No glass ceiling can contain Calgary firm
June 14, 2019
Three decades of can-do growth puts Goldray Glass at top of decorative design
From entrepreneurial beginnings in the 1980s picking scrap glass to make waterbed mirrors, Cathie Saroka had no idea the splash she’d one day make heading up one of North America’s leading architectural decorative glass companies.
Since starting Goldray Glass in 1985, Saroka and her family-owned-and-operated company has continued to find a way to fill a business niche, now designing some of the most unique and visually stunning glass building structures in North America.
But the company seed was first planted in the showroom of the Brick Warehouse, where Saroka’s then-husband Greg worked as a commission salesperson.
Greg noticed there was no local supplier to replace broken furniture glass, especially for waterbeds. Frustrated customers would be forced to replace full headboards if a mirror was broken. Still in their mid-20s and with three young children, the couple left their jobs and began to plug away at the business idea in the hope they could make ends meet.
Without a blueprint for the business, the couple had to learn how to do everything on their own. They built their own equipment and learned from scratch everything from cutting, sandblasting and coating glass.
Slowly, their relationships with local glass companies and architects moved them past waterbeds and they began an initial growth spurt that got them in the game designing and producing glass building products.
One local business personality that has worked with Goldray Glass for more than two decades is Mogens Smed, Founder of Calgary based construction company Falkbuilt.
“Cathie and Goldray never sit still. They are always growing, always looking to build their brand. Over the years I have worked with them on a number of projects and am always excited when something comes to light that I can get Goldray involved in – they are as passionate about innovation as I am.”
Smed is well aware of some of the challenges that come with basing a business in the prairies, but strongly supports Goldray as a ground-breaking company for not just glass, but for always having innovation and development as a key motivator for the business.
“It’s a great relationship to have where I know I can always call Cathie directly and she is always up for something new and challenging. I have always trusted Cathie to provide exceptional products that lead the industry for all of North America,” explains Smed.
Now, two of Saroka’s three children hold key leadership positions in the company of more than 100 employees and contractors that recorded sales of $20 million in 2018. The company is active in every U.S. state and boasts partnerships with global companies such as 3M, Corning and other internationally renowned technology companies.
That shop has now turned into a 100,000 square foot, cutting to crating factory with unique design processes that are feeding bold architectural building designs across the continent.
A large focus of Goldray’s business ethos is sustainability and research and development. Members of both the Canada Green Building Council and the U.S. Green Building Council, Goldray has a comprehensive Environmental Statement that emphasises their commitment to sustainable practices.
A recent innovative project from Goldray that combines both sustainable practices and innovation is the development of Bird Friendly glass. This use of a surface ceramic frit treatment can deter birds from flying into structures by reducing glare and providing a ‘visual noise’.
One of Saroka’s personal favourite projects is the Museum of Prairefire in Overland Park, Kansas, a natural history museum in Kansas. Saroka worked on the Museum with architect Jonathan Kharfen, who wanted the building to look like it was on fire, matching the controlled burns that are so common in the Kansas prairies.
“He was trying to find somebody he believed could help him achieve his vision of what he wanted this museum to look like and he said, ‘You are the only person who said yes, I want to do this’. Everybody else kept talking about all the problems with doing it.”
The Museum at Prairiefire features Goldray’s most significant partnership with 3M to create boldly coloured dichroic glass that changes colours depending on the viewing angle.
“I don’t think it could have been any better. It blew us all away,” said Kharfen from his Verner Johnson office in Boston, echoing Saroka’s comments that most other companies he spoke with showed no enthusiasm about the project.
Each piece of the museum’s exterior glass mimics wheat, corn, fire and smoke of the Kansas landscape. And while other North American companies had used dichroic glass for decorative purposes, Kharfen has never seen it used to this extent, where beauty blends so well with functionality.
“It has all the properties that added up to something that is really quite remarkable. Our expectations were exceeded. It does everything that I wanted it to do and more and this very likely would not have happened without Goldray.”
Kharfen said what stuck out is Saroka’s steely focus to get something done that she’d never done before.
Overall, as Saroka gets set to hand over the company to her son Michael in the coming years, that is the advice she gives young entrepreneurs looking to find their way.
“Over the three decades we’ve been in business, we’ve been able to make a name for ourselves being a company that is innovative and wants to push the envelope doing different things. At Goldray we live to embrace the challenge, and that’s what drives us every day.”
It’s why she has rallied behind the Calgary Chamber’s Grow Time campaign and why she wants to spend her retirement consulting young entrepreneurs.
“I’m very passionate about business and young people being in business and what specifically family businesses do for the economy and job creation and how we all get to be better both in our businesses and in our lives,” she said.
“Any time we can help foster that kind of attitude, Goldray will take that opportunity.”
To learn more about Goldray, visit their website: https://www.goldrayglass.com/