Glass company opens the (steel) door to long-term success.
by Steve Kaelble
“There are still a lot of people in Northwest Indiana who know Lazzaro as just a glass company,” says Joel Putz, president of The Lazzaro Companies in Merrillville. Yes, roughly a third of the business still involves glass, but much has changed since brothers Ben and Carl Lazzaro started the company in 1956.
“We started as just a small glass and glazing contractor, doing small storefronts, auto glass, replacing windows in folks' homes,” Putz says. Today, the company's windows, metal or wood doors and related products can be found in massive commercial installations–buildings that may have a thousand or more openings needing to be filled with a window or door. And what was a highly local business back then now ships products just about anywhere from Northwest Indiana.
“We are now in our third generation of ownership,” says Putz, grandson of cofounder Ben Lazzaro. He's a partner with his brother, George, and with Chuck Lazzaro, son of the other cofounder, Carl. Joel Putz runs the company's hollow metal division, while George Putz oversees the glass and glazing division.
During the company's first couple of decades, the glass business was good. But it became clear that there was tremendous growth potential in another line–hollow metal doors, door frames, hardware and related products. In 1978, Ben Lazzaro invited his son–Joel and George's dad–to run a separate division focusing on these hollow metal products. According to Joel, “the rest, they say, is history.”
As that business grew, the company moved away from auto glass and became more and more focused on commercial installations. Storefronts were still on the menu, and windows, but a diversity of other see-through products beckoned, such as curtain-wall and skylights. Lazzaro can supply architectural wood doors as well. Meanwhile, the hollow metal division started creating ever-more sophisticated doors and frames, sometimes known as “entrance systems” as the complexity increases. As for hardware–let's just say that doorknobs and hinges are just the beginning these days.
Today, Lazzaro's work can still be found in some high-end residential installations–“if they want really nice hardware and really high-end wood doors,” Putz explains–but mostly it's in commercial and office buildings, hospitals, hotels, schools and the like. University of Notre Dame's Stayer Center for Executive Education features the company's work prominently. So does Saint Joseph High School in South Bend and Hobart High School in Northwest Indiana.
“We do a lot of work in Indianapolis,” Putz continues. Downtown hotels such as the Hyatt Regency and Westin called Lazzaro as they spruced up for the Super Bowl, and Eli Lilly & Co. is a client, along with Roche Diagnostics.
Today, the business related to steel doors makes up about 60 to 65 percent of revenues, while glass-related work drives 30 to 35 percent of the sales. As the business has grown, technologies have changed, Putz says. “Now there are a lot more electronics involved. We do ADA operators, where you hit a button and it automatically opens up. We do card-access systems,” he says.
“Security has become a big part of our business, especially in higher education and school districts because of outside threats. In our world, that's really the future of the business, the access controls and electronics and things like that,” Putz continues. “From the manufacturing standpoint, it also has changed quite a bit. A lot of it is robotic.”
And as the company has grown, so has its confidence: “We're not afraid to tackle any size job.” Amid all the change, though, some things are as they ever were, according to Putz. “Our philosophy has always been service and quality. We feel we treat people fairly and honestly.”