Under The Glass: Branching out and up Baywest Glazing Systems explores new frontiers
March 30, 2023 By Rich Porayko
AT A GLANCE | Baywest Glazing Systems
Location: Langley, B.C.
No. of Staff: 30
Shop: 14,000 sq. ft.
Owners: Brent and Bruce Friesen
Focus: Glass fabrication and contract glazing
Markets: Southwestern B.C.
“We are committed to being trustworthy and easy to work with while creating beautiful glass work.”
When chartered professional accountant Brent Friesen purchased Clearbrook Glass with his father Bruce Friesen in 2015, a majority of his experience had been working in large businesses, creating metrics for their finance, accounting and projection challenges. “I worked as an auditor at a large accounting firm as well as a controller for a financial planning company,” says Brent Friesen, owner of Langley, BC-based Baywest Glazing Systems.
“Brent and I decided to do something together and we looked for an opportunity,” says Baywest director, Bruce Friesen. Clearbrook Glass had worked with Bruce in a past business and when the company went up for sale, the pair thought it would be a good opportunity. “We bought it in 2015,” explains Bruce. “They were doing auto glass, showers and residential service calls.”
“We learned that business and around three years ago, we decided to really focus on the commercial side,” adds Brent.
“Commercial glazing has a much higher level of complexity, opportunity for innovation, and collaboration with Vancouver’s best general contractors and developers,” says Bruce.
“We built a fabrication team and last summer we felt a name change to Baywest Glazing Systems better communicated our focus towards the commercial market,” says Brent.
“We like the idea of innovating and creating our own curtainwall storefront and doors and other products,” says Bruce. “We have fully automated our shop to produce window frames and doors and we’ve developed very good systems for importing materials.”
“We’re really focusing on the storefront and commercial game right now,” says Brent. “We’ve invested in our own thermal break insertion machine which allows us to insert polyamide strips into aluminum and create very high performing products. There is a lot of opportunity in the curtainwall and storefront side.”
“Bruce and I have mutual respect for each other. There are times where I’ll say, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ and there’s times where he’ll say, ‘let’s do it this way,’ but overall, it’s working efficiently. We celebrate our different strengths and it’s been a good team.”
“Brent has a brilliant mind for innovation and engineering which comes from his great uncle, Pete Friesen, who holds world records for moving large buildings, so it’s great to see that develop in him,” says Bruce.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how things work, how things fit together, and how they’re designed, so figuring out how these systems work has been surprisingly fun,” says Brent. “That has led to designing some of our own systems which we’re really excited about. We’re just finishing designing a very high-performing thermally broken swing door.”
According to Brent, the thermal modelling of Baywest’s sleek new thermally broken design is showing promising results. “We’re excited to bring this to market. Our goal is to help our customers build great buildings, meet the energy code, and contribute to an efficient design. We feel there’s an opportunity for others who are having the same problems achieving Step Code compliance with the doors that are in the market right now. We’re really excited about rolling that out in the next couple of months. I’m spending a lot of time setting that up.”
A stabilized supply chain has allowed Brent and his team to take a breath. “I am the primary person to source suppliers, so that’s been a fair bit of my job. The last couple months seem to be much better than it has been in the past, both for availability and price. One of the impacts of having a tough supply chain is we’ve had to look for alternates and try and get good at managing where we’re getting materials from. We’re going to events like GlassBuild America and keeping our eyes open for product.”
Managing a more inflationary environment over the last two years has been challenging. Contracts have been a challenge because of rising costs. “We’re trying to figure that out with the associations,” says Brent. “It’s on the radar, and we’re trying to approach projects a little more thoroughly to understand where our costs are and where the risk is. Hopefully, it’s made us a better, much smarter subcontractor in our quotes.”
Not surprisingly, finding people in Metro Vancouver is a struggle. “We’re working hard. Wages are going up, and it’s competitive to find top players. We have our own installers and subcontract some work. We’re looking at if subcontracting is an opportunity for future growth to help manage the increase in team.”
Baywest’s sandbox is typically Vancouver to Chilliwack, however they recently completed a firehall in Squamish, a warehouse in Prince George, and a First Nations community centre in Sechelt.
One of the interesting projects Baywest is working on at the moment is called Riverworks for Ventana Construction. It’s a Conwest Developments mixed use project near YVR airport in Vancouver. “It is one of the largest jobs we’ve done,” says Brent.
Riverworks features four-level waterfront offices facing the Fraser River with adjacent three-story light industrial units. Operable floor-to-ceiling windows provide fresh air and ample natural light with stunning double aspect views of the mountains to the north and the river to the south. The offices also include private covered decks and exterior walkways overlooking the Fraser River. The industrial units are roughed in for large freight lifts. “It’s a great location and a bit of a different concept for warehousing with the elevators using the vertical space,” shares Brent.
Axiom Builder’s Kathleen Tower is a great example of some the high-end podium level work Baywest has been completing. The project features a large, glazed entryway with tall glass openings. “It’s starting soon, but we’re getting all the material lined up for it now,” says Brent.
The Telus building retrofit was a large project for Baywest. “We needed to work with the existing system to replace 300 units including a tall atrium over a parking lot,” explains Brent. “We had to use scaffolding instead of going with the boom lift.”
“The oversize laminated glass we installed for Cartier in downtown Vancouver was a big lite,” says Brent. “We were happy to do it. We sourced it from Agnora in Collingwood [Ont.] who did a great job. Working with oversize glass is tricky, but the install went well.”
Logistics for jumbos aren’t the same as standard glass products. “We bought a car trailer in Ontario and sent one of our guys, who drove the glass back to Vancouver. We received the glass on time and got a great trailer out of the deal, so that was a win.”
“One of the things that is important to us is just trying to innovate,” says Brent. “A large part of that is through our processes. We’ve invested in some great fabrication drawing software that’s doing our shop drawings. We’re using computer processes and CNC equipment to reduce errors, increase accuracy, and improve speed. We want to keep thinking, ‘How is there a better way to do this?’”
“We know we’re not the big gorilla in the glazing industry yet, so it’s critical to keep improving. Every job counts, and we really want to deliver well and be innovative in our products and our process. We’ve been getting into glazing on warehouses. Usually, the windows themselves aren’t technically challenging but the hard part is organizing and getting the job to flow well. There has been a lot of learning experiences. We realized that we were going around the building seven or eight times on one of these very large warehouses. We asked the question, ‘How can we reduce the install time and create a better job?’.
“My dad and I believe in Lean manufacturing. We evaluated our process and changed how we were setting up materials and our team to a more effective method. This was very helpful and now we’re able to do bigger projects, more efficiently with even better install results. This way our team is happy, the builder and contractor are satisfied, and we all win.”
Looking ahead, Brent and Bruce say they are focusing on investing in their team and getting quality projects. “We’ve got some big jobs now that we want to execute well,” says Brent. “We’re excited to see what happens with the commercial glass associations, especially here in B.C. They have already produced some good networking. I’ve met some interesting people and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens there.” •
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