We developed the Glass Academy into the business it is today after years of trial and error.
At first we thought it was for the love of glassblowing but years into our business, we realized it was a way to connect to the community, with hot glass being the tool.
Let me explain, blowing glass is fun. It’s exciting, challenging, creative and beautiful, and you work with a team of craftsmen to create your projects.
The problem many glassblowers run into is that they are seduced by the process but they don’t know how to sell what they have created. An item sold here and there doesn’t pay for the studio costs involved in manufacturing.
We recognized this could be a problem early on in our career and so we solved it by holding on to our day jobs until we established a strong enough clientele that one of us could quit our day jobs. That was almost 10 years for Chris, and about 4 years for me. My full time job was at the Henry Ford, working in the glass shop as a production glass blower producing early American reproduction glass to sell in the gift store. I worked there for 8 years, perfecting my glass skills, and eventually managing the studio before I left to work full time on our glass company.
From 1996-2002 we attended wholesale shows to sell our line of glassware. The wholesale market is like a large styled ‘art fair’ but they are designed to sell strictly to the trade, gallery owners, catalog buyers, and museum stores. The goal is to set up a booth of your products and take wholesale orders at the show. At this point in our career, we sold wholesale to over 300 galleries across the nation. After the show in February, we’d go back to our Detroit studio, manufacture, ship, and process each order in the quiet confines of our studio until the next year when we’d do it all over again.
What I began to notice, was that we enjoyed talking with the other glassblowing vendors and networking among them more than we did the gallery owners. Something about manufacturing in the confides of our studio wasn’t fulfilling our souls as we thought it would, we craved more interaction. We weren’t connecting to our customer and we felt it.
So we started throwing parties to get our friends to the studio. We did a few local art fairs and some in Florida so we could travel. And the main reason we did all of this? It got us back in front of our customers. Directly- one to one, and it was there we could listen and develop products and services that they needed, and for us, the sense of community that we craved was restored. We even signed up to be the glassblowers at the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly.
It was right around this time we decided to start the Glass Academy. Those early years 2002-2004 we worked out of our Detroit studio and began the transition to Dearborn, but that’s a story for another day, because shortly after moving in, the recession hit us. And how do you operate a 14,000 sq. ft glass shop when no one has money to buy anything? Stay tuned for that story in an upcoming blog.