"I really didn't know much about stained glass, only what I'd
seen in gift shops," said Hal Williams, owner of Eagle Mountain
Stained Glass Studio in Ridgecrest, California. So it was back
in 1976, with "zero artistic background" that Williams and his
wife Mary decided to take a class on stained glass at the
community college. At that time they were both working as
paramedics in Las Vegas, Nevada, and had extra time between
shifts on the job.
Soon they became good friends with their instructor who owned a
stained glass studio. By the end of the year, Williams was hired
on at the studio as an apprentice. He stayed there for the next
two years, learning most of what he would need to know to start
his own business.
Then Williams moved to Houston, Texas, and started to work in
his own studio part-time while holding a full-time job in the
steel business. when Williams was laid off, however, her and his
wife decided to move back to their hometown Ridgecrest,
California -and start a stained glass business full-time. "Mary
knew people here, but I didn't know a soul," says Williams. "But
since I'd had some sales experience, I just started knocking on
Williams started a large studio at his home and worked out of it
for quite some time. He gained more experience and training by
attending various seminars and workshops around the country.
STARTING OUT SMALL
"All I had was the bare necessities - my hand tools and a
bench," says Williams. Eventually, for about $100 Williams
purchased a glass grinder used to grind glass down for precision
fitting. Next, he bought a diamond band saw for about $700. This
he used for tricky cutting such as 90 degree angles and cutting
that cannot be done by hand - it gives the glass worker a
professional cut. To round out his studio, Williams bought a
glass kiln for $2,000. The kiln is used for glass painting and
fusing. It is a necessity when one is restoring the windows of
old churches, which Williams has done. "Most of these tools are
not necessary when just starting out, but they do save a lot of
time for the professional," says Williams.
Initially, Williams made a large purchase of glass, lead, solder
and other supplies because he felt it was necessary to keep
these supplies on hand and ready. Since Williams was making so
many time-consuming trips to Los Angeles for his materials, he
decided to purchase a month's supply at a time. A month's worth
of supplies costs him between $1,000 and $1,500.
Other essentials for Williams office include a work table (which
he built himself for under $100) and a bench equipped with a
built-in light. He uses this bench to trace patterns onto the
stained glass pieces.
WHAT IT COSTS TO START
"Taking everything into consideration, if you are really
creative, you can start up for about $2,000," says Williams.
"That is if you start with a home studio." When you are building
the stained glass business from scratch, one of the first things
you should do is check your competition. This will tell you
exactly what supplies to carry. It is obvious that if you don't
have a wide pallet of colored glass to choose from, you will
lose your business to the guy that does.
If you do have competition, be sure there's enough consumer
interest to justify your new business. To attract customers to
your shop and widen your customer base, offer to teach what you
know. Williams went to the local college to offer to teach his
skills in stained glass, which they cordially accepted. He is
licensed and now teaches twenty-five students a semester.
He also approached local housing contractors and explained that
not only could he provide excellently crafted stained glass, but
he could also install it and do any necessary repairs on the
job. This appealed to them because it would save a considerable
amount of money. Their first contract was for stained glass work
on twenty-five new houses. Williams created stained glass for
front doors and side-lights. Popular colors are various hues of
blue, mauve, and desert shades for floral, animal, or desert
Williams has a regular business license to do stained glass
work, but if you also do the installation, work yourself you
must have a contractors license.
GETTING THE JOB
"Proper bidding, I think is very important in stained glass,"
said Williams. "If you underbid, you are going to eat it, and if
you overbid you are going to lose the job." Williams started out
bidding very low so he could get the jobs and prove himself. As
time went on he raised his prices, but he is still lower than
his competitors. Now he is well known in his area, and gets a
lot of good jobs.
Williams makes approximately $3,000 a month on custom work and
the sales of supplies, a figure which does not include his
contract work and teaching. Williams also has a gift shop in his
downtown studio. "To make a decent wage you have to charge a
decent price," says Williams.
SPREADING THE WORD
Although he gets excellent exposure at his street-front
location.. Williams still advertises. He has tried radio and
newspapers, but finds that he gets the best results from the
local swap sheet. He also carries a large ad in the Yellow
Pages. Word of mouth has also been a very important advertising
"We listen to what the customer wants, show him what we can do,
and do the job right," says Williams. The Williams may expand
even further someday, if they ever get the time, but right now
their prosperous stained glass studio is keeping them very busy.