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Local business receives national recognition


BRADENTON - Bradenton-based businesses have been hit hard by the floundering economy, but one area business is being recognized as one of the best in the country.

Key Glass
Key Glass completed a project for the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch.

The National Glass Association ranked Key Glass 48th out of more than 3,000 national glazing firms in the June issue of Glass Magazine. The ratings are based on annual sales volume growth, number of employees and percentage sales increase from 2007 to 2008.

Owner Greg Burkhart said he attributes his business's continued success to his hard-working staff and solid client base.

"We're good at what we do," he said. "We try to provide good service to our customers, and customers come back for that."

Key Glass reported a 10 percent sales gain in 2008 and recorded $7.2 million in gross revenue last year. The company specializes in commercial glass and glazing installations and employs 35 people. It has been headquartered in Bradenton since 1991. Burkhart, 54, started the business with his wife after leaving True View Windows, a glass company based in Sarasota. His wife, Sheril, oversees the financial aspects of the business.

"In our market right now, everybody's pretty much working for a cheap price," Burkhart said. "So you've got to give them more value than just a cheap price. You've got to give them service, you've got to give them experience, you've got to give them quality."

Burkhart said those may seem like simple business principles, but he said he is often surprised to find that many companies don't follow through with that straightforward approach.

Although Key Glass has always had a local focus, Burkhart said, the changing economy has led them to enlarge their geographic focus to secure future projects. In addition to Manatee and Sarasota counties, the business has been seeking contracts in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Charlotte and Lee counties as well.

"As our pie in the local areas started shrinking, we had to find a way to make the pie bigger to get more opportunities," Burkhart said.

To reduce costs, Burkhart said he has automated some of the processes in his machine shop where workers fabricate aluminum frames for specialized projects. This computer-guided machinery helps improve efficiency and greatly reduce waste, he said. When building these custom-specified frames the computers create cuts and drill holes with increased precision.

"Your payback isn't immediate," Burkhart said. "What immediately happens is your quality improves."

Tom Fry works in the machine shop and has been with Key Glass for almost six years. He said he worked in a pipe-fitting company for about 18 years but had never used a computerized cutting machine before joining Key Glass.

"We used a small, computerized milling machine, but nothing compared to what we use here," Fry said. "It cuts down on the waste, mistakes and the time."

Tony Enderle takes the pieces cut by Fry and uses a specialized machine to drill holes in the aluminum frames. He has been with Key Glass for almost four years and used to drill each hole by hand. He said the machines make his job easier and are beneficial to the company as a whole.

"It does the pieces we're doing with much more precision and repeatability," Enderle said. "You've got to spend money to make money. In the long run, this machine will pay for itself several times over."

Burkhart said the investment is beneficial on multiple fronts.

"The technology helps speed things up too, but the other thing is, by investing in your business, the people who work with you see that, and they get excited about it," he said.

Burkhart also attributes some of his business' success to his Vistage group, a peer group of about 12 other business owners and a facilitator that meets to discuss problems, issues, strategies and opportunities. He said he is searching constantly to find new projects.

"We're working hard to target projects of substance so that we can be involved in them to help us in 2010," Burkhart said.

Major projects underway right now include the new Sarasota Police Department next to Payne Park and a project with Willis A. Smith construction at the North County Technical Center on Beneva Road. Other local projects include Riverview High School, Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, LECOM and Honda Cars of Bradenton.


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