The founder of Ballymoney, Northern Ireland-based glass etching company Glass Craft Europe LLC never thought he would be doing business in the U.S., but a familiar sight in an Atlanta-area home convinced him that fate was drawing him to the Georgia capital.
Basil Haslett told GlobalAtlanta that when visiting a businessman’s home in Sandy Springs, he was surprised to hear Irish folk song ‘Danny Boy,’ playing, reminding him of growing up in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
“Then I saw a picture on the wall of the river flowing through the town and my parents’ house was in the picture. That’s when I knew this was meant to be,” he said.
Mr. Haslett said that he had had no plans to expand his business internationally until he was invited to join a July 2005 trade mission by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Belfast.
The mission was funded by regional promotion agency Invest Northern Ireland and organized by Atlanta-based consultants the Gaffey Group. They visited Seattle for five days, giving Mr. Haslett a chance to fulfill a lifelong wish to see nearby Vancouver, Canada, before going to Atlanta for five days.
After his experience in Sandy Springs, Atlanta businesspeople convinced Mr. Haslett that he could be successful in the U.S. market, but also that he needed to patent his methods of creating glass signage and decoration through on-site etching.
Mr. Haslett said that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was very stringent in determining that his techniques are unique enough to be patented.
“They scoured the world to look for any (existing) patents,” he said. “They did me a really big favor because they honed it down to such a short dissertation that no one could attack it.”
The process took more than two years but the patent came through Jan. 12, 2008, allowing Mr. Haslett to set up Glass Craft USA LLC in Norcross.
“I’m really glad that the method I’ve invented has been accepted,” he said, adding that interest in the arts in the Atlanta area will help his company be successful.
Mr. Haslett presented the first piece produced by his American subsidiary to Charles Green, president of Sunrise Bank of Atlanta, March 6 in recognition of his work in getting the 2008 Dogwood Festival moved to Lenox Square.
The piece, titled “Dogwood Sunrise,” was produced by the methods developed by Mr. Haslett in Northern Ireland and features a country scene of a dogwood tree, each blossom etched individually into the glass, and the Appalachian Mountains with a sun rising through the clouds.
Mr. Haslett began developing Glass Craft’s techniques by inventing equipment to do on-site etching and experimenting with different types of glass.
The first was tempered or strengthened glass, such as car windshields, which no craftsman had been able to etch without destroying. Through trial-and-error experiments, Mr. Haslett said that he developed a system for cutting into tempered glass and inserting color to create designs without damaging it.
The test of whether etching affected the strength of tempered glass came when a burglar tried to break into a jewelry shop with windows that Mr. Haslett’s company had filled with 24-karat gold. Mr. Haslett said the windows withstood repeated blows, delaying the burglar’s entry until the police arrived.
“(The burglar’s) comment to the police was, ‘If it hadn’t been for that so-and-so window, I would’ve been in and out of here before you caught me,’” Mr. Haslett said. “That proved to me that etching did not affect the strength of the glass.”
He then worked with the University of Ulster to develop a system of etching for fire resistant windows, which are mandatory in all public buildings in Northern Ireland. Mr. Haslett said that he also worked with the British military to prove that etched bulletproof glass can still withstand gunshots.
He also said that etched glass reduces the amount of heat passing through the glass by as much as 35 percent, allowing companies with etched glass windows to lower their energy costs.
“The cost of cooling a building is more than you can get your head around,” Mr. Haslett said. “I can’t do every building in America, but now I’ve got people here trained to do this work.”
His initial reluctance to enter the U.S. market has been replaced by an enthusiasm for expansion. Mr. Haslett plans to use the company’s Atlanta-area location to branch into other areas of the U.S., adding that part of his sales team is already in California drumming up business.
“What has surprised me is the number of calls we’ve gotten here and the things happening through people Googling us … so it’s very encouraging,” he said.