The Colorful Business of Stained Glass
In this Salute to American Success, we’re taking a look at Pearl River Glass Studio and founder Andrew Cary Young. The company, located in Jackson, Mississippi -- part of the Bible Belt -- which focuses on creating stained glass artwork, was started in 1975 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Not long after graduating college, Andrew Cary Young returned to his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi and created Pearl River Glass Studio, along with college classmate Reggie DeFreese.
“I needed more than one person to start the business,” said Young. “I didn’t see myself ever starting one by myself.”
Young, at the time, was only 22-years-old when his father helped him get a $2,500 signature loan to get the company off the ground. Despite his age, Young says “it didn’t take long to develop good relationships with customers.” He added: “Stained glass engages humans in a profound way. I’ve found a way to understand that. I feel like I was able to make my art respond and reach people.”
In 1976, the company moved to its present location in midtown Jackson. A few years later, around 1980, a second company -- a glassblowing business -- moved into the area. As time went by, Young says he realized that the area near his studio could be further developed to support the arts industry.
“In the mid-80s, I took a drive around midtown [Jackson] and thought the arts district could revolve around the area,” said Young. He added, “business can be successful and have an impact on the community.”
In 1988, Young wrote a detailed business plan called the Art Production Business document. It broke down the art, production and business processes of the company.
“If you’re not writing a business plan, you’re really doing very much,” said Young.
Creating the APB document certainly helped Young and his company. It became the design for the business’ growth-management plan, as it took the company from $20,000 in sales the first year to about $1 million by its fiscal year ending in 2008, according to Young.
However, the next few years were tough on Young and Pearl River Glass Studio, as the Great Recession eventually took a toll on the company’s sales numbers.
“We went from making $1 million in profits down to about $600,000,” said Young. “We let one third of the staff go in order to cut our expenses to equal our income. People just weren’t writing checks due to the tough times.”
In 2012, Young created a new business plan to help get the company back on its feet. Later that year, he put $1 million into buying 10,000 square feet of warehouse space and equipment. Around the same time, the company added the process of creating architectural art glass to its repertoire.
“Architectural art glass is a kiln-formed glass. You take pieces of glass and melt them down to create one large piece of glass,” explained Young. “It’s more modern. It can be applied to places like hospitals, colleges and more.”
Young said the business started to recover from the effects of the Great Recession in 2013. “In the fiscal 2013-2014 year, we made about $1 million [in sales], which was a big increase over the previous year’s numbers of about $700,000,” said Young.
Today, Pearl River Glass Studio is continuing to grow and has clients across the United States.
“This fiscal year, we will grow about 20% from the previous year to about $1.2 million in sales,” said Young. “We’ll have room and salaries to add management positions.”
The company has also entered into the decorative arts business by selling Christmas ornaments, which account for roughly “3% of total sales.”
Also, Pearl River Glass Studio stays involved with the Jackson community. Young has allowed a graduate program from local Millsaps College to do a business analysis of the company. He adds that “being in the Bible Belt of America has been good for business.”
In the future, Andrew Cary Young would like to see his company continue to grow at a steady rate.
“My goal is to expand at 20% a year,” said Young. “In order to achieve that, I’d like to get the staff involved in making some decisions. We’re using the 40th anniversary as a pilot year for that.”
Young stressed the need for flexibility in order to find continued success within the art industry, saying, “the existing stained glass market is flat… I don’t see it growing.” ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS
Andrew Cary Young’s advice to other up-and-coming entrepreneurs follows the spiritual path.
“People that have some religious structure or background will end up successful in the long-run,” said Young. “As an entrepreneur, you need to believe in something larger than yourself.”
Like many other entrepreneurs, Young agrees that success also comes from staff members and a core of dedicated employees. He also notes that learning to be a business person sometimes comes by trial and error.
Going into his 40th year of business, Young still has a strong passion and love for art.
“Artists are like storytellers, and humans have always wanted to hear a story,” said Young. “Art has fulfilled a very important part of our culture. Our studio has played a part in it. We’re part of human tradition… and it’s been a very rewarding career.”