More than 130 Dragons—from Mini to Big—have flown out of Americus, Georgia, to fire up for artists all around the world. These mobile glassblowing furnace kits are manufactured and sold by Mobile Glassblowing Studios, an enterprise founded in 2015 by Charles “Chuck” Wells and Phil Vinson, artists and educators who met at Southwestern State University.
“I teach at the university. Phil came through as a visiting scholar—and stayed,” said Wells. “At that point, we decided to build a small, portable furnace outside the university for our work. Once we finished it, we immediately wanted to build another.”
So, they did. Word spread of the versatile, energy-saving Dragons, and requests to build more came flying in. Wells and Vinson found themselves building new furnaces while also learning to run their new business.
“Everyone who saw one of our Dragons wanted one,” said Vinson. “We were building them at a price point people could wrap their heads around.” One of the early prospects was a woman from New Delhi, India, who wanted to open a public access studio. Her inquiry led them to the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.“We didn’t know anything about international business,” said Wells. “This one phone call led us to this amazing resource.”
SBDC International Trade Consultant Dimitris Kloussiadis met the new business partners at Wells’ backyard in Ellaville, where they were building the furnaces.
“We were not sure how to price our products for the international market. Dimitris began by helping us work out a pro forma international invoice and develop international price quotes,” said Wells. “He described the paperwork needed for international sales, and we talked about tariffs and shipping, things like international commercial terms. He helped us begin to understand how that all works.”
Eventually, international companies wanted to rep the Dragon line. Kloussiadis showed them how to put together international marketing agreements, what needed to be included, and, once they had the marketing relationship, how to formalize future sales.
After shipping to New Delhi, Mobile Glassblowing Studios opened markets in Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, Israel, Kuwait, China, Turkey, Mexico, Finland and Norway. In two years, manufacturing moved from Wells’ backyard to a 7,000 square-foot building with an office in Americus. Employment has risen from 2 to 12, including a new executive assistant, and sales are well into the six figures, with annual increases ranging from 24 to 40 percent.