Family business a smash for 50 years

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat January 26, 2012 05:08 pm

 Mark Banks’ first job is a lot different than the one he has now. But in a lot of ways, it’s pretty similar.

On one hand, he’s not pushing a broom around a Sonora glass shop like he did in high school. But his name is still on the sign out front of his family-run business, Banks Glass.

Banks is now president of the local glass installation company. Started by his father and mother, Vernon and Gloria, the company is celebrating its 50th year of business as a family-owned contractor.

“Our customers, when they call, they’re going to talk to a Banks,” he said last week while sitting at his desk at the company’ Jamestown location.

Vernon and Gloria Banks opened Tuolumne Glass in March 1961 after previously running a similar store with a partner in Modesto. They sold glass and paint in their Mono Way store, and along with the two of them employed one glazer, Mark Banks said.

It was a family business back then, with Mark and his brothers working part-time after school and even riding along before that.

“I can remember being 10 years old and being on jobs with my dad,” he said. “One of us was out on the job with him a lot.”

The business soon changed its name to that of the family and has moved to a handful of locations since then. Today Mark is president and runs business operations. His brothers, Jon and Matt, split managing the residential and commercial operations of the business. The brothers took over in 1989 when their parents retired.

He said there wasn’t much of a question whether the company would stay in the family. And with a number of the next generation of the Banks family already working there, it’s likely to continue, Banks said.

“That was part of the plan, and it continues to be part of the plan,” he said. “At some point, they’re going to be running it.”

The company covers a range of jobs, large and small — from replacing one broken window, to updating all the windows in an old home, to major residential and commercial projects in the Central Valley and Bay Area.

The company employs 18 people, and adds a few more seasonal positions, Banks said. At the peak of the real estate market they had 33 employees and a full-service location in Modesto.

Banks glass has lived through a number of changes in the industry, Banks said. Today’s projects are much more regulated and costly with insurance and other requirements, he said. And with changes in glazing and glass technology, especially for energy savings, it’s become a more technically complicated field.

“There was a pretty simple window back when my dad started out,” he said.

Since much of their work is tied to development, Banks said the company has had to weather the ups and downs of the markets over the years. There aren’t as many new developments today as there were a few years back, so he said a lot of the business they do right now is on existing buildings to make them more efficient.

Banks credits much of the company’s longevity to customer service and word-of-mouth advertising, he said.

He said he also regularly works with clients who did business with his parents.

But he said their ability to weather economic storms has a lot to do with flexibility and a willingness to stay in front of trends and technologies, especially as people look at saving energy. They’re constantly researching new products, he said. And if someone besides the boss has an idea, they want to hear it.

“Something we don’t encourage around here is ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it,’” he said.

It helps to have a nice pool of employees to draw from the family phone book. Banks said there are challenges to mixing business with family. The push and pull of sibling rivalries never completely goes away, he said.

But when you work for your family business, it people treat it as more than a job where you punch in, punch out and leave it at that, Banks said.

“Everybody’s pulling on the rope,” he said.

Contact Chris Caskey at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 588-4527.