Milanese
by Mark Milanese
August 24th, 2012

Is Andersen a Dinosaur or an Elephant?

There can be no question that Andersen Windows and Doors is very big. Andersen Corp. is one of America’s largest privately held companies with annual revenues estimated at more than $100 billion and more than 10,000 employees. The longevity, size and marketing efforts of Andersen made the company the Kleenex™ of the window business. It branded its name so well for so long it became the only manufacturer brand name my to which my homeowners asked me to compare my window product.

For the last 20 years when a potential client asked me, “How does your window compare to Andersen?” I could throw the question back to them and ask, “What do you know about Andersen Windows?” When I did, I would find they knew virtually nothing. I got responses like, “I think the builder used Andersen on my last house.” It’s been as easy for vinyl window salesmen to win against Andersen as shooting fish in a barrel. The proof is that vinyl windows have taken a lot of market share from all wood window manufacturers, including Andersen.

But Andersen did not stay in the tar pit like a dinosaur. The company is still the largest beast to roam the American world of windows. Now, it seems they are performing more like the elephant in the center ring of the window circus than a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in a museum.

Window clients are asking me again how my window compares to Andersen. Now, when I put the ball back in their court, they tell me things like, “I like the look and feel of their patented composite window frame.” Selling against Andersen isn’t like shooting fish in a barrel anymore.

Last month, I found myself losing a houseful of windows to Andersen. This client appreciated a soft sell in the past and his home was in a neighborhood I “owned.” I had developed a great rapport with my client, done my job of educating them about window choices and got them to decisions about changes in size and style for the kitchen, bath and family room. The homeowners had visited my showroom, liked my windows and told me they were going to the bank for approval. Imagine my surprise to open an email from “my” client and read:

“With all the information we were provided and subsequent research we did, we decided not to go with vinyl replacement windows. Instead we have decided to go with a composite material window and feel that Andersen would work better for our house.”

Two weeks ago, I had a similar situation. A repeat customer had me out for new windows in his sunroom. We had already replaced doors and installed a complete outdoor living space. All I had to do was mind my p’s and q’s and I was sure we would be starting on the replacement of windows. This client is an engineer and very detail-oriented. We thoroughly reviewed all aspects of my product and he visited my showroom. When he called to ask me if I would install Andersen windows, because he liked my workmanship, but was impressed by the Andersen product, I was floored.

I told him, “no.” I asked him to take a closer look at Design Pressure Ratings, U-value and warranty. I asked him to visit BF Rich, the manufacturer whose product I recommended for his home. I asked him to talk with the company’s in-house engineer.

He visited the manufacturer’s facility. He met the wonderful staff at the facility, including a longtime customer service representative and longtime friend of mine, Denise Dancy. On the drive home he called me to tell me about the conversation they had. Denise spoke about the length of time she worked at BF Rich and how much she liked it there. She told him how everyone was dedicated to their slogan of “Quality First and Service Second to None.” She talked about how long she knew me and my family and how we all shared the same vision of delighting clients with products and service. Before he hung up the phone with me, he finalized his order for BF Rich Windows installed by Milanese Remodeling and wanted to let me know that Denise and her winning personality had ultimately made a big impression on him and influenced his decision. I immediately called Denise to thank her. I asked her to never change and I let her know how important her sincere opinions had mattered – even to the most calculating of engineers.

So, now I am batting .500 with clients who have told me they like composite Andersen Windows. I am still skeptical about and hesitate to offer composites, but other manufacturers besides Andersen are jumping into the composite window product pool with both feet. Interstate Window and Door Co. is one that has made a significant investment in their composite product’s design and engineering. They can show how their product can compare favorably to vinyl in many ways. Their product does look and feel different than vinyl.

One thing composite manufacturers of door and window products cannot show is how their materials will act over time when exposed to real world elements. Mother Nature can be harsh and only time will tell for sure. If the pain felt by the manufacturers of composite deck board materials such as Trex when their first generation of products failed repeats itself in the composite window business, it may mean a trip back to the tar fields for dinosaurs that went the wrong direction.

 

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  1. >>””One thing composite manufacturers of door and window products cannot show is how their materials will act over time when exposed to real world elements.””<<

    I can't speak for most window manufacturers, but based on 33 years in the window business I can attest to what you say about the long term expectations of any relatively new window components like Fibrex composites and many others. It seems that most manufacturers don't have a handle on such things. I have seen several failures and many modifications along the way, to account for design flaws. But, I might add that most of them involved vinyl products, not composites.
    The consumers have been the test pilots for many convolutions of vinyl window construction. Along the way, the bigger companies have settled on engineered bridging to resist warping and twisting. Metal inserts show condensation that can't be explained away. Fibrex and other composites have transcended these issue, albeit there are many feature limitations due to the extensive process of making things like round top windows and etc.
    HOWEVER, Andersen tests their new components and windows in all extremes of nature, years before they produce windows for consumers. Since Andersen's core product line has proprietary vinyl exteriors, they surely didn't want to be balled in with the vinyl crowd with the many issues the vinyl industry had with structural integrity and color fading etc. Now, with their relatively new Fibrex window, surely they have given similar attention to the extremes of nature as they have always done in the past. And better yet, I can buy almost all of the parts and screws for windows they manufactured from the beginning. I know of no other company that can say that.
    Aluminum clad wood windows are a different subject and there are a number of extremely good ones on the market, like Marvin and Pella. Composite windows have their purpose in the market place, as do the good vinyl windows and others. Each of the different types have good, better, and best, but Andersen doesn't sell good or better.

  2. Andersen $100 billion in sales, thats a lot of windows & doors. You might want to validate that statement.

  3. Actually, I’m pretty sure that their volume is somewhere near 3 Billion. But, a billion is a number that 99.9% of the window and door companies can only dream about. Andersen describes their floor space in acres, rather than feet. I visited them, more than 20 years ago and back then it was 52 acres under roof.

