A Witte employee shows off the company's bending capabilities.
A Witte employee shows off the company’s bending capabilities.

Many of you travel often, so the last thing you may want to do is go out more than is absolutely necessary. But, take it from me: a good old-fashioned road trip— a window and door one at that—is well worth it. And if you are a seasoned traveler, are you really reaping the benefits of that mileage? Are you learning things about your customers or potential ones you didn’t already know? If not, what are you waiting for? Two recent trips I took, solely just to see current and potential customers, proved you can learn a lot while on the road.

First was two days in Ohio at the end of March. For as long as I can remember, ProVia wanted me to come out and see its door plant. I’m talking like ten years. I always said, “You are on the list,” but as you can imagine, a lot of people make these kinds of requests. Well, the stars aligned recently and I was able to see the door manufacturer, along with a few suppliers.

After the trip, I said to Joe Klink, director of corporate relations, “Now I know why you wanted me to come out. Go ahead and say ‘I told you so.’” He did, and I deserved it. I won’t go into detail here, but be sure to check out my feature article in the May issue. I’ve been covering ProVia for years but learned way more by walking through their three plants than I ever thought possible. For instance, the company place a huge emphasis on automation, yet it’s debt free and constantly reinvesting back into its operations.

On average, most workers at ProVia have been there ten to 12 years and there are “stacks of applications waiting.” That’s something you don’t hear every day—if ever.

“People just generally want to work here. We are blessed in terms of our employees,” said Klink.

While in Ohio, I also spent time with Mike McHugh, president of Integrated Automation. He’s another individual I have known for years and have had countless conversations with. But while there I learned about a new innovation which took tens of thousands of dollars and two years to develop. “This is where engineering gets fun,” he said. Yes, he did say fun, and if you know him, you are aware of the extreme passion he has for this industry. I would describe him as an innovator and true entrepreneur.

He is always looking to “design something that is engineered better than the previous option.” And he has invested several hundred  thousand dollars to make this happen—again, investing back into the company to move the industry forward.

S.I.L. Plastics has launched SIL Fasteners and both companies are making a push int eh U.S. market.
S.I.L. Plastics has launched SIL Fasteners, and both companies are making a push in the U.S. market.

A month later, I spent three days in the Toronto area—which is literally the heartbeat of the Canadian market. In fact, the industry pretty much started there when Vic De Zen founded Royal back in 1978. When visiting with Stefan Ifko, president at SIL Fasteners, he told me his dad started SIL Plastics around the same time as De Zen. Toronto’s door and window industry ballooned from there, a fact which was also confirmed from Sarah Colberg, vice president of sales at Witte North America and Lothars Industrial Sales. Her dad, Lothar, was also part of it all. During our visit, she told us how Lothar was one of Elumatec’s  (Elu at the time) first sales associates in North America in the late 1970’s.  Lothar also supplied the small but growing PVC market with Urban equipment, as Urban did not have a North American presence at the time and Elu supplied the window and door industry with Urban welders. Throughout the years Lothar had the opportunity to bring several other machinery suppliers to North American soil.

I loved when she told me of a recent meeting with two other industry professionals in Toronto. She had the realization that between the three of them, all of their dads had started in the industry. Sarah was in a meeting with them and looked around and said, “‘Your dad did business with my dad, and so did your dad.’ Here we were the next generation in the door and window business,” she told me. “We stood where our fathers had stood years before.”

But still, Sarah didn’t dream of a career in the door and window industry. She went to veterinary school and had worked as a vet tech since she was 15, and continues to work in that profession some nights and weekends—another fact I never knew from the countless times I had talked to her at trade shows.

How did she get into the industry? It’s a similar story to many family-owned companies–her father needed help.

“My dad had a good time in this industry,” she said. Even her mom works in the office and, during my visit, popped her head in from time to time to tell us cool stories from the industry’s early years.

We visited with several other organizations (eight in three days, in fact, and could have spent several weeks there). We literally would be driving around the Toronto area, and say we know that company, and that one …. So I really have to share one last story—that of Mastergrain.

I will admit this is the first time seeing the fiberglass door manufacturing process up close in person—and I was fascinated by it. I learned a lot here, too. Like that fact that Mastergrain is owned by Weber, a company that produces tooling for not just windows and doors but other industries as well. In fact, they did all the tooling for the Aston Martin, which was pretty cool.

All in all, this recent experience was a big reminder of the importance in taking the occasional road trip, good-old-fashion style. There’s plenty you can accomplish over the internet or by phone, but there is truly no more effective way to learn than seeing people and processes in person.

So start planning that road trip. You’ll more than likely get way more out of it than you could ever have imagined.

 

 

 

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