Under the Glass
Growing Lahey Glass: A Nova Scotia glass company is thriving under new owners
By Carroll McCormick
JAMES F. LAHEY GLASS | At a glance
By Carroll McCormick
In 2010, two Nova Scotians seized an opportunity to buy Lahey Glass, a more-than-a-century-old company based in Dartmouth. Under the new ownership the company has grown. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a quick product pivot has kept Lahey Glass busy while waiting for its commercial and residential work to pick up again.
Location: Lower Sackville, N.S.
Owners: Gerard MacIntyre, Brent MacIntyre and Joe Fiander
Number of Staff : 23
Facility: 15,000 square feet
Products and services: Commercial services, residential services, automatic doors and custom plexiglass barriers
It marked a major career shift for Gerard and Brent MacIntyre. Brent was a commercial diver and Gerard was a vice-president for Farmers Dairy when opportunity knocked and they bought the company. In business since 1892, its heydays were behind it and it was just ticking over in a 2,000-square-foot space with a couple of employees.
By 2016, James F. Lahey Glass 2010, as the company is officially known (“Lahey had been in Dartmouth since 1892 and we wanted to preserve the history,” Brent says), had seven employees, including the MacIntyre’s.
In 2018 they moved the company into a 15,000-square-foot space in Lower Sackville. “We were growing and expanding and our old 2000 square-foot facility was going to hold us back in the future,” says Brent. Today, Lahey has 23 employees, a fleet of 17 Ford Transit vans equipped with special glass racks, and some F-150 half-ton trucks.
“We always had a small service division and through quality work we were able to attract more customers, hire more technicians and put more trucks on the road. Our service department is the foundation of our business. Recently, we got into the automatic door business; we are now an authorized Stanley distributor,” says Brent. “Automatic doors are a division we have been working very hard to grow. We are very excited to be an authorized vendor for Stanley Automatic doors. Stanley is a great industry-proven brand and we are proud to sell their products like swing and sliding doors.”
In 2019, Joe Fiander joined the ownership group here at James F. Lahey Glass. Joe was a vice-president for Sobeys in charge of construction and real estate. Joe’s role as owner and chief business development officer is very important for the future growth of the company.
On the commercial side of the business, Lahey specializes in new installations and renovation construction. While the company does not get involved in new high-rise building construction, it does service work on them that ranges from fixing leaks, installing new entrances and replacing glazing, Brent says. “This month we have swing stages set up to do repairs on leaks at an 18-storey office building in downtown Dartmouth. Next in line is a 23-storey office building in downtown Halifax.”
“Big is just not in our business plan. We are a residential and commercial service company that does automatic doors and small-to-medium construction. There is not much we can’t do: jobs for a couple hundred bucks up to contracts worth hundreds of thousands.”
On the service side, Lahey supplies glazing for new construction and provides repair services to homeowners and apartment buildings. All windows eventually steam up, get a cracked pane or need hardware replaced. When that happens, the service department can handle it. “Through our service department we also service aluminum doors, entrances and have a locksmith service,” explains Brent.
Out in Lahey’ s busy warehouse-slash-workshop, two suction cup-wielding staff lift large sheets of glazing onto a van’s side rack. Recent projects the crews have gone out on include new commercial construction; small and large office renovations; skylight repair and replacement; repairs of leaky windows; and swing stage replacement of insulating glass.
Another employee cuts a mirror on a large worktable. “We do a lot of mirror work; for example, new mirrors in homes, custom mirrors, mirrors in gyms. Mirrors are a good business for us,” notes Brent.
While Lahey stocks and cuts all its single-pane flat glass orders itself, it orders insulating glass from glass manufacturers for double- and triple- glazed windows. “It is something we have to outsource. We also order from manufacturers all of our aluminum window frames and entrances. They are outsourced and built offsite as well. We order in lots of tempered glass. At this time, there are no tempering operations in Nova Scotia. So, we order our tempered glass from P.E.I. or Quebec,” explains Brent.
