Saltsburg Glass Co. proves that size doesn't matter

Bigger is not always better--especially for a family-operated niche business which has cornered its own small piece of the market.

Kevin Murphy, owner of Ferguson Glass near Saltsburg, isn't dreaming about a future expansion for his small enterprise. For him, the three-employee operation is just the right size--allowing him to keep alive a nearly 60-year-old local business tradition while working alongside his family and his longtime friend.

"I'd rather stay small and give it a personal touch," Murphy said of his business.

Founded in 1945 by late Saltsburg native Lisle Ferguson, the small glass-shaping and installation business started out in New Kensington.

In September 2000, after a 21-year progression from teen-age employee to business partner to sole owner, Murphy decided to move the glass shop to a new location along the rural Loyalhanna Dam Road near Saltsburg, where he also was born and bred.

Murphy indicated the move was driven in part by a desire to cut down travel time from home to workplace for himself and his staff, all based in Saltsburg as well.

Don Shondelmyer, a friend from high school, is the only full-time employee other than Murphy. Between them, they take care of the actual handling and finishing of glass pieces.

Keeping track of client orders and answering the phone in the office are Murphy's sister, Kris Murphy, who is an official part-time employee--along with their mother, Doris, and aunt, Edith Tietge, who help out on a volunteer basis.

Some observers might think it wouldn't make business sense to relocate 23 miles from a major commercial center such as New Kensington to a back road near the border of Westmoreland and Indiana counties.

But the move has worked on several levels for Murphy and company--beyond shortening the commute to work.

Murphy noted he kept the established name of the business and also held onto 95 percent of its previous customer base. In addition, the company has picked up new customers in an area ranging from Ligonier to Blairsville to Indiana.

Auto glass replacement continues to comprise about 90 percent of the company's workload, but it also provides glass for residential and commercial applications.

For many customers, the switch to Saltsburg probably didn't matter much, since Murphy and Shondelmyer respond to the client's location for a majority of Ferguson's glass replacement jobs.

Still, a greater percentage of customers are finding their way to the new shop than came in for servicing at the New Kensington location.

According to Murphy, about 30 percent of Ferguson's mainstay windshield replacements take place in the new shop. In New Kensington, only about 10 percent of such work was done at the company's home base.

Part of that jump in on-site auto glass work can be attributed to the increased size of the Saltsburg shop--which was another of the factors prompting the move in the first place.

Ferguson Glass' current home, which Murphy constructed mostly through in-house efforts, offers roughly double the size of the 1,600-square-foot original location in New Kensington.

Murphy needed more space for fitting windshields on large, heavy construction vehicles. With that in mind, he included a 14-foot-tall bay door, with the clearance to admit everything from a street rod to a 36-foot motor home to a road grader.

600450 Saltsburg Glass Co. proves that size doesn't matter
Date: 20 March 2004

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