Crystal Clear: Twin Bay Glass sees growth under new ownership

Nathan Brown joined Twin Bay Glass shortly after graduating from Northwestern Michigan University in 1999. Twenty years later, he owns the company, which specializes in shower doors, car windshields,  and residential and commercial windows.

Brown and his wife, Kerri, purchased Twin Bay Glass from original owners Mark Bowie and Dick Corey in January 2018. With one year under their belts, business continues its upward growth as Brown looks to the future.

The 2018 sale marked a generational transition that Brown looks forward to continuing.

“Mark and Dick owned the company for so long,” Brown said. “Now, it will continue for another generation … and, we have two children. Maybe they will take over for the next generation.”

Bowie and Corey opened Twin Bay Auto Glass in Traverse City on April 1, 1980. The company quickly expanded beyond automotive to include residential, commercial and specialty glass services. The name was changed to Twin Bay Glass in 1985 to reflect its full-service operations.

Brown and his staff take pride in Twin Bay’s long history, commitment to quality and in being northern Michigan’s only full-service glass operation.

“During my time here, business has continued to grow,” said long-time general manager Bonnie Lautner. “I attribute it to our exceptional service. We always stand behind our products and workmanship.”

More than half of Twin Bay’s employees have worked at its 8th Street location for more than 19 years, she said. “[T]hey take great pride in their work,” she said. “It shows in the referral rate we see.”

Brown said customer loyalty and relationships have contributed to Twin Bay’s longevity. “Some of our customers have been with us for all 39 years,” he said. “We are unique …. and very well diversified.”

The company operates as three businesses under one umbrella. Service lines and staff are divided between residential, automotive and commercial in addition to walk-in services. The divisions allow deeper specialization, consistent quality and comprehensive services, said Brown. Each of the glaziers works in only one service area (residential, automotive, commercial) with ongoing technical training to stay current.

Twin Bay’s 12-member team includes the two owners, two front desk staff and eight glaziers, who juggle up to 100 jobs at a time. Brown anticipates bringing in two to three additional glaziers by summer.

Brown predicts steady, continued growth moving forward with increased capacity arising through innovation, training and technology versus acquisition or new service lines.

“We feel that [the business] is already wrapped around our three divisions and our full-service glass operation,” he said. “Instead, we are looking at modernizing equipment and using technology to work more efficiently … and to grow in that direction instead.”

Training is a focus at the company, Brown said. “It is an industry that is always changing and getting more technical,” he said.

Growth will be impacted by seasoned staff and a pipeline of new glaziers. Future productivity will be driven by the number and quality of staff.

“An advantage we have is that many [on the team] have 20 years [of] experience,” Brown said. “We also have a nice group of younger glaziers who are coming up.”

“It takes a big team,” he added. “We’re a big, well-oiled machine … and all work well together.”

In addition to its glass operations, Twin Bay Glass is known for its message-bearing sign in front of its store just east of Boardman Avenue. The large sign displays new words of wisdom and humor each week, carrying on a tradition begun decades earlier by Bowie and Corey.

“I have been amazed at the attention our sign brings,” Lautner said. “There have been so many sayings over the years that really make you think and reflect.”

One particular message had an especially meaningful impact, she said.

“One time we posted, ‘Call your mother,’” she said. “We got a call from a woman who said she had not spoken with her mother in over 10 years. The sign prompted her to call and re-connect with her mom. “That was powerful.”