By Monica Mendoza
No longer willing to let intermediaries do the job, Nora Lamar took her first trip to Europe a few years ago in search of the perfect crystal. She visited manufacturing plants in the countryside of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria and watched how artisans cut crystal by hand.
It was a long way from the Orange County, Calif., outdoor market where nearly 30 years ago she sold inexpensive jade glass with hand-engraved messages.
Today, Lamar, president of Glassical Designs Inc., buys crystal from manufacturing companies around the world for her designs.
“It’s funny, the industry will try and get away with calling certain pieces crystal, it’s really just glass,” she said. “I know the difference.”
Lamar has built a business that designs and produces optic-crystal, art glass and cut-crystal trophies for corporate awards programs and major golf tournaments. On desktops and home offices around the country, there are hundreds of thousands of Lamar-designed crystal awards.
“They’re not just a flat piece of glass with words; they’re an actual design to fit the venue,” she said of the designs conceived by Glassical.
Lamar, who moved Glassical from California to Colorado Springs four years ago, is among the 3 percent of all women-owned businesses in the U.S. with annual revenues of more than $1 million.
For 13 years, Lamar and her husband schlepped glass products to the Southern California outdoor market, where with a generator and sandblasting equipment she engraved the trophies and gift items on-site. By 1997, however, Lamar decided to dump her retail base to pursue corporate customers. It was risky, she said, but made sense.
“We were working too hard,” she said. “You spend a half hour with a bride who maybe spends $200 or $300. (Or you can) spend a half hour with a corporate customer who spends $20,000 a year. It made sense.”
Lamar found a national market in restaurant chains, universities and real estate companies that wanted to present employees with awards that are also real works of art.
Fifteen years ago she teamed with an artist who had trained in the famed glass factories of Venice.
“He was showing bowls and vases and I told him I needed something more wonky – something more oddly shaped, not so symmetrical, with dimples – something interesting,” she said.
The swirling, twisted colored glass has become one of her signature offerings and a must-have each year for companies like Big O Tires and the National Football League Players Association.
When she arrived in the Springs, Lamar set up shop in the CW Business Park on 30th Street, thinking it would be temporary until she could build, or buy, her own building. That plan is on hold for now, she said, thanks to the recession.
“We need to see how this year ends up,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you that the economy hasn’t affected us, it has. But, we’re not going anywhere.”
Meanwhile, Larmar’s team produces and ships hundreds of awards each day. Over the years, new technology has made the job easier. Lamar once hand-drew each design on the glass. Now, the art is applied to a clear film and exposed to the glass, which makes duplication easier and the process more profitable.
Her team still sandblasts each piece by hand, which keeps the details in the design sharp. And her longevity in the business gives her access to discounts with her vendors, which keeps her competitive.
“We’ve got another 20 years in us,” she said. “I still want to go to China where they are making magnificent quality optic-crystal. I would like to see how they do it.”