Glass Action

This company’s path is clear

by Heleigh Bostwick

glass0613Robert Sicard (left) and his brother Joseph took their experience in the glass business and opened The Glass Connection in 1991. The company is located on U.S. 7 in Milton.

Robert Sicard,
61, and his bro-ther Joseph, 63, grew up in Hinesburg in a big white farmhouse. “With seven boys and six girls in the family everyone always had a job to do to keep the place neat and tidy,” recalls Bob. Joe chuckles at the memory and nods in agreement, adding, “That is pretty much how we run our business today.”

That business is The Glass Connection Inc., a Milton company specializing in commercial and residential aluminum fabrication and glass installation that the brothers started in 1991.

“At the time, we were both working for New England Building Contractors,” says Bob. “There was a recession going on and work was slowing down considerably. It seemed like the company wouldn’t last, so Joe and I decided to go out on our own.”

Both of them had been working in the glass business since their respective graduations from Champlain Valley Union High School. Says Bob, “I started working in the glass business when I was 15, but after I graduated from CVU, I joined the Navy and Joe started working at Acme Glass.” After a couple of years in the Navy, Bob returned. The brothers continued at Acme — Bob in sales and Joe in fabrication — until Joe joined the National Guard a few years after that.

In 1975, Bob left Acme to go work for New England Building Contractors, which, as his brother predicted, is no longer in business. Joe soon followed and they worked there until striking out on their own.

When it came to thinking up a name for their business, the brothers were stumped until a neighboring colleague came up with “The Glass Connection.” “We liked it so we went with it,” says Bob.

Originally the company was located at 24 New England Drive in Essex Junction. “When we were first looking for a place, we called Bobby Miller at REM Development,” says Bob, explaining that the brothers had done business with Miller in the past.

“He found us a place and gave us three months’ free rent,” says Joe. “After that we were on our own, although he did give us some work to get started.”

The business thrived there for 23 years, until the building’s sale prompted a move to Hercules Drive in Colchester, where it stayed for two years.

The company recently bought a building on U.S. 7 in Milton, increasing its square footage from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet. “We renovated the building ourselves, including painting the office and laying down linoleum flooring in the warehouse,” says Bob. “It was a lot of work getting it ready. The building had been unoccupied for the past year and we had to move junk out.”

The new space includes 1,000 square feet of office space with a glassed-in conference area, kitchen and office storage, a fabrication shop for metal work, and a warehouse where glass is stored.

The 24-foot aluminum stock is stored in the fabrication shop before it’s cut to size for the frames when a job comes in. The company sources glass from vendors in Boston, Maine, and New York and typically orders to size. “We don’t do as much residential work anymore, but we keep some glass in stock for customers looking for a glass tabletop cut to order for patio furniture or an indoor table,” says Bob.

At first it was just the two of them. Bob found the work and installed the frames at night. Joe did the fabrication.

Today, the company has six employees. Bob is president and Joe is vice president. “We might go up two or three employees, depending on workload,” says Bob, “but for the most part it’s fairly stable.”

Joe adds that it’s a “workable-size” company and “we like it that way.”

The youngest Sicard brother, Steve, age 52, is the lead glazier and has been working there for about 10 years. Before that, he, too, worked at Acme Glass. Steve oversees a crew of four installers. Their sisters also help out, cleaning the offices twice a month.

Kim Robare is a project manager/estimator and runs the office. “Bob and Joe are very hands-on,” she says. “Joe still unloads trucks when it has to be done.” Robare, who lives in Milton, has worked for the company for 13 years. “They’ve always made it seem like I am part of their family,” she says.

The day starts about 7:15, when Robare arrives and prepares the day’s paperwork. “We have a five-minute meeting and the boys head out the door,” she says.

Bob still does most of the estimating and finds new work. Joe is the scheduler, and in charge of getting the work done. Robare handles the smaller projects. “Kim handles most of the day-to-day operations now, including taking phone calls,” says Bob. If an installer phones in with problems or issues, though, the brothers take the call and decide how to handle it. Joe takes orders off the phone for service work, repairs, and residential calls.

Most of their clients are won through the bidding process. Recent projects include the new Vermont Hard Cider facility, Fletcher Allen Health Care, the Moose Lodge renovation, the airport renovation, and the Security Force building at the Air National Guard. Robare also mentions the Flynn School construction, the Stowe Arena, Thayer Commons and Thayer Housing in Burlington, and The Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory renovation.

“I’ve known Bob and Joe ever since they started The Glass Connection and enjoy a great rapport with them,” says Mike Hulbert, project manager and vice president at HP Cummings, a construction management firm in Woodsville, N.H. “They’ve done some high-end projects for us. One example is the triple-glazed exterior glass system at the ECHO Center. They worked with us on getting the details right on this project, and always go out of their way to go the extra mile with difficult and different details.”

“One of the reasons for our success is that we are service-oriented,” says Joe. “There is always someone here that can answer a question when the phone rings — never a machine. If there’s an issue we deal with it.”

“We stand behind our work,” says Bob. “We try to deal with only top-of-the-line major manufacturers like Kawneer. We’re a dealer for them.” The brothers do a small amount of advertising, and their five work trucks serve as their promotion medium. Says Joe, “We are behind-the-scenes types. We don’t put our work out there, but let it speak for itself.”

While the type of work the Sicard brothers do hasn’t changed from the day they started their company, the products have changed significantly. So has the way they do fabrication and estimating.

“Now, because of changes to building codes requiring the use of energy-efficient glass, the whole job is much more technical,” says Bob. “There are so many new thermal products, and aluminum can be painted almost any color you want. It used to just be silver.”

“When we started there was one type of glass,” says Joe. “Now there’s tempered glass and so many different coatings are available.”

The office is more automated. “We have software programs for fabrication and takeoffs are done on the computer,” Bob says.

“Years ago we would do a sketch by pencil, but now the computer spits out the design, the color, and the dimensions,” Joe adds.

During off hours, Bob likes to spend time with his five grandchildren. He also enjoys time at his camp in St. Albans on Lake Champlain with his wife, Janice. The couple, married since 1974, have three grown children.

Joe and his wife, Patty, were married in 1988 and have one son together and three children from Patty’s previous marriage. Joe, an admitted car buff is into “muscle cars.” Among his possessions are a ’69 Camaro and ’64 Corvette. “I enjoy going to car shows and have done a lot of work on my cars,” he says with a grin.

None of their children have expressed any interest in taking on the business. “One of my sons worked for us and he said it was harder than working for someone else,” says Bob with a laugh, adding that the job is physically, as well as mentally, demanding at times. On the horizon is working toward training someone to take over the business — most likely someone already working for them.

Despite this, both say there are no plans for immediate retirement. “We’re here for a while.”