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Virginia Mirror marks 100 years in glass business
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Virginia Mirror Chairman Chris Beeler (left) and CEO John Korff are shown with a glass table made by the company featuring its 100th anniversary logo. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, October 6, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Do what you say you are going to do and always “do it with a smile” is Virginia Mirror Co. Chief Executive Officer John Korff’s philosophy for getting ahead in business.

That philosophy, coupled with honesty and integrity, have helped Virginia Mirror Co. succeed for 100 years, according to Korff and Chairman Chris Beeler.

Virginia Mirror marked its centennial anniversary on Sept. 16. That company and its subsidiary, Virginia Glass Products, will continue the celebration on Wednesday and Thursday with gatherings for current and former employees.

The mirror company was founded in 1913 by Michael and Nicholas Schottland — grandfather and great-uncle, respectively, of Beeler.

The family had been in the glass and mirror business in New York City.

Michael Schottland “was peddling (mirrors) down here and decided this was the place” to set up a factory, Beeler recalled. Bassett Furniture Industries, which was established in 1902, was a major customer.

Virginia Mirror’s factory on Moss Street in Martinsville originally made mirrors for furniture companies. In the early 1980s, the company began targeting its products mostly to residential construction. It mirrors now are used for walls, closet doors, vanities and cabinets as well as furniture, a brochure shows.

Established in 1956, Virginia Glass Products makes a variety of products at its plant on Old Sand Road in Ridgeway, including glass entrances and shower enclosures; tempered glass, processed with heat or chemical treatments to boost its strength; laminated glass, which Korff described as layers of glass “with something sandwiched in between,” like a thin film or art; and colored “spandrel” glass often used to cover construction materials.

Beeler and Korff believe honesty and integrity have kept Virginia Mirror operating for 100 years and Virginia Glass Products in business for nearly 60.

To get ahead in business, Korff said, do what you say you are going to do and always “do it with a smile.”

They are optimistic that the companies will exist for many years to come because glass remains a popular decorative and construction material.

“It’s relatively inexpensive” compared to other materials, Beeler said. It also is energy efficient, lets light into a structure and enables the people inside to view scenery outside, he said.

Neither company actually makes glass, which surprises many people, Beeler and Korff said. Instead, glass is purchased and then fashioned into products.

The companies market their products mainly in areas east of the Mississippi River, Beeler said.

Together, the companies have about 140 employees. Beeler said that is up by about 30 or 40 in the past several years. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they had at least 200 workers, he estimated.

The executives said at times in the past, the companies found it hard to recruit reliable workers. They never have figured out why, but the situation has turned around significantly in the past decade, they said.

Today, “we have some mighty good employees,” many of whom have worked for the companies for 20 to 30 years, Beeler said.

He and Korff said they try to get to know their employees well and create a good working environment.

While the executives said they tremendously value their employees, they also acknowledged that modern technology has resulted in a need for fewer workers. Beeler mentioned a production line that once required 20 people now can be operated by just three as a result of machinery that has been installed.

The technology is better able to manufacture items that are exactly alike, without the slightest differences or imperfections, according to Beeler. He noted that is what vendors and customers expect today.

A construction industry downturn in 2008 reduced the demand for the companies’ products. That led to a reduction in their work force. But the construction market has improved, and the companies have since taken on more workers, the two executives said.

The market is “better today than it was last year, and last year was better than the year before,” Korff said.

“It’s slowly coming back,” Beeler added, but it will “take a while to get back to where we were.”

Beeler and Korff said that if the companies ever expand, they may consider locating plants elsewhere, although they also would consider a local expansion.

An expansion outside the area “would probably be due to the huge cost of freight,” Beeler said, which is “something you can’t ignore” in the distribution process.

Cases of glass products can weigh as much as 4,000 pounds, so shipping them somewhere can be “extremely expensive,” he said.

But as long as he and Korff are in charge, the companies most likely will continue to be based in Martinsville-Henry County.

“Home is here,” Beeler said, and “I don’t think I could count the ways” that the community has been supportive of the businesses.

He mentioned, for example, assistance that local financial lenders provide businesses to help them grow.

What impresses Michigan native Korff the most is the area’s people.

“People embrace newcomers” here more than in some places he has been, he said. “It’s a very warm community.”

 

 
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