Volume 8, Issue 5 - May 2007

Kenyon’s Stained Glass Factory

Opens Doors and Provides Windows of Opportunity for Manufacturers 
by Alan B. Goldberg

Ask any door or window manufacturer what consumers are demanding, and in one word, they will say choice. This simple word opens up a field of choices limited only by creativity and innovation. 

No one appears to know more about the rapid growth and potential for decorative glass than Chris Kenyon, founder of Kenyon’s Stained Glass Factory. A 13-year veteran of door and window manufacturing, Kenyon also worked for a cabinetmaker and a stained glass manufacturer.

“I always wanted to have my own business and, for years, I thought it would be millworking; but after six years with a stained glass manufacturer, I knew where my future was heading,” he says.

Fulfilling a Dream
In March 2000, Kenyon started to manufacture decorative glass in a 15,000 square-foot building and his 14-person staff in the west side of Columbus, Ohio. Having established a reputation and a large network of contacts from his previous employment, he had many potential customers. They represented three distinct markets—door, window and cabinet manufacturing. The business grew quickly and significantly in a very short period of time.

“One year later, we added another 10,000 square feet, having experienced double-digit growth which continued,” says Kenyon.

But it was just a matter of time before more space would be needed. That happened in 2003. 

“We looked into leasing or buying an existing building and we finally concluded that we would be further ahead if we built our own. We needed 35,000 to 40,000 square feet to house all the equipment we needed to operate.”

An undeveloped site was located about 20 miles away in Grove City. The building was designed and laid out to handle present and future needs. 

In August 2004, the company moved into its new 40,000 square-foot facility.

“Our goal was to make this move seamless and continue to provide the same level of service [which for door and window manufacturers was seven to ten days] and that has not changed. Very few customers knew that we moved,” Kenyon says.

Changes That Made a Difference
The plant is set up in three production areas: insulated products, which include glass and material cutting; non-insulated products; and CNC glass fabrication. There are 40 people (which can increase to 55) who work in two shifts. The first shift handles material preparation, final inspection and insulating while the second shift does most of the assembly. Tempered glass is supplied by Mid Ohio Tempering with an 18-hour turnaround so there are no delays. 

Kenyon points to two factors that helped him cope with the rapid growth: automated (and in some cases custom-made) equipment and specially developed software.

When he started the business, the operation was labor-intensive. That changed dramatically with automation. In fact, a number of the machines have been custom designed by Rowan Equipment and Fabrication based in Dysart, Iowa. 

“Clete Rowan [owner of Rowan Equipment] and I worked together in the early years at Eagle Window and Door Inc. He had designed and made many of the machines there. We focused on a number of areas and saw the value of automation and how it could eliminate 35 percent of a workforce,” Kenyon says. 

The Rowan washer is one of many machines that replaced a manual operation. 

“Clete and I spent six months working together on a glass washer that would be conducive to my operation. We knew what we needed to do. It was a matter of reaching the right water temperature, the right spray and the right balance.” 

Kenyon says it used to take six to eight people to wash the stained glass panels. Now it takes one. A Rowan custom-made V-saw and CNC came saw have replaced jigs that were used to cut framing and a V-groove machine by CMS-Glass Technometal also eliminated manual sawing operations. Developed to operate in conjunction with a Bilco CNC glass cutter, a Rowan adjustable seaming machine removes small glass particles and makes it possible to properly seam an assortment of glass textures.

But there is more to be done to improve efficiency.

“Our assembly area is still labor-intensive and some day, Clete will develop equipment that will eliminate a number of these manual steps,” Kenyon says. 

Automation doesn’t solve everything. There can be trade-offs. Kenyon says there is a dilemma some manufacturers may face when they replace labor with automation.

“You either give up scrap or labor. So far, we have chosen to take full advantage of the labor savings with CNC equipment.

One way to reduce scrap is with the right manufacturing software. 

“WTS Paradigm has created that software for us,” he says. “There are a number of large companies that provide this service but we’re not a door and window operation. We make decorative glass and we needed a company that was willing to develop something for us. They were. Others were not.”

The ability to enter a CAD drawing from a menu of bevel designs and choose from a field of glass with a click of a mouse takes manufacturing to another level. It provides critical manufacturing information on a department-by-department basis and indicates how long it will take to assemble a unit, at what cost and with what materials.

If there is one aspect of the operation that has not changed, it is with some of the materials. 

For instance, in the insulating glass area, Kenyon uses aluminum spacers by Allmetal and a Bostik sealant that he describes as old and true. 

“We continue to stay with aluminum [spacers] because we feel it gives us more integrity that is needed with the added weight from the center panel,” Kenyon says. 

Both sealant and spacer have proven to be high-performance materials in the field as well as in achieving certification. 

“We have been certified by the Insulating Glass Certification Council (IGCC) and now with the NFRC wanting the smaller insulating glass manufacturers to step up and be part of the program, we will be right on track,” Kenyon says.

An Attractive Option for Manufacturers
Kenyon knew how he wanted to approach door and window manufacturers. He recognized that he would have to work closely with each one and provide support in generating interest in decorative glass. With initial sales calls, he presented the opportunities to enhance their offering of doors and windows with a wide selection of attractive decorative glass and a turnaround in seven to ten days.

