Statesboro resident Brian Welker made the best of a bad situation when he started washing windows 15 years ago.
"I was working for an electronics and television store in Savannah when a significant downturn in consumer electronic sales happened in the early 1990's," Welker said. "Everybody in the store with the exception of family members was laid off. I wasn't a family member, so I was out of a job."
Welker, the father of seven children, six boys and one girl, told an ailing friend that he was out of work and would appreciate the opportunity to work with him in his window cleaning business while determining his next move.
"My friend was very ill with a heart condition, and became unable to service his accounts," Welker said. "I stepped in on what I thought was a temporary basis, but ended up buying the business. I changed the name to Great Panes - Under Pressure to reflect what we do."
With eight to 12 full-time employees, depending on the time of year, and four part-time, Welker's operation is considered to be a fairly large one by window cleaning/pressure washing standards.
"I think there are at least 10,000 window cleaning companies in the United States," said Sam Terry, owner of the Sparkling Clean Window Company in Austin, Texas, and the president of the International Window Cleaning Association. "I would guess that over 9,000 of those are one man shops. You can see how unusual the size of his company is given that he is not located in a large metropolitan area."
"He is a very driven man and I would suspect that his company does a very good job," Terry said.
Buddy Sapp is the facilities director at Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro. "We have used Great Panes for the last three years or so," Sapp said. "I have to say that they always make sure that you are satisfied with the work they have done before they leave. They are very conscientious."
Welker said he has made just about every mistake in the book learning his trade, but said the last five years he has been able to take those lessons learned and grow his business.
"You either work 'in' your business or 'on' your business," he said. "I have gotten to the point where I have really wonderful people that I trust working for me in management, and now I work on the business and let them do their jobs. We have posted record sales each month for the last several months. To be honest with you, this is really fun."
One of those employees that has come into his own within Welker's company is Andrew Deloach. Deloach is a salesman for the company and has made great strides since joining Great Panes.
"The thing I enjoy most about working here is the family atmosphere that Mr. Welker has created," Deloach said. "We service a diverse group of clients both commercial and residential. No matter the size or type, we give a family feel to the services that we provide. We want everyone to be happy with our work, because we want them to be life-long customers."
One of the company's satisfied customers is Dr. Fred Richter.
"I have to be honest, I was very pleased and surprised at the great job that they did," he said. "They did a lot of work and were very thorough."
Welker is so dedicated to his craft that he just returned from a month long stint at the British Window Cleaning Academy.
"The gentlemen that operate the Academy are friends of mine that I met through our industry," he said. "I just wanted to go and see how they were doing things in England and Europe. I am always looking for better and safer ways for us to do what we do."
Welker said he does not like for his employees to get up on a ladder.
"Ladders are the most dangerous piece of equipment that we have," he said. "We try, if at all possible, to keep our employees off of ladders."
One of the ways Welker is able to do that is to use what is called "pole" washers, which extend up to six stories in height.
"We are able to clean the windows of any building six stories or less without scaffolding," he said. "We have very few buildings in this area that exceed that."
Welker said he services accounts from Statesboro to Dublin to Richmond Hill and from Savannah to Hilton Head.
"We service between 1,500 and 2,000 accounts annually and our overall numbers are continuing to grow," he said.To learn more about Great Panes you can visit their website at www.gp-up.com