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Selecting a Quality Stained Glass Studio
By: John Phillips, Jr.

 Everyone wants to know the magical formula to select the correct stained glass studio to complete a project. While a studio cannot do this for you, there are ways to sort through the information and make a quality selection.

A common question that the clergy will ask a stained glass studio is, "How do I get an apples-to-apples bid?" Unlike many industries, stained glass is extremely specialized. Often, others do not know the terms and jargon outside the industry.

The other aspect of this industry is the lack of regulation by the industry. The industry consists of many smaller companies started by craftsmen and artists who took a hobby and changed it into a career. This is certainly admirable, but these individuals often do not have the knowledge of all the facets of the business or of stained glass. Oftentimes, a simple understanding of terms and jargon will allow the church to see the correct scope of work.

Some studios specialize in a certain type of work. For example, a studio that creates a number of new windows will often bid restoration projects as a complete relead. This scope of work fits into their business operations easier. An on-site restoration project may be impossible since they do not have the expertise or the manpower to complete the work that may best serve the client. A studio that does not do new windows may not recommend releading when needed, as it cannot be easily completed at their facilities. Both studios make a strong case for their approach, but we are left with a confused committee.

Guidelines
The following is a guide to help you ultimately find a studio that passes these guidelines and, most importantly, is available and willing to mentor you through this learning curve.

1. Has the studio been in business for more than five years?
If they have, this suggests that they are doing something right to maintain operations as with most businesses. You can verify this information by using state records or checking Dunn & Bradstreet. Remember that sometimes people report information incorrectly, so be very direct and ask the potential studio to explain any items you are uncomfortable with.

2. Ask the studio to send references over a five-year period of business.
Obviously, companies generally provide only positive references, so it is important to request at least 10 references and check state website's regarding contracting in the states they are licensed. Personally pick five references randomly and contact these customers. We suggest you contact the most recent church committees, as it may be hard to talk with someone familiar with the project from several years ago. Ask the contact the following questions:

    * Did the company complete the job on time?
    * Did the company and job supervisor communicate with you during the project?
    * Did the crew clean up well and work around your services?
    * Did the company complete the contract in a skillful manner?
    * Overall, were you satisfied with the project?
    * What type of work did they do? (repair, relead, covering, etc.)

From their answers, you should get some idea of consistency, and those consistencies should give you an idea of the company's work and operations.

Stained glass restoration normally does not require state licensing, but some states do require certain licensing in order to operate in their state.

It is important that you ask each reference what type of work was performed. This assures that the studio has the skills to provide the church with an unbiased scope of work based on what the church needs instead of what the studio needs to sell.

Churches often are confused by the terminology different studios use. Please ask for an explanation of each specification so you can fully understand and correctly compare each studio.

As with most purchases, you want to have a personal comfort level with the staff of that studio. They should be knowledgeable, eager to help, and patient with your questions. Good communication is vital to the success of any project.

Contract
Be sure each proposal or contract clearly itemizes each service per window. All materials should be specified and spec sheets provided as available. It is also a good idea to request solid deadlines of completion. Make sure the payment terms are detailed and specific and should never be paid ahead! Always be sure each stage is fully completed and you are satisfied before authorizing payment.

Guarantee
All consumers are looking for a solution to their problem and want that solution guaranteed for as long as possible. In the stained glass industry, guarantees can range from zero to 20 years and can cover the entire project or just the workmanship.

In some cases, smaller studios make guarantees that they cannot fulfill because they are not around long enough to honor their guarantee. The best guarantee is to have the work completed correctly in the first place. Make sure the proper products are used and that the company performed all work in a quality manner. There is little need for a guarantee if the project they completed is done correctly. This material and installation really does not have a high failure rate.

Many churches often assume that any leakage problems are a result of the stained glass. Try to avoid having false hopes, as even uncovered stained glass windows are very rarely the cause of water infiltration into a building.

Unfortunately, many contractors take the easy way out and blame it on the windows instead of actually water testing to determine the source of leakage. This situation often leaves church members disappointed to find they spent money to recover the windows to prevent the leakage only to find the source of the leak was actually something else.

In summary, a 5 to 10 year guarantee against any defective workmanship is proper. A church can also protect itself by inspecting stages of the project and prior to final payment.

Most importantly, do not fail to check out the company you contract with. Their record and references will speak volumes about them.

As a pastor or committee member, others have put their confidence in you and in your abilities and stewardship. So, honor their confidence in you and do your homework! Remember you get what you pay for and you pay for what you get. Your valuable stained glass windows are no exception.

John Phillips, Jr. is president of Associated Crafts, one of the nation's premier full-service stained-glass studios, www.AssociatedCrafts.com.









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