At Hurd Windows and Doors, diamond leaded beveled glass continues to gain in popularity, particularly in the Midwest, according to Joe Herman, vice president of sales and marketing.

Brian Finke, glass manager for Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork, agrees.

“Although customers are requesting a wide array of designs and patterns, recently, most have been for diamond patterns with beveled or clear flat glass,” he says.

Herman points out that typically, Hurd is asked to quote on glass with some type of pattern.

“Many of our customers get their ideas from Kenyon’s website and, for those who need help, we rely on Kenyon for inspiration since it is rare that someone designs their own,” says Herman.

Finke says demand for decorative glass, which Kolbe has been offering since 1994, has grown steadily. 

Brian Selensky, a buyer for Eagle Window and Door, says the key with decorative glass is choice. He points out that it is being used in a high-end market and customers want to decide everything. 

“People want to differentiate themselves and they want to customize everything,” adds Sharon Rea, marketing manager for Eagle.

She says decorative glass is used mostly as an accent piece, in an entry way or a window going up stairs or as an accent window in a bathroom.

“Customers enjoy the beauty it can add to the home with a limited amount of maintenance to the product,” adds Finke.

At Eagle, the process for ordering begins with a request from the customer, which may include a rough sketch, says Selensky. The information is given to the company’s engineering department that develops a drawing with specifications for Kenyon.

Once the customer approves the final drawings, the job goes into production.

Selensky is amazed with the turnaround and workmanship compared to a previous supplier. 

“His lead time is seven to ten days, which from past experience, is unbelievable and the quality is A-plus. The difference is like night and day. He [Kenyon] understands our needs and has done a great job. We never have issues with a job and our customers have been very pleased.” 

Based on demand, Selensky says Eagle is pushing Kenyon for more offerings including designs to make it easier for customers to make choices.

The situation is a little different at Gorell Windows and Doors where proprietary designs are developed in-house, according to Dennis Ragan, marketing manager.

“There is definitely a need for decorative glass and to work closely with Chris Kenyon, we are meeting it with his [standard] designs and those that we develop,” he says.

Ragan says the biggest advantage of decorative glass is that there are so many possibilities, particularly in design, a situation that presented an interesting opportunity for the company.

“Wayne (Gorell, chairman and CEO) told us that with his background in stained glass design, he could help us create new designs in-house,” adds Ragan.

“My wife and I have worked with stained glass for many years. In fact, we've taught classes on it,” says Gorell.

Kenyon’s Stained Glass Factory offers more than 200 glass options. This includes: custom shapes and sizes; zinc, brass, patina and nickel caming; custom sizes as large as 25 square feet; insulating products in ¾-, 7⁄8- or 1-inch thickness; silver, gold or black spacers filled with desiccant to match the caming of choice; tempered or annealed glass; and silhouette, frosted, polished and mutton V-groove patterns in several widths.

Creating an Employee-Friendly Environment
Kenyon says one of his goals from the start was to provide an employee-friendly environment.

“Taking care of people is a great motivator. They will give that extra effort, they will take care of customers and they will want to better themselves,” he says. 

In addition to an attractive benefits package, there is profit sharing and monthly bonuses based on a group effort toward productivity, safety and house cleaning. 

“I am a big believer in peer pressure,” adds Kenyon. I would say that 80 percent of the time, it separates the performers from the time-wasters. And in our case, it allows us to function without multiple levels of supervisors. We are driven by a schedule, not a clock. If a shift finishes early, they don’t have to hang around.”

Although the environment has remained the same, many things have changed, according to Dave Convers who joined the company in 2001.

“When I started, we were doing almost everything by hand. Most of these steps are now automated,” he says.

He sees one of the biggest challenges as “preparing ourselves for the next surge in growth. What we will need are certain disciplines in place, referring to integrated software, as he works closely with WTS Paradigm.”

Comparing the work environment to a previous employer, Convers describes the difference between a corporate culture with hidden agendas and an open environment where people can express themselves openly.

Facing the Challenges and Looking to the Future
The most obvious challenge is keeping up with the growth that continues at a high rate. Last year, the company produced more than 26,000 units.

“I saw other similar companies grow and when they reached a certain level, they would fall apart. They didn’t have a plan and they didn’t really know their customers,” Kenyon says.

He attributes part of the growth to the void that was created when some of his competitors went out of business.

“I learned from their mistakes. Our customers have many different kinds of needs and we have to be in a position to meet all of them. For instance, some may require beveling, some laminating and we have to invest in whatever it takes to provide these services.”

Kenyon refers to short- and long-term goals as the company expands its market coverage.

“Eventually, we will have product representatives in major metropolitan areas, working with other glass fabricators.”

The goal is to reach the consumer and, through brand recognition, have the company’s decorative glass specified through the manufacturer.”

Kenyon views the baby boomers as the segment of the population that offers the most potential.

“They are a group with disposable income, and I believe they want creative and unusual designs,” adds Kenyon as he continues to open doors and provide windows of opportunity with an attractive product that gives consumers what they want, in one word … choice. 

Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the window industry.


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