By Dan Sanchez | Jul 24, 2017
Specialty architectural glass and surfacing
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Specialty architectural glass and surfacing
It doesn't take long to figure out that UltraGlas Founder and CEO Jane Skeeter, is a leader and innovator that has pushed the boundaries for women in business, as well as her unique vision for architectural glass and surfacing. When she's not receiving numerous awards for the company's work, she's busy motivating women to reach their full potential and helping her hometown community of the San Fernando Valley where she grew up.
UltraGlas designs and creations can be found in everything from the world's sixth-largest hospital in Kuwait City to Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. While the pieces are often both visually stunning and functional, they couldn't have come to fruition without Skeeter's unique vision for glass that began coalescing in the 1970s. "I always wanted to be an architect," says Skeeter. "I wanted to make things with my hands and also had an engineering brain. My love for glass started when antiques were enjoying a resurgence in the '70s, and I was exposed to stained glass."
Skeeter had already started and tried various businesses, including a Porsche restoration shop, but the glass business was one that stuck. "I started in my garage and filled orders for stained glass," says Skeeter. "I liked the fact that glass brings light into a room or building and can also be used architecturally. Working with developers in Beverly Hills, I'd see other glass companies installing showers and mirrors, so I earned two contractor's licenses and started installing glass and glazing to grow the business. In the mid-'80s, stained glass was getting competitive and was being taken overseas. Contracting was also very challenging and hard to control. So I decided to focus on manufacturing special and art glass and finding ways to make it more affordable."
Skeeter traveled to Europe to see what glass artists were doing there in small scale. "I saw how various techniques were being done, and I thought they could be applied on a larger scale. In 2001, I purchased a larger factory to focus on achieving this, and eventually added a line of glass tile."
Using what she had learned, Skeeter also figured out how to permanently color glass by firing pigment into it. This catapulted UltraGlas into creating many more uses for glass, including translucent designs that could be used on the exterior of buildings, water features, decorating interior walls and more. "We've pushed the envelope of glass design and know how to retain all of its beauty, without sacrificing safety," says Skeeter. "For example, we're developing glass panels that utilize a material that is still under development. We sandwich it between two glass layers to generate energy. The properties of this glass and material also reduce heat gain and loss, to reduce energy needs. It can also be used as safety glass and is hurricane-resistant."
Balancing large- and small-scale projects with employees that know their craft, is another way UltraGlas has survived throughout the changing landscape of construction and design. "When we have large projects, it's easier to hire people, which allows us to work faster, and we give them a task," says Skeeter. "Some of our internal people, however, are our core staff and work on the specialty products."
Challenges: "Our challenge right now is to educate the market on the uses of glass," says Skeeter. "The biggest bang for the buck is through distributors. We used to go after the top-end market and others would see it and be driven towards it. Now, by going through distributors, such as tile and door dealers, they already have the market to promote the use of additional glass products we can provide.
Opportunities: "Glass has been utilized for cladding exterior buildings," says Skeeter. "On average, 30 percent of building's budget is in its outer skin. We have opportunities in providing glass as an exterior material which can also add to its aesthetics and performance."
Needs: Designers and contractors are more cost-conscious since the last recession. Because of this, Skeeter is trying to create products that still provide a uniqueness to buildings and interiors, but that are also functional. "Since the recession, it's been more challenging to increase sales levels to where they were before," she says. "We need to regain our stature in the building process, and budget is part of that. We haven't had the marketing budgets to get in front of the newer industries that could expand our clientele."