Glass block startup on the rise

June 24th, 2019
Sonja McCoy, co-owner of Glass Block Express, in front of the vacant building that will become the company's home

The building on the corner of Linwood and Buena Vista had been abandoned for many years. Outside, the concrete walls were covered in graffiti. “Till I Die…” was spray-painted on the front door. Inside was filled with debris and discarded tires.

It was once the Hobby Bar and Lounge, which opened in 1952 and, over the years, featured performances by outstanding and underappreciated Detroit musicians, like Terry Pollard and Jack Montgomery.

Sonja McCoy and her partner Raymond Joiner knew the vacant building was once a happening nightclub. They live in the neighborhood, and they imagined a new arrangement for the old bar.

Sonja and Raymond created a glass block installation company last January called Glass Block Express (GBX). Raymond had considerable experience in installing glass blocks. Sonja would run the business side of GBX. Since they both had full-time jobs, they started with modest operations, with the goal of strategically growing the company through planning, diligence, and investment.

Even though she has an MBA, Sonja decided that she needed more training to make the small business successful. She knew others who had taken the ProsperUS Detroit entrepreneurial program and who recommended it. So Sonja enrolled and completed the program last summer.

(top) Raymond Joiner installs a glass block window at a Detroit home; (bottom) Sonja McCoy

“ProsperUS was invaluable,” Sonja said. “The class walked me through, step by step, how to write a good business plan. I researched other glass block businesses to learn about competitive pricing and how we could set our business apart. That’s when we came up with the idea of a 7-day guarantee to finish the work. I also figured out how much capital we would need to develop our company, and learned how we could approach lenders and others who could help us.”

Sonja and Raymond have been operating GBX out of a rental house. They thought the vacant Hobby Bar would be a good fit for their plans. Sonja began negotiating with the Detroit Land Bank, which owned the building, and reached a purchase price of $8,000 for the property. They’ve been cleaning up the building and grounds, and they plan to start the renovation work soon.

GBX sales have tripled for the first part of this year over last year’s numbers. Raymond was laid off from his job with a painting company and is doing GBX work full time. He has four part-time assistants to help create the custom-fit glass block windows and install them. Sonja anticipates that GBX will hire three more people after they move into the renovated building.

To increase their inventory to keep up with sales growth, GBX secured a $20,000 loan from ProsperUS. ProsperUS is also providing “comprehensive technical assistance” to GBX to help with marketing, logo design, web design, and more.

“GBX is primed for growth,” said Chris Butterfield with the ProsperUS team. “Raymond is an expert installer. Sonja possesses impressive business acumen. She keeps all the administrative functions in order and also operates with a sense of urgency to take advantage of all the resources available to assist small businesses in the city.”

Recently, Motor City Match announced its Round 15 winners. GBX won a Design Award and will receive technical assistance, business consulting and architectural services.

“We’re only in year two of our business, and we’ve already come a long way,” Sonja said. “Our goal is to grow about 20% a year, and we’re optimistic that GBX will do well and become a fixture in the community.”


To learn more about GBX or to request a quote, visit its website: www.glassblockexpress.com.

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