More About Hot Takes on Business Success from a Glass Artist

This week I sat down with Dave Lee of Hot Shop Valpo, and he shared some fire (pun intended) tips for succeeding in business. Dave runs Hot Shop Valpo with his youngest son Bryan. They started blowing glass together 10 years ago so they could spend time with one another. Glass blowing is a team-oriented art form that both Dave and Bryan fell in love with almost instantly. “As parents you oftentimes lose touch with your kids when they become teenagers,” but glassblowing gave them something to bond over and work on together. “When Bryan and I are working, we don’t verbalize a lot, we just know. We anticipate what’s about to happen.”

Dave’s path to open Hot Shop Valpo was anything but straight. He was a marine for 22 years and the skills he learned are embedded in everything he does. He pointed out the juxtaposition of being a marine-turned-artist. “You destroyed things and now you make things.” It didn’t make sense to a lot of people back then, but entrepreneurs rarely get the support they desire at the start of their venture. Dave mentioned that “Everyone who starts blowing glass immediately wants to open their own studio and it almost always fails. For me, that was motivation too.”

There was no business plan, financials, or traditional planning for Hot Shop Valpo. Dave simply talked to his wife, Sue, and Bryan and said, “I think Valpo’s ready for this.” Intuition can be an entrepreneur’s best friend if you can learn how to listen to it. The reality is that Northwest Indiana was primed and ready for a hot glass studio. Their success is proof.

Despite Dave and Bryan’s apparent skill as glass blowers, every person they knew in the glass community, except for their mentor, told them not to do it. Dave credits his success to his Marine Corps background. “Bottom line is I think [my background] gave me the foundation for business success. Marines don’t fail.” Dave spoke to me about failure and adaptation and had so many great things to say that I decided to share my favorite takeaways below:
1. No Plan Survives First Contact with a Challenge: Dave adapted this from the marine saying “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Essentially, the challenge is inevitable, so you better be able to adapt on the fly.
2. Be Nimble: When a challenge presents itself, if you’re not nimble, it will be more difficult for you.
3. Driven Doesn't Always Equal Success: Many people I meet who go into small business are REALLY driven, but sometimes that drive creates a much narrower focus. As your focus narrows, your ability to flex and change also narrows.
4. Don't Let Failure Get You Down: In business you’re going to have failures. Therefore, the ability to handle failure like a challenge is an essential attribute for a good business owner.
5. Integrity is Essential: If you have integrity, people are going to trust you, believe in you, and will feel that you are genuine. When operating a small business, that is essential.

When Hot Glass Valpo first opened, Dave and Bryan found early success in the form of a large commission from a fellow glassblower who was aging and needed assistance. The project was to blow hundreds of pieces of glass for an installation at the Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. That commission gave them a financial leg up and put them on the map. Since then, they’ve completed several similar projects.

Dave and Bryan also mastered the art of the limited drop with seasonal limited series batches of glass hearts, eggs, and pumpkins, Hot Shop Valpo releases a specific number of pieces, and they often sell out quickly. These drops have built momentum around the studio, resulting in a loyal following in the NWI region and corporate customers around the nation. Dave shared that “Businesses have decided that art being a part of their space is important.”

In addition to being a savvy and successful businessman, Dave has a heart of gold and has made significant efforts to donate his time, talent, and treasure to his community. He has helped raise scholarship funds for local high school students, fund public projects, and support other local organizations such as the YMCA, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Empower Porter County. In addition, Hot Shop Valpo has raised over $15,000 for The Carrington Charitable Foundation and their incredible work making wounded Veterans lives better.

Hot Shop Valpo also specializes in Requiem in Glass as a way for people to memorialize those they love in stunning glass. Each piece they create is one of a kind, handled and created with the utmost care and compassion, and holds your loved one’s ashes in eternal beauty. They even invite you to the studio to participate in the creation of your personalized keepsake that beautifully preserves the memory of your loved one.

Dave’s success is proof that despite life’s many twists and turns, you never know where you’ll end up, especially when you follow your instincts. I hope this interview sparked new ideas and reignited your desire to make your business and community better or to create your own business.

Learn more about Hot Shop Valpo: Click for Details

Date & Time

December 6, 2023


Hot Shop Valpo
955 Joliet Road
Valparaiso, IN 46385

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