased his brother’s shares in the two companies, thus becoming full owner of both Lafayette Glass and CIG.
An Ever-Changing Industry
As one of the industry’s most senior members, Dennis has seen a number of changes, particularly on the automotive side. The biggest of these, he said, is the innovation that has occurred in the car manufacturing arena.
“Some of the new technology for glass in cars is fantastic,” he said. “Seeing the new designs makes one more aware of the knowledge and skill it requires to be an auto glass installer.”
Likewise, he said pricing is, of course, always a concern, and has been one of the biggest evolutions to occur in his 40+ years.
“Hopefully, we, as an industry, will recognize the need to stop this nonsense of $10-or-less flat installation fees and start charging a fair mark-up for all of our material and a labor charge that matches what we do and are liable for,” Dennis said. “Back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s we charged by the hour until the big boys came to town and said they could install an FCW73 for the same price as a W450, $10 flat rate.”
He explained that this would be comparable to putting in a simple Volkswagen windshield for the same price as a 4-hour job installing a complicated Corvette windshield and being paid the same low price for each.
Likewise, Dennis said he now often wonders what the future could hold for independents throughout the industry.
“Let’s hope the insurance companies realize that the little guy is needed before we are all gone,” he said. “Until we quit letting others tell us how to run our business and continue making less money we as independents may not have anything to pass on to our next generations.”
On the side of his business, Dennis stays busy with community activities as well. In 1975, he even ran for mayor of the city of Lafayette for the local Republican Party. He was defeated but says he has remained active in the party and the community since that time.
He is a member of the National Glass Association and has served in a variety of positions for the association, including those of director and vice president.
He has also served on several important committees, including one on the use of energy-saving glass in exterior building walls. In 1986, the Indiana Glass Association was founded and Dennis was elected as its first president.
Looking to the Future
While Dennis is still involved with his shop, his son Chris serves as general manager and takes care of many of the details of the shop’s operations.
Chris said his father has taught him plenty to carry on the family business, though.
"Working for my father has been an experience. The first lesson I was taught was no matter the scope or size of a job, you always treat the customer will care and respect," Chris said. "I think his fairness and honesty with employees and customers has always be his greatest attribute."
While Dennis stays involved, his son’s help gives him a chance to relax every now and then.
“Now that [he] is managing the day-to-day operations, I try to make more time to play with my hobbies,” Dennis said.
He collects antique and classic cars, and in his collection are 16 vehicles, several motorbikes and a Harley Davidson motorcycle that he rides when he has free time.
“I also collect old toys, gun, knives, coins and about any kind of automobile collectable, including gas pumps,” he said.
However, his mind rarely wanders far from the business and he still is planning into the future for it.
“Our next venture is to become a major window supplier for the new construction market,” Dennis said. “We already do the mirrors and shower doors, so why not the windows and doors, too?”
|Glass and Metal Hall of Fame™ Prepares for Tenth Anniversary
The Glass and Metal Hall of Fame™ is gearing up for its tenth anniversary in 2004, by taking a brief break in 2003 to prepare for the milestone and choose its 2004 inductees. The nominating committee currently is accepting nominations for the 2004 honorees, who will be recognized at Glass Expo Midwest 2004. In addition, all previous inductees will be honored at the tenth-anniversary bash.
The Glass and Metal Hall of Fame and Glass Expo Midwest are sponsored by AGRR magazine and its sister publications, USGlass, SHELTER, Door & Window Maker, Window Film and Plastics Fabricating and Forming.
Do you know someone who deserves to be recognized? If so, please contact the nominating committee at 540/720-5584, or fax 540/720-5687. We look forward to hearing from you.
Penny Beverage is the editor of AGRR magazine.
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