Photo: Teresa and David Darby stand by one of the stained glass windows they designed, created and installed in the United Methodist Church in Chireno. (Photo by Kelly Daniel)
Glass Castles receives chamber business excellence award By Kelly Daniel, Membership and Marketing Manager
Good craftsmanship and a good sense of business have proven to be the right mixture for Glass Castles Stained Glass Studio & Gifts as owners Teresa and David Darby prepare for the business’s 30-year birthday and for receiving the Small Business of the Year honor.
According to Catherine Darby, David’s mother, one visit to a renaissance festival with a friend where David watched craftsmen working with stained glass was enough to get him thinking of leaving his job as deputy district clerk with the Harris County 248th District Court.
David and Teresa married and began Glass Castles in Houston in 1980. They traveled at least 20 weekends a year to renaissance festivals in New York, Florida, Louisiana and Texas before deciding to move to Nacogdoches in Feb. 1982. When the Darbys considered settling in to one place, they looked for a location near metropolitan areas.
“We moved here to be central to Houston and Dallas,” Teresa said. “We were charmed by the town with the influence of the university, the beautiful old homes and fantastic pines. We enjoy the quality of life. We are only six and one-half miles from our studio when we are deep in the woods at our home.”
The choice to call Nacogdoches home has worked well for Glass Castles. The first location at 2207 North St. served as a good introduction to the town. The gift shop was developed within a year, and the business established its presence across from the SFA campus. John Hazelwood, KETK account executive, visited the North St. store after an SFA student working as a station intern had already approached Teresa with advertising options.
“After getting to know them so well over the past years, I have the highest opinion of them both,” Hazelwood said. “They are very good at all that they do in the stained glass creation and installation. They are astute in the business climate, and they embrace new ideas. The Darbys understand the value of consistent advertising and importance of customer service in their gift shop, and all of that has contributed to their success.”
Years later, Glass Castles made another move to its present location on E. Main St. Don Proudfoot, Small Business Development Center director at Tyler Junior College, was involved.
“I encouraged them to get their own building. That was a very big deal for them, and I’m not sure that at that time, they were sure they wanted their own building. We worked on a business plan together so they could see the assets, and the way to do it,” Proudfoot said.
In 1998 Proudfoot began working with the Darbys, and he has some fond memories. In fact, Proudfoot describes his experience with the Darbys as “one of a kind.”
“We were working on the plan at the store. It began to get late, and they invited me and my son to come to their home and to spend the night there,” Proudfoot said. “That’s just the kind of gracious people they are - to invite us into their home.”
Proudfoot was able to finish the plan prompting the Darbys to invest in a building. But what stands out to Proudfoot from that business plan creation night was “taking breaks to go out behind David and Teresa’s house to shoot a paint ball gun.”
“I’ve never had a client like the Darbys,” said Proudfoot. “They are big thinkers who are really good at their job and good to other people, and they listen to other opinions. When I think of Nacogdoches, I think of the Darbys.”
The Darbys moved to the downtown 2,950 sq. ft. building in 1999. They are pleased with the way the gift shop attracts downtown visitors. To help run the shop, Glass Castles has employed as many as seven people at one time, but according to Teresa, “the store operates better with three.”
“We have always been an open studio,” Teresa said. “The highly visible Main Street location encourages tours, customer education and community recognition. Most other studios are in warehouse districts, home properties; basically hidden from public view and hard to find.”
The Darbys also enjoy the studio for holding classes and offering a highly visible locale to showcase the work of other artisans.
“Highly visible” may be a double-edged sword for the Darbys as they said that “after training quality craftsmen, keeping them is a challenge.”
On a much larger viewing scale, the Darbys’ stained glass creations can be seen throughout the Texas Forest Country.
“Now we are a regional company, because we’ve installed stained glass in the churches and homes that are mostly between I-45 and the Louisiana border,” Teresa said. “For the stained glass studio, we are always challenging our talents to improve the caliber of our commissions. We are in the process of being accredited by the Stained Glass Artist Association.”
Other issues the Darbys said affect their industry include documentation of stained glass windows before fires, hurricanes and other disasters to aid in restoration in case of damage. They encourage clients to consult them, the crafters, in the planning stages of building in order to incorporate the glasswork in the overall design and budget. The Darbys said their gift business is sometimes challenged with competition from imported lamps and other fake stained glass products offered at cheap prices and poor quality.
The Darbys’ presence in the community is as large as their business. David is involved in the Diocesan Deacons Council, serving as a deacon in Sacred Heart Catholic Church. In the church, his duties include baptizing and preaching and officiating wedding and funeral ceremonies. He visits people living in nursing homes, and those that are homebound. David also formed Third Age Group, a social group for senior church members.
Teresa is active in the church, teaching an adult Christian initiation class for those who would like to know more about the Catholic church. David teaches a similar class for children, second and third-grade ages. Together, they counsel pre-marriage couples.
Teresa was recently honored for her years of service as a mentor for the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. She served on the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors 2001 to 2004 and as Vice Co-chair of Special Projects and Fundraisers 2002 to 2004. Volunteering at the chamber’s Blueberry Golf Bash and the Texas Blueberry Festival for eight years and counting have been part of her community service, too.
Glass Castles is a member of the Downtown Business Association, and the Darbys stay involved in the DBA, continually working to keep the downtown district thriving. The Darbys said that one statement about their business is “God has blessed us with every mistake we've made on the way.” Nacogdoches citizens could say “God has blessed our town with the Darbys.”
The Chamber will honor Glass Castles Stained Glass Studio & Gifts at the 88th Annual Meeting and Membership Banquet on Tuesday, Sept. 29, in the Baker Pattillo Student Center Grand Ballroom. The event begins at 6 p.m. with a raffle and social hour. The program and dinner will begin at 7 p.m. An event registration form is posted on www.nacogdoches.org or contact the chamber office, 560-5533, for tickets and table sponsorships. Contact Barbara Holl, 560-5533, to donate items for the raffle and online auction. Find a link for the online auction on the chamber’s Web site.
Other award recipients will also be recognized at the event, including Medium Business of the Year, Axley & Rode, LLP; Large Business of the Year, NIBCO, Inc.; and Citizen of the Year, Dr. Patsy Hallman.
The 2009-2010 chamber board of directors will be installed at the event. The 88th Annual Meeting and Membership Banquet committee members are Chairwoman Betty Shinn, Charlotte Ashcraft, Corey Ashley, Jan Dawley, Donna Finley, Michael Martin, Laurie McCollough, Will Scott, Scarlett Sloane and Paul Smith III.