Under the Glass
Small jobs mean big success
By Chris Skalkos
Pierre and Sharon Lamothe, M&T Glass, Ottawa, Ontario
By Chris Skalkos
April 2006: For Pierre and Sharon Lamothe, owners of M&T Glass in Ottawa,
Ontario, it is the little things that count. No matter how small the
job might be, they strive to offer a big commitment and this has been
the key element to their company’s success for more than 38 years.
|M&T Glass is located in a 13,000 square foot building featuring the largest showroom in Canada that has been custom designed by the owners to feature the company’s retail window, shower enclosure and decorative mirror displays. Photos By Greg Gaudreau.|
For Pierre and Sharon Lamothe, owners of M&T Glass in Ottawa, Ontario, it is the little things that count. No matter how small the job might be, they strive to offer a big commitment and this has been the key element to their company’s success for more than 38 years.
M&T Glass is a family operated glass shop that specializes in service and repairs for commercial and residential jobs spanning a wide range of applications from retail shower enclosures, mirrors, sandblasting and custom glass cutting to commercial door and storefront repairs. The company is also a distributor of Ostaco vinyl windows and is known for its extensive inventory of window, screen and door hardware.
The Lamothes purchased M&T Glass in 1986 from Sharon’s father, the late Romeo ‘Mayo’ Lanoue who started the business out of a small 1500 square foot building. Pierre first worked for M&T in the early ‘70s, before he and Sharon were married, and he recalls how ‘green’ he was to the industry. “When I first started working in the glass trade, I didn’t even know how to cut glass and my future father-in-law used to tease me saying that I should put the glass under water and cut it with tin snips,” he says.
|Pierre and Sharon Lamothe, owners of M&T Glass in Ottawa, Ontario, specialize in service and repairs for commercial and residential jobs spanning a wide range of applications from retail shower enclosures, mirrors, sandblasting and custom glass cutting to commercial door and storefront repairs.|
In 1975 Pierre and Sharon married and Pierre left M&T to work for St. Laurence Glass, a large unionized
glazing contract company, where he really developed a flair for this business. “I created a service department and I learned all aspects of this trade from estimating and sales to installation; but it was my work in service that got noticed and I was promoted to service manager. I tripled the service department sales in the first year,” he says.
At the time, Sharon worked for the federal government as a civil servant and was looking for a career change when Pierre suggested they purchase M&T from her father. “I had the hands-on skills and the sales experience and Sharon was strong in bookkeeping and accounting, so I suggested to her that we buy the company,” he says.
Before doing so, Pierre was adamant that he would not steal existing customers from his previous employer and was dedicated to building a new clientele, but the reputation he had gained among his previous customers prompted them to seek him out. “After one year, we had a large influx of customers from my other job who eventually found me and became customers of M&T because they liked my service work. That was 20 years ago and many of them are still customers today,” he says.
During their first year in operation, they depended strictly on walk-in traffic and most of their work consisted of small window and screen replacements and retail sales of glass tabletops and vanity mirrors. “We would have liked to have sold framed mirrors but we didn’t have the money to stock them,” recalls Sharon.
|General manager, Greg Gaudreau was brought in to help free up more time for the Lamothes, but he has actually generated more business after implementing a new sales |
system into the front counter structure he has borrowed from his experience in the automotive sales industry.
Without a huge inventory or large commercial contracts, the Lamothes knew the future success of their business would depend on cultivating the small service work they were getting. “We didn’t care what the job was or how small it was. We made every customer a top priority,” explains Sharon, adding that after a while, the company had developed a reputation for taking on work that other glass shops did not want.
“In a way our competitors contributed to our growth because we were taking all of the jobs they didn’t want to do,” adds Pierre. “I would do whatever it took, even running around like crazy looking for a five dollar piece of hardware. Word got around, so after a while those small jobs became big jobs and we started to get calls from building managers who looked at us as a one-stop service provider.”
