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Three generations of family at glass, aluminium business

Kevin Hollis has run his own successful business since September 1, 1992.

He still remembers his first customer — Doug Humble.

The glass industry today is more competitive than it has ever been in his 53-year-long career.

“That's good for the customer,'' says Mr Hollis.

Today's customers are more knowledgeable, more demanding and more likely to shop around.

The Gisborne identity has no issues with those modern realities of doing business, and neither does his 2IC, son Craig.

The two have turned Kevin Hollis Glass and Aluminium into a family business and it is likely to remain so for some time, with Craig's children, Tayla and Kyah, having decided they, too, were keen to enter the family trade.

Mr Hollis admits their decision made him a proud man.

Today he employs 13 permanent and casual staff, including five apprentices.

Mr Hollis has seen numerous changes in the industry and in business since he started his apprenticeship under Colin McLeod of Smith and Smith.

That firm was owned at the time by British company Pilkington Glass, which had long dominated the international glass industry.

In a sign of the times, Pilkington Glass is now Japanese-owned.

The Gisborne market is also significantly different today, with many small players including one or two-man operations compared to the “three real players'' that once dominated the market.

Small players can still provide tough competition because they have low overheads, he says.

Don't ask him about the cost of health and safety, it won't make him a happy man.

“It's way over the top,'' he says.

“It's too tough and too costly.

“There's no common sense allowed, but we still follow the rules.''

Mr Hollis laments changes made to the apprenticeship scheme in the early 1990s, which saw industry training organisations take over with an emphasis — theoretically — on skills rather than hours served.

“I was taught to do the job properly — thoroughly,'' he says.

“There were no short cuts.

“If you don't do it right, there's no profit.

“And there goes your reputation.”

Mr Hollis says he has perpetual difficulty finding qualified tradespeople, and it's no different in many other trades.

“Many young apprentices don't seem to have a good work ethic.

“Some don't have the backbone to put in extra effort and take time to learn.''

He says customers today have a wider range of choice in glass and glazing products because of changes in technology.

“But we have lost a lot of the old classic glass patents, which makes life a bit difficult at times.”

Modern windows are made from float glass, which is made by floating molten glass on a bed of molten metal, typically tin, although lead and other various low-melting-point alloys were used in the past.

This method gives the glass sheet uniform thickness and very flat surfaces.

Mr Hollis says float glass sheets are easy to cut accurately without mistakes and wastage.

Pilkington Glass developed the new technology, made it commercially widespread, and were able to keep the technology secret until being exposed to US trust law in the 1990s.

Mr Hollis moved into aluminium products eight years ago in what proved to be another successful business decision.

“But windows remain a very big part of the business.

“Windscreens are also important, they are another big part of our business.”

Some of his competitors are recommended by insurance companies when motorists need to replace their windscreen.

Mr Hollis says he still competes.

“It's about the quality of the work.”

FAMILY AFFAIR: Pictured from left, Craig, Kevin, Tayla and Kyah Hollis form the backbone of Kevin Hollis Glass and Aluminium. Picture by Liam Clayton