By Jeff Roslow
Family-owned business in Lakeland nationally known for superior products, service.
The Glotfelty brothers backed into doing something for a living they love to do and after being in business in Lakeland for nearly 30 years, they’ve got customers worldwide and have taken customer service to a level not normally seen.
Mike Glotfelty was a bank examiner and his younger brother Randy was in college in the early 1990s. Their mother was the owner of a porcelain shop in Dixieland. Mom went to a show and the owner of Jen-Ken Kilns had a display set up.
“They asked mom if she was interested in buying it,” Mike says of the family-owned company in Sarasota, which opened for business in 1951. “They wanted to retire. But also my mother wanted to retire.”
She said she wasn’t interested but knew of two people who might be: her sons.
“They had three ceramic kiln sizes and three glass sizes and everything was manual,” Mike says.
While working with glass, pottery, clay using kilns was not something the boys were looking to do, they were not unfamiliar with the work due to their mother’s business. So, they bought the business and in 1991 moved it to Lakeland. They operated out of their home for a while, then moved into a building, and now have their place of business at Ventura Drive West in Lakeland near the airport.
“As soon as you could carry 50 pounds, you were hired,” Mike jokes about mom’s business.
Now with a company of about 10 employees, they have clients throughout the world ranging from Saudi Arabia and India, to Michigan and Florida.
“I used to wear a tie… it was kind of stuffy and every time I left my desk I had to put on my jacket,” Mike says. “Here I can wear (blue) jeans and an open shirt every day.”
They love the business they are in and they enjoy the customers they gather as well, whether it is corporate or individuals.
“Everybody in the world loves fine arts,” Randy says. “Whether it’s clay, glass, knife makers — everything in world can be done and a lot of art comes from kilns.”
Jen-Ken makes two kinds of kilns. There is the traditional fire brick kiln, made in many different sizes, and then there is a rigidized ceramic fiber kiln, which can be better for glass making because its shape is square rather than round.
Fire brick kilns retain heat longer and the thicker the brick, the longer the brick will hold heat. This is good for large items that need a long firing time and slow cool downs. Another advantage is its durability but only if you don’t plan to move it. The bricks are cemented together and moving it can cause damage as the bricks are expanded and contracted from the heat, which can cause the bricks to chip.
A fiber kiln heats and cools down faster. It can produce work more quickly. It works better to travel with as it is much lighter and is usually in one square piece. These kilns also stay cleaner than fire brick kilns because of the way they are built and the fact that it doesn’t expand from the heat.
One quality about Jen-Ken Kilns is how the owners treat the customers.
The customers are of all kinds, Randy says. “There are companies, doctors, lawyers and there is one city manager.”
He says a lot of people love what they do for a living but also want to delve into their artistic abilities.
He says about 10 percent of their clients have this on “bucket list,” 60-70 have some kind of interest in selling their artistic creations and the rest have a full-time vocation working for kilns. One company, Delphi Glass Corp. in Lansing, Mich., buys about 60 kilns per month. It is a privately held retail and wholesale company in art glass supplies.
They also cater to individuals. June Knowles, who worked for 38 years at the City of Lakeland in accounting at the water utility department, took a class there five years ago after she retired.
Now she has a 13 by 24 shed, five kilns and she says she’s trying to generate some income, but it is “just fun to do.” She spends at least five hours a day in her shed, six days a week, she says.
“A friend and I decided to go do pottery,” Knowles says. “I always loved ceramics, but that turned out to not be my thing. I fell in love with the glass.”
She took class for both mediums and still, five years later, is still taking classes from Jen-Ken staff.
“These are just absolutely lovely people and they get fabulous instructors from all over the United States… top notch instructors. It also brings together like-minded people,” she says of the classes. “I met some of my best friends through Jen-Ken. There are four of us who met there and have become close friends.”
And, she says, the help she gets from staff stands out. Of the five kilns she owns, two of them are large ones and three are smaller.
“The two large ones (Mike) came over and put it in and installed it,” she says. “And, if anyone has a need, they custom build whatever you want. He (Mike) gave me his cell phone number.”
Mike says he has no problem helping people at whatever time they need it.
“No one abuses it, but you’ve got to know we can’t necessarily work miracles on the weekend. But people can text me or call me on Saturday. By doing that the word gets around that we’re caring,” Mike says.
That caring is noticed, says client Peter Spence of Art Glass Orlando. The Glotfeltys like what they do and want to share it.
Spence became a client of Jen-Ken Kilns about 12 years ago for his glass fusing business. For about 10 years before that he was bought items in local shops in the Orlando area when he branched out to find more.
“They are very customer focused. When I reached out to Jen-Ken and met Mike I had never met someone able to accommodate everything I do. Over the next 10 years through the helping they have been on the spot.”
Spence says the work can be very demanding to satisfy his customer’s needs and Mike and Randy help him meet some demands with their knowledge and advice.
“That level of commitment to customers you just don’t find,” he says. “Whenever you need something they can seem to make it happen.”
“I feel fortunate to have found them,” Knowles agrees. “They have had an impact on my life and it is all they have brought to us.”
Jen-Ken Kilns is open to the public and has classes through a program they call Fired Arts Academy. Classes range $50-$150 and some are one-time classes and some are for multiple times.
Both Jen-Ken Kilns and Fired Arts Academy can be found on Facebook. For more info visit JenKenKilns.com or call 1-800-329-KILN.