Behind this was a profound philosophy of customer service. Pierre describes one example that took place during their second year in business when he received a call on the company’s 24 hour emergency line. “A lady called at 2:00am to have her patio door fixed after a burglary. While I was banging away fixing the door, the police arrived with guns drawn on me thinking that the robber had returned. The homeowner explained that I was there to repair the door and everything was fine, but she was there alone and she was so afraid after what had happened that she asked me to stay with her until her son got home later that morning. So I did and I kept her company for a few hours. The next day the father of the family called to thank me. He happened to be a senior manager for one of Canada’s largest department store chains and he was so impressed with what I had done that he gave me the service contract for his store in Ottawa.”
|The company’s mirror line is extensive, offering more than 120 different framed mirrors that are on display in the company’s mirror gallery, a unique 80 foot glass floor balcony running the length of their showroom.|
This was only one of many examples of the extraordinary customer service M&T glass was providing and based on this level of customer service the business began to grow. “Once we had enough cash flow, we started to invest in more products like framed mirrors and we even had enough money to buy a building and property,” says Sharon. “But after the third year, we were growing so fast that we outgrew that facility and we had to move.” More growth required them to add another 4000 square feet in 1990 and the growth continued until the company eventually moved into their current 13,000 square foot building employing 30 people, many of whom are bilingual.
With almost 20 years of company service behind them, M&T Glass has successfully ventured into other areas of the market such as custom shower enclosures, doing about 350 installations a year. “We were doing shower enclosures before anybody else was because there was a general mis-conception that they would leak. This of course is not correct if they are installed properly,” says Pierre, crediting the company’s suppliers for their technical support when they first entered into this market. The M&T showroom always has five 10mm clear tempered glass shower enclosures on display.
M&T Glass also displays several window models in its showroom and sells Ostaco vinyl and Inline Fiberglass
windows, noting both are very different products with their own unique advantages. They also carry Bonneville wood windows, but the majority of the windows they sell are vinyl. Their choice of suppliers is not strictly based on the products they sell, but more focussed on the support and service they provide. “There are several manufacturers out there, especially in the PVC window market, so we have to be selective and we tend to choose suppliers that practice the same level of customer service that we do because it all goes down the line,” Sharon says. “When we choose a supplier we know that our own reputation is at stake.”
|Sharon and Pierre Lamothe were the first in Ottawa to do shower enclosures and they are now doing about 250 installations a year. Their showroom has five, 10mm clear tempered glass and custom shower enclosures on display.|
The company’s mirror line is extensive, as it offers more than 140 different framed mirrors on display in the showroom and on the company’s mirror gallery, a unique 80 foot glass floor balcony running the length of their showroom. The variety of models reflects the current trends in the market. The Lamothes keep up to these trends by visiting a variety of trade shows, some of which are indirectly related to their industry. They often find that a new trend or a way a product is marketed can be applied to their industry even if it is not related to glass and mirrors.
Over the years, M&T Glass has developed a reputation for its large hardware inventory, stocking more than 700 different parts for windows, doors and screens. From hinges and cranks to commercial door pivots and patio door rollers, the company stocks parts for all residential and commercial entrances and windows. “I guarantee we have the largest selection of stocked parts in the city!” exclaims Pierre.
“Customers who have been looking all over for an obscure $1.50 part end their search when they come here to find it,” he says, adding this was something that grew out of the company’s early beginnings when small hardware and specialty parts were all they could afford to stock. “Whenever I came across a hard to find part, I stocked more of it knowing that if one person needs it someone else would need it too. After a while the big box building stores like Home Depot, Rona Home & Garden, Canadian Tire and Home Hardware started calling and that’s when I realized just how extensive our hardware line is.”
|A very large parts board in the showroom displays some of the 700 window, door and screen hardware products the |
While Pierre and Sharon have always been hands-on ‘Mom and Pop’ owner/operators, they recently hired a new general manager, Greg Gaudreau to help alleviate the workload and to give them time to plan and organize, even think about retirement. But they say he is so good at his job they have not seen a drastic drop in their shared workload due to the extra sales revenue Gaudreau is generating. “He comes from the automotive sales industry and he is a very people orientated person who has implemented his sales system into our front counter structure,” says Pierre.
“One thing that has had an immediate impact is the following up of all estimates that did not result in a sale to learn why we did not get the sale. So instead of estimating and dropping non-sales, we estimate and investigate to help us get the sale next time,” says Sharon.
The addition of a general manager has freed up some more time for the Lamothes to enjoy the highly successful business that continues to grow approximately 15 percent every year; however, it has also freed up more time to visit more trade shows and develop new profit opportunities.
“We haven’t fully tapped into the commercial end of things yet and we might introduce more product lines,” says Pierre. “Whatever it is we do, we will do it very well and become trend setters. That’s the way we have built up our business and we are very proud of that.” -end-