Giroux Glass Owner Sees Clear Path to Profits and Saving Jobs

Downtown entrepreneur Anne-Merelie Murrell has brought a ray of sunshine to hospital patients, shone a light on Rembrandt masterpieces, and provided ocean views to the rich and famous.

As CEO and owner of Giroux Glass Inc., "doing windows" is in Murrell's contract. She's been the driving force behind glass installation projects at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, the interior of the J. Paul Getty Center and the Staples Center, not to mention projects for USC, UCLA, Virgin Records and Disneyland's "Mickey's Toontown."

In 10 years Murrell has grown Giroux into a nationally recognized glass company specializing in installation, maintenance, repairs and customized services. Company revenues when Murrell took over were just under $1 million; by 2001 they had reached $13 million. Projections for 2002 are $18 million.

Murrell broke into the glass business by coincidence. In 1991, with a prevailing interest in fixing up older buildings in the Downtown area, she agreed to buy the Giroux building at 850 W. Washington Blvd., even though the company came with the property. After 45 years in the glass business, Louis Giroux was ready to retire but he wanted to protect the jobs of his employees. So Murrell, who also had a background in teaching, real estate investment, fundraising and non-profit organizations, decided she was up for a new challenge and became Giroux's new owner and CEO.

Although she was a novice to the business, her vision was always as clear as the glass Giroux installs.

"I wanted to grow the business to be the best—the number one glass company in the Los Angeles area. I had a job to do so I just got on with it." Murrell said.

She immediately focused on customer service: installing a modern phone system, creating a central supply system and a computerized inventory. She concentrated on implementing marketing strategies including direct mail and newsletters.

Murrell also revamped the company's structure. She expanded the service division, added a contract division in 1992 and a high-end design/residential division in 1997. In addition to the basic glazing services—the installation and cutting of glass—Giroux offers a complex array of services for each of its three divisions. Depending on a client's needs, the company will provide marketing, technology, design, labor and service for a project. Giroux also supplies any additional materials related to the glazing.

Such extensive capabilities enable Giroux to take on high-profile jobs. The company's service division handles maintenance work on corporate buildings and several local airports including LAX. The contract division works with outside vendors such as designers and architects to redesign or create structures. The high-end design/residential division caters to expensive homes in Los Angeles and Orange County.

Industry Accolades

As Murrell expanded the company's services, she increased the staff from 10 to 140. One year ago she opened a Las Vegas office, which already has a $3 million backlog of work as the company tackles projects for schools, resorts and casinos.

In 1994 Giroux received the first of what would become a yearly top 20 ranking among U.S. companies from the trade publication Engineering News-Record. In 1999 and 2000 Giroux made Inc. magazine's list of the top 100 inner-city companies, and in 2000 Murrell was named entrepreneur of the year by Ernst & Young in the manufacturing and construction division.

Larry Hamer, who has been Giroux's president for the last two years, had heard the buzz about Murrell for some time.

"I sought her out. I saw Giroux growing and doing different things. I knew I wanted to be a part of it," said Hamer, who has worked in the glass business for 30 years. "Anne carries around the best attitude of anyone I've worked for, and it carries down to the staff. She's always happy. It's hard to be stressful when she's that way."

Murrell credits the company's success to the highly trained, unionized workforce.

"Our glaziers have four years of training," she states. "We don't do strip malls. Low-end work is less complicated."

Murrell says she doesn't discount the validity of lower-end projects, but is merely distinguishing between the more specialized and often complex work that Giroux does. The company's engineering capabilities, in particular, proved essential to the completion of the Beverly Hills' Rolex store on Wilshire Boulevard. On that project Hamer and his team put together a plan that satisfied the structural concerns of the general contractor while still respecting the architect's vision.

"The architect was looking to change the entire skin of the building," recalls Hamer. "We came up with several different products that changed the texture and the articulation. It was originally a flat facade, now there are ins and outs to the face of the building."

In a recent project for UCLA, the Giroux team proved its ability to provide ingenious but cost effective engineering solutions. Plans for the building had depicted an exposed steel frame. Steel is cheaper than aluminum, but in this case the cost of coating the steel would have made it prohibitively expensive. Giroux provided the simple alternative of using an aluminum frame and saved the university $2 million.

"We're going to look at a project and if we can come up with a better solution we will," Hamer said.

On-the-job adaptability is a company-wide philosophy that Hamer believes will help Giroux weather the current difficult economic times. Murrell, meanwhile, touts Giroux's varied service capabilities. She says the range make the company eligible for a variety of projects.

"People will always have a need to have glass replaced," she says. "Most contract glazing companies specialize in one area. With three divisions we can move to different kinds of jobs. It gives us diversity."

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