Around the corner past racks and racks of glass and mirror stock, past a huge rolling rack with perhaps 100-150 completed glazing orders – tagged and ready to move out – and a tidy stock room with shelves packed with supplies ranging from tubes of caulking and bin after bin of replacement parts for sliding doors, a young man is cutting sheets of polycarbonate glass and sanding smooth the rough edges. Behind him are eight-foot-high stacks of bundled sheets of polycarbonate and acrylic, which include supplies Lahey bought up locally, plus three tractor-trailer loads from the United States. It’s the material secret to how Lahey acted quickly to make lemonade out of the lemons, that is, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic pandemonium.
It was all about the polycarbonate shields that now greet everyone in probably every retail establishment in the province, and an astute decision to capitalize on a crying need in the midst of an economic meltdown. “It happened in early March when COVID hit heavy here. We could see that the home service business would drop a lot. We pitched the idea to Sobeys, one of Atlantic Canada’s largest grocery chains. Our pitch was accepted with a very strict timeline and we supplied all their stores in Atlantic Canada. After that, we completed several government jobs, guards for the local casinos and many office buildings and dentist offices,” Brent explains.
“We also designed a DYI polycarbonate guard that clients could put together in six seconds for [places like] convenience stores, pizza shops and gas stations. We sold hundreds of them. It was low cost and still gave the end user a good product. They were very popular.”
“What we saw is that some of the service side dropped in business. We do a lot of aluminum door service, but with a lot of stores closed, doors weren’t being blown open or broken, for example. But we made a strategic pivot and started selling polycarbonate. Now everyone has these guards, and residential business is starting to pick [back] up. But we are still making guards every day,” Brent says.
As the mad rush to fill polycarbonate and acrylic guard orders tapered off, regular commercial and retail business began to return.
We circle back to discussing the company’s regular business, which Brent describes, in one way, as relationship building. “Our focus is the Halifax Regional Municipality but we have service contracts that require us to go all over the province. On the commercial side we go all over Nova Scotia, and we have completed projects in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.”
While new installs are good business, Brent believes that playing the long game is the big ticket. “We want to be there for the follow-up and be an after-sale service [provider] as well.”
Part of Brent’s job as chief operating officer is providing consultation. “A big thing for me is that I like to understand what I do. I won’t necessarily be doing the install, but I want to be able to explain to the end user and have them know exactly what they are getting.”
And with the company’s focus on maintenance, he’s the man to ask about the pros and cons of various products. “There are a lot of times an architect will ask about a product and I can talk about how much the maintenance will be,” Brent explains.
There is a dynamic tension, perhaps a bit like that between the production and maintenance sides in manufacturing plants, between a great look and ease of maintenance. “Our construction side wants a window to look pretty, but our service side wants a window that is easy to repair,” he comments.
The glazing industry, at least in Nova Scotia, is not one served by any vocational programs graduating people trained and ready for action. “It’s tough. You get people from other companies or you have to train in-house, for the most part, including teaching glazing and carpentry skills. Still, all the employees take outside training in, for example, fall arrest, WHMIS, first aid, and swing staging.”
The company culture is big on safety and a rewarding work environment, Brent explains. “I tell every person I hire that you have to enjoy coming into work. We have a very positive attitude here. You have to enjoy the people you work with and the place where you come to work. I make sure they understand that we are very big on the Lahey culture. We have Lahey functions. We make sure they understand that. It is not always the task that is the job. It is the environment. The three owners are here every day, in the trenches. Our doors are always open. It is not always in a company that you can come in and talk about something with the owners.”
The rewards for Lahey’s employees include good job security, Brent says. “The diversity of the business is that we don’t have a slow season. We are at full capacity all year round. We want to keep all of our employees rolling all year.”
“The safety culture here is really big,” Brent says. “We bring up areas of concern to try to eliminate any jobsite accidents. We remind our employees to use safety tape, clean up messes, and keep all of our work and safety gear in great shape. This work culture is in place to keep our employees and public safe at all times.”
“We do on-site toolbox talks – safe job procedures, safe work procedures. We do hazard assessments of anything out of the norm. We identify potential hazards and how to avoid them. We are a member of the Nova Scotia Construction Safety Association. We are COR certified – a yearly audit of our safety practices to make sure we meet or exceed the industry standards”
Looking around the city, Brent MacIntyre sees glass wherever he looks. “We are a good-sized company. We spend a lot of time on the radio and social media to get the message out. We are building slowly and organically to build the Lahey brand. The goals we have been working toward are to have a great team, great customer experiences and to do a good job.” •