Friendship colors stained glass businesses
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
Lionel Prevost finds it easy to describe his relationship with Joe Dwight, his friend and competitor in Hawai'i's stained glass industry.
Bruce Asato The Honolulu Advertiser
Joe Dwight, right, visits Lionel Prevost's Pacific Stained Glass shop on Kailua Road. Although they are competitors, the artists have become friends and help each other in the stained glass business.
Bruce Asato The Honolulu Advertiser
Through good times and bad right now they're down for Prevost and booming for Dwight the two Kailua artists and businessmen have set aside work to help each other meet deadlines, save shipping costs by ordering expensive glass in bulk, and share supplies whenever one of them runs out.
They have somewhat similar relationships with the handful of other stained glass artists and supply shops that have formed a little stained glass mecca around Kailua. But none of the alliances is as tight as the bond between Prevost and Dwight, they said.
That two competitors can work so closely together is a testament to both men's easy-going personalities as well as their business sense.
Sometimes, establishing close ties with competitors can benefit everyone.
"There's a friendship there," Dwight said. "But if I get stuck, I'm alone on an island in the middle of the ocean. The more friends I have in the business, the better off I'll be."
Dwight, 57, works alone out of the studio he converted from his Kailua garage.
Just a couple of blocks away, Prevost, 39, is the owner and sole paid employee at Pacific Stained Glass on Kailua Road, where he teaches classes, sells supplies and works on his own projects for companies, churches and individuals.
The two men met three years ago after Prevost bought the nearly empty Kellene's Art Glass. Prevost had heard about Dwight and went over to his studio hoping to buy some of the zinc piping that artists use to outline each piece of stained glass.
"He said sure," Prevost said. "I said, 'How much?' He said, 'Just take it.'
"I'd have questions. He'd have questions," Prevost said. "We just played off of each other."
Not everyone appreciated the relationship that quickly developed.
Dwight thought he had a similar arrangement with another stained glass supplier. But when the supplier saw Dwight's truck outside of Prevost's shop, Dwight found himself shut out.
"He'd see my car parked at Lionel's and he'd get all (upset), so what can I do?" Dwight said.
Customers, without knowing it, have benefitted from the relationship.
"It means no job is too big for either of us," Dwight said. "If I get stuck, I can go to him for help. And if he gets stuck, he can come to me."
Earlier this year Prevost was jammed up trying to meet a deadline for the dramatic entrance to the Ocean House Restaurant at the Outrigger Reef Hotel. Dwight stopped work on his better-paying jobs to finish eight leaded-glass panels, charging Prevost a discounted rate of $75 per square foot.
"I just put everything to the side and knocked them out," Dwight said.
David Nagaishi, operations manager for John Pederson Ltd., which operates the restaurant, had no idea how the finished job came into being. And he didn't care, because it turned out well.
"It's a great job," Nagaishi said. "It's really nice, really well done. It looks fantastic."
Prevost's shop is the only one in Hawai'i to be accredited by the Stained Glass Association of America. He considers himself and Dwight to be at the top of Hawai'i's small stained glass industry.
Like Prevost, Dwight worked in the restaurant business. He earned as much as $50,000 in salary and tips as the executive steward at some of Honolulu's fanciest restaurants.
Twenty-five years ago, Dwight taught himself how to make stained-glass windows as a way to relax and found he could make extra money selling them at craft shows. Five years ago he turned his hobby into a seven-day-a-week job that now earns him around $150,000 a year.
Today, Dwight has jobs backed up until 2006. He has finished four major church projects worth more than half-a-million dollars and is working on two more, on top of smaller commissioned pieces for people and businesses.
His work can be found all around Hawai'i, in Native Books and St. Augustine Church in Waikiki, in Island Treasures and at St. Mark's Church in Kapahulu.
"I just got addicted to it," Dwight said. "Now I'm making at least three times the money and not working nearly as hard and getting instant gratification."
Prevost had been commissioned for private and public pieces since he was a 14-year-old in Canada. In Hawai'i he worked out of his garage while he had a day job managing a restaurant.
For years, Hawai'i artists had one source for stained glass materials, located in Pearl City. Then Kellene Blaine opened her Art Glass store seven years ago and gave birth to a little industry on the Windward side. In 1999, she sold the 2,000 square-foot store and the remaining 20 sheets of glass to Prevost.
Prevost moved his studio from a garage in 'Aina Hina and walled off half the store to cut his rent. Prevost also boosted inventory to 10,000 sheets of glass. He began offering classes in stained glass and glass bead making to 200 students per year.
But the retail end of his business has been off 20 percent in the past two years.
Maybe it's a result of a market that's oversaturated, Prevost said. Maybe it's the combination of a slower economy.
The cargo backlog on the West Coast in the wake of the port shutdown hasn't helped. A load of glass that should have taken two weeks to arrive is already six weeks behind.
Whatever the reasons, Prevost's inventory is at its lowest level since he renamed his store Pacific Stained Glass, with something like 5,000 sheets of glass.
So being able to buy supplies together with Dwight means they can both save 10 percent on a typical order of $6,000 to $8,000.
"That 10 percent is worth it," Prevost said.
"We're making a living," he said. "We're not getting rich. I'm just happy to get to wake up every day and make art."