If you asked Tommy Davis, vice president of Classic Windows Inc. in Libertyville, Ill., to describe his company, he might tell you it’s somewhat of an “industry secret” in the Midwest. Founded in 1992, the company, which is involved with new construction as well as remodeling projects, primarily serves Illinois and Wisconsin, though it’s shipped all over the U.S. and even overseas. What makes the company unique? For one, Davis says it only sells manufacturer-direct.

Classic Windows sells manufacturer-direct to customers primarily in Illinois and Wisconsin.

“We do not use dealers or distributors. That is the main reason why we can offer such high-quality products and sell them at such competitive prices. We don’t have any middlemen marking up our prices. Our manufacturing plant is located less than an hour drive from the majority of our customers’ job sites. Being so close to our customers allows us to provide a level of service that is unmatched by any national manufacturer. Our customers can even stop by our manufacturing facility and actually see their doors and windows being built if they want.”

Training also plays a big part in keeping company employees focused on growth and the future. Since the company does not sell through dealers, Davis says they work with a team of customer relationship managers.

“We use the title customer relationship manager because that is what this business is about: developing and managing relationships with our customers,” he says. “We hold weekly meetings where we discuss a wide range of subjects including our products, our competition and their products, and different sales goals and strategies. Holding weekly meetings allows us to communicate freely and stay current with all aspects of the business.”

While the company may have a rather unique business model, it still faces the same challenges as other manufacturers. But Davis says despite the obstacles, they’ve still managed to survive. For example, the economic downturn affected Classic Windows, just as it did so many others, but Davis says the company was still able to prosper.

“Like most companies we had to let a few people go and it was hard because they had worked [here] for a long time,” he says. “However, we have become much more productive with the employees we have, and all of the processes in our company have been streamlined. Everyone in our manufacturing plant can perform multiple tasks, which is key in keeping our costs in line.”

He continues, “We have done well considering the current state of the economy. The reason why Classic Windows survived is because we are a small and flexible company. We were able to make fast adjustments and streamline our processes. Unlike our national competition, we don’t need to sell enormous volumes of products to be profitable.”

Another challenge, Davis says, was the downturn brought rise to “a new trend” in custom home building–moving away from quality and moving toward the lowest price.

“I can’t blame people for trying to save money, but sometimes they fail to realize that by sacrificing quality for price they are actually costing themselves a lot more money down the road,” he says. “It has become increasingly difficult to convince builders, architects and homeowners that spending a little more money now will save them a lot of money later.”

Challenges aside, Davis says there is a lot to look forward to in the future.

“Custom home building activity really seems to be picking up,” he says. “I believe that the worst of the recent economic downturn is behind us, so I’m excited to watch the industry as it grows again.”


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