Fearless & Focused
Norman’s Glass and Auto Services, Inc. frames future with clear intent
Walter Norman, who founded New Jersey-based Norman’s Glass and Auto Services, Inc. (Norman’s Glass) in 1959, likely did not envision that his company would expand over the next 60+ years in ways that went well beyond windshields.
But for current Owner John Farfalla and General Manager Deron Lichty, the evolution has been a natural progression reinforced by opportunity, capabilities and connections. Farfalla bought the business in 1974, and by 1999, it had expanded from auto glass services to residential and commercial glass services throughout New Jersey and surrounding areas.
Subsequent lessons learned in the auto business and especially on residential jobs formed some clear expectations about quality and capabilities. Today, the two, neither with any hands-on glass fabrication and installation experience, have developed a commercial glass business with a reputation for solving challenging jobs, all while setting the course for a new generation of glaziers.
Early on in the company’s transition to commercial work, one job in particular set the foundation for all of the business principles and capabilities at Norman’s Glass. In 2001, the company landed a major project installing all-new aluminum frames and glass at the newly constructed 48,700-square-foot Willingboro Public Library in Willingboro, New Jersey.
Farfalla recalls, “This was the biggest job we’d won to date…and we were nervous. Overall, the job went really well, but we also learned that we needed to improve our installation processes by including formal training to ensure we deliver to our customers’ expectations.”
That focus on excellence led to an alignment with a manufacturer that offers warranties, engineering services and training. “We wanted the whole package,” Farfalla says. “We noticed that every time we did an invitation to bid, the Alcoa product [Kawneer] was specified and they were one of the top producers of aluminum window frames and doors in the world. We were a small shop at the time, so it took some time to develop a relationship.”
Today, Norman’s Glass is one of its top customers in New Jersey, spending in excess of $1 million a year on materials.
He adds, “This relationship is paramount for not just resources, of course, but especially for education in fabrication and installation. The manufacturer comes to our shop for one-on-one training. With that kind of support, we know our people are the best in the industry.”
Norman’s Glass has also aligned with other industry leaders such as fabricator Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope and manufacturer Guardian Glass LLC. The company works with monolithic tempered glass, insulated glass (both with and without solar coating), laminated glass and bullet-resistant glass as well as bomb-resistant glass, largely in aluminum frames.
As well, to this day the company is known for its expertise at fixing mistakes made by other glaziers. Farfalla adds, “That’s because we know the steps that get skipped.”
Beyond skills, Farfalla and Lichty believe it’s the company’s technology edge that further facilitates the ability to deliver better products and gain customer loyalty.
Lichty says, “Back in the early days of our move to the residential and commercial glass sectors, we transitioned from hand drawings to CAD for our shop drawings as a way to better reflect the entire glazing system—from the aluminum to the glass.”
Today, Norman’s Glass has three CAD drafters and a comprehensive CAD library with thousands of objects for storefronts, curtain walls and doors. The ability to deliver professional shop drawings has caught the attention of general contractors and owners for everything from distribution centers to pharmaceutical complexes.
“This is a highly competitive industry and often just winning the job is the biggest challenge. One of our greatest strengths is that we think outside the box,” Lichty says. “We’ll come up with concepts that are not routine glazing techniques.”
One of the company’s first jobs involved the rehabilitation of the former Thomas Maddock’s Sons Pottery building, most commonly known as the American Standard Building and now the American Metro Center in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.
As an adaptive reuse project, the existing 750,000-square-foot industrial site was to be converted into a modern multitenant office space of less than 500,000 square feet with a historical feel—with the help of some 80,000 square feet of glass.
Norman’s Glass won the second phase of the glass installation part of the project. One of the key requirements was that the windows needed to retain the historic look and feel, including the antique window system of divided, lightweight steel frames. The Norman’s Glass crew custom-developed a faux insulated glass pattern that mimicked the original design and complied with historical preservation requirements.
“Our CAD skills really helped out on this project. We were able to create highly visual details in CAD to show the engineer and historical society on the fly, which helped keep the project on track,” Farfalla says.
During the course of work on the phase two effort, crews discovered a deficiency in the work performed by the first-phase glass contractor. Norman’s Glass was subsequently contracted to correct the problems from the first-phase glass installation and complete its original contract to the building code and historical society’s requirements with the specialized grid system.
“That job ran for a year, and our crews worked days, nights and weekends,” Farfalla recalls.
The job, completed in 2007, started as a $900,000 glazing contract and grew to $3.4 million by the time it was done. “Not many glass companies can handle a job this size,” he confirms.
It was one of many that established Norman’s Glass’ reputation as an innovative glazing contractor. Farfalla shares, “There are so many times that we get into the field and see a condition that nobody expected. How do you rectify? Our team, led by Deron, works up a solution, shows the architect, and gets back to installing the next day.”
“One of our greatest strengths is that we think outside the box.” Deron Lichty, General Manager, Norman’s Glass and Auto Services, Inc.
Experience and Expertise Matter
The company’s work is picture-perfect on many types of interior and exterior glass jobs, including for auto dealers, schools, hotels, office buildings and convention centers.
Just recently, the company completed an unusual curtain wall job for Everest Reinsurance Company’s U.S. headquarters in Warren, New Jersey. As part of the construction of the new two-building complex, the owners wanted a connector between the two primary office buildings in the shape of Mount Everest. The four-story-high facade made of terracotta and glass needed to be placed just 8 inches from the curtain wall.
Farfalla adds, “When the bid for that job come out, we saw the challenge and said, ‘We want it!’ ”
The company’s reputation for building the unique and sometimes seemingly impossible has attracted the attention of many commercial contractors and developers in the region. It was instrumental in the design, fit and finish of two all-glass banking institutions for Republic Bank, each with a unique glass tower and panels that required the expertise and experience of the Norman’s Glass team to complete.
For the Republic Bank buildings in Cherry Hill and Voorhees, New Jersey, the company used curtain wall, storefront and all-glass doors and sidelights to complete the award-winning design developed by InterArch, an international design firm. The Norman’s Glass team is especially proud of the foyer clad in glass and stainless steel that uses Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope’s point-supported Stackwall glass system to form a glass cube.
A large portion of the company’s commercial glass activities are performed at its 22,000-square-foot facility in Trenton, New Jersey, which is more than just an office and fabrication space—it’s also headquarters for training the next-generation glazier.
Like many others in the industry, recruiting qualified labor has been a problem, so Farfalla and Lichty set out to find an answer.
“We are hiring young people and teaching them the process—from fabrication to installation—from the ground up,” Farfalla says. “We’re finding that this personalized method results in greater retention.”
Farfalla believes the personalized focus on building talent will further support the company’s already high retention rate, with employees who have been with the business 10, 20, 30 and even one for 40 years—and the leadership is equally loyal to them. Shane Ems is one example. He started with the company as an installer over 20 years ago. When an injury forced him out of the field, Farfalla moved Ems to a position as Head of Estimating, Purchasing and Preconstruction.
Farfalla concludes, “We want to be known as the best and that requires that we provide continuous education and opportunities for our people to learn. We insist on fairness to each other and especially to our customers—no cutting corners, and we’re willing to pay for both the education and the skills to achieve those goals.”