    None of the companies are perfect but in spite of their size, I can always speak to a real person, specific to my questions. Marvin has a similar scenario. Speedy answers from the manufacturers is part and parcel to to a successful relationship, right down to the consumers.

    Some companies don’t let us speak with the decision makers and it becomes a long drawn out affair when we get the wrong answer to the wrong question. Sometimes it takes a week to get results with these other companies. The single biggest reason I don’t market certain products is because of poor lines of communicaation. Andersen and Marvin are the best of the best in this area.

  4. Oops… I trusted Wikipedia for that sales volume info. Since Andersen is privately held, there is no public data on sales volume.

    I thought 100 billion dollars sounded like an awful lot of money, but I should have investigated further before plugging in a number from that “Trusted source”.

    The entire american window and door industry is estimated at 27 billion dollars, so your 3 billion dollar number has got to be closer to the correct sales volume than I was… I wonder if 3 billion dollars in sales makes them the largest manufacturer of windows and doors in North America… The World? The Univesre?

  5. Mark,
    We appreciate your editorial and wanted to comment. While Andersen aspires to one day reach $100 billion, we are not there yet. You suggest that composites might fail, ours is unique with inherent advantages, which include the rigor of testing.

    In the 20 years since we first developed our proprietary composite Fibrex® material, we have proven its quality, performance and sustainability. Its benefits include superior thermal insulation, which helps reduce heating and cooling needs; durability that is warranted not to flake, blister, peel, pit or corrode; and since no wood preservative treatment or painting is required, there is a reduction of Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC).

    Andersen began more than a century ago as a wood frame manufacturer. Since then, we have expanded into all window and door categories, from Silver Line® vinyl products to Renewal by Andersen® replacement products or our high-end Andersen® Architectural Collection. We stand behind our products through our limited warranties, and our customer service sets us apart.

    We are proud to be neither of the animals you reference but more like a kangaroo – jumping at the chance to help our customers realize their dreams, boxing out the competition with a pouch full of innovation.

  6. Laurie,

    Thank you for your response. I was hoping to open up a dialogue about the place composite frame windows will have in the future of windows. I am sure you have done your due diligence with Fibrex. I am aware of the long history Andersen has enjoyed. You should be proud of your products and your company’s leadership in the industry..
    I installed an Andersen Frenchwood Glider on a project just last week. I enjoyed working with the product and the homeowner is happy with their choice. I am well aware of the outstanding quality of your products.
    I hope when I compared Andersen to an elephant or a dinosaur I didn’t offend you. I like your analogy, but if Andersen is a Kangaroo, it is certainly a VERY BIG Kangaroo!

  7. Does anyone know the DP rating of these windows (Renewal)? it seems to be an industry secret. I really don’t have much to say about Andersen as a whole, i think their products speak for themselves.. But Renewal on the other hand has had numerous issues with lets start off with ummmm, air infiltration they leak like a sieve. The head across the top of the window on a DB sags if the window is wider then 30″, the sill frowns on almost every unit out in the field so weatherstripping doesn’t make contact, the weatherstripping that runs vertical to the sashes usually fails within a year or two kicking the sash to one side or the other.Their windows are being sold for three sometimes four times the cost of a 400 series Andersen unit but simply doesn’t perform as 400 series unit does. Renewal By Andersen and Andersen windows are simply two different windows and Renewal simply piggybacks Andersen’s name.

  8. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to
    say excellent blog!

  9. Mark-

    I read your blog post with great pride. You might wonder why? If you check my linkedin profile, you’ll not only note that I currently work in the semiconductor industry, but that back in the early to mid-nineties, I worked for a little R&D firm in White Bear Lake, MN called Aspen Research. And, well, I named that Fibrex material back then–well, originally it was dubbed PolyFibrex, but that was clumsy and overly scientific. It was shortened to Fibrex as the Renewal by Andersen business began to take shape.

    So, why my pride? When I sat in a hidden-away office building, referred to cryptically as “the FARM”, and struggled with the other 10-14 individuals involved in those most early days of creating the blueprint for the product, sales, service, and business model for Renewal, we imagined a day in which the “Dinosaur” was nimble again, and Andersen’s long time motto to be “Different and Better” could once again show customers a path to innovation AND value AND beauty in their homes.

    I am tremendously proud to have been a part of that awesome team back in 1992-1998. You likely remember that the standards of behavior for many of your competitors in the vinyl window business made it easy for you to win, with your low pressure approach and high-touch style. It was this approach Andersen intended to bring to bear as well, in addition to a well-researched and lab-tested material/design, and “end-to-end” service approach that included uniformed installers. I still grin when I drive by a Renewal yard sign.

    But, I wish you all the best as well. It’s a wonderful business.
    Mike Compeau

  10. Mike,
    Thank you for sharing your role in developing a new product, brand and method of doing business for the biggest player in the window and door industry.
    I always find history fascinating. Finding out how others implemented changes and improvements can be a great guide to anybody who wants to improve their own business… Your work in the 1990′s may ultimately revolutionize exterior remodeling. Not only windows and doors, but siding, trim and decks are all looking to products like your “PolyFibrex”/”Fibrex” products.
    It is also interesting to note that Andersen – the biggest brand in windows – decided 20 years ago to implement an “end-to-end” strategy after generations of wholesaling product to the trade. Taking product directly from manufacturing to the end consumer is a tough job to do on a nationwide scale. It will be interesting to see how many other manufacturers follow suit.
    You should be proud of what you accomplished and I don’t doubt seeing the Renewal sign puts a smile on your face.
    Well done by you and I agree… It is a wonderful business!

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