Fast Growing Dealers July/August 2022July 28th, 2022 by Nathan Hobbs
A Human-Centered Workplace Brings New Success—and Meaning— to Doors and Windows
By Drew Vass
Two years ago, Ted Kirk decided that his company’s salespeople would no longer talk about “closing the deal.” Closing is no longer in their vocabularies. They’re also no longer referred to as salespeople, but “design consultants.”
While some dealers continue to focus on traditional sales tactics, Kirk’s company, North Georgia Replacement Windows, in Roswell, Ga., is just one of many to put those strategies aside, instead turning to more human-centric ideologies.
“When we ask one of our design consultants about their sales metrics, we ask them for their helping ratio, or how many people they’ve been able to help today,” Kirk says.
His company’s consultants go through four to six weeks of training, but there are no scripts to learn. Instead, “It’s about teaching them why we do this,” he says.
Why we do this?
“Whether it’s internal employees, vendors and partnerships or customers—if you’re a people-centric business, that goes farther than anything,” he says.
Kirk isn’t alone. His philosophy represents a common thread among fast-growing door and window dealers—companies that are as much as doubling their revenues year over year. Not only have they posted major increases, but they’ve also done so by changing paradigms for how doors and windows are sold, while instilling human values into the workplace. While others struggle to find and keep employees, they experience little turnover and even have waiting lists.
“Honestly, it’s all about company culture,” says Jed Hartzler, owner of Fenestram in Medina, Ohio. When it comes to employees, “We’re very lenient,” he says. “We’re not the type to say that work is the number one priority. If you have something personal you need to take care of, then you take care of it. Family is first and if you need to be there to take care of something, then you do it.” The same is true of vacation, he says. “We understand the importance of taking time away.”
Read the Tea Leaves
These days, everything’s changed, suggests Keith Dashofy, owner of Pella Windows and Doors of Seattle. The period of expecting everything in an hour, which he refers to as the “Amazon mentality” is over. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dashofy feels we’ve become more patient and do a better job of identifying what really matters as a society—most notably, human beings.
“The magic isn’t just in how our employees treat our customers,” he says. “It’s also in how they treat one another every day … It’s from the way we say ‘Good morning’ to one another, to how we all gather into problem-solving mode together.” It also has to do with leadership. After serving as general manager for one of Pella’s sales branches, Dashofy took independent ownership of the company’s Seattle location. He says it was time for him to decide what type of leader he wanted to be. He hearkened back to one of his past experiences with a company founder who knew how to bond employees together while building morale.
“He said, ‘I believe you’re the people who can do this,’” Dashofy recalls. “I was ready to follow that guy off a cliff, if necessary, because I believed that he was as invested in me as I was in his business … I knew that I needed to walk in like that founder. I wanted people to know that the mountain I was going to ask them to climb—I was right there with them, for the wins and the failures.”
For Dashofy, the cliff came shortly after he took ownership, when COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. Two weeks later, he found himself working the front desk.
“Someone asked me, ‘What are you doing up here?’” he says.
With Comradery Comes Flexibility
During the earliest days of COVID-19, companies had to adapt. Employees had to be flexible, working in remote teams to get things done via methods most had never used or even seen. In the process, an all-hands-on-deck philosophy emerged—another common ingredient among this year’s fast-growing dealers.
Employees of Woodbury Supply Company in Woodbury, Conn., say on any given day you might find the company’s president, Paul Niland, in the warehouse, loading and unloading trucks or working with customers in the showroom.
Similarly, “You won’t hear anyone here say, ‘That’s not my job,’” Hartzler says about Fenestram. “If everyone wears many hats, we can work together and get the job done. The owner of our company will drive a truck to deliver product if needed. He’s done that many times. That’s how we do it … we always find a way, and the end result is always unbelievably rewarding.”
Salespeople at Hartzler’s company are also project managers. They go out and meet trucks for deliveries and inspect products and projects before and after completion.
To form this type of culture, you’ve got to find and hire the right people, he and other dealers say, then allow them to make decisions.
“We like to think we’re investing in quality and not quantity when it comes to our people,” says John Niland, vice president of Woodbury Supply and Paul Niland’s son. “We try to keep micromanagement out of it while allowing people to do what they do best and what they feel should be done,” he says.
For leaders, a “human touch” is also about connecting with employees. On his way into the office for more than 30 years now, Paul Niland has made it a point to check in with every employee—often including a few good laughs along the way. Similarly, “If we aren’t laughing every single day, it just wouldn’t be our branch,” Dashofy says of Pella Windows and Doors of Seattle. “Every single day we ride the highs and the lows together … It’s about being in a relationship every single day.”
Leadership that’s grounded in day-to-day operations also provides a basis for respect and empathy, some suggest. Before joining his father’s business as a full-time employee, John Niland drove trucks and worked in the warehouse while in high school. After college, he started his career as an inside salesperson in one of the company’s showrooms, eventually leading a team of salespeople.
“I knew there were opportunities to make changes, but I also knew what I didn’t know, which was quite a bit,” he says. “I needed to learn and get my feet underneath me before I could push for any sort of changes and at the same time elevate myself into a role that allowed that.”
To gather employees around a common mission statement, some dealers have consolidated their focus in recent years, paring down products for the sake of better customer service. It’s about zeroing in on how you can best serve people, Kirk says. These days, his company sells only doors and windows, but, “We’ve tried other things and we even had a window treatments manufacturing facility at one time,” he says. “We sold sunrooms. We bought a spray foam insulation rig and were doing that for a while. At the end of the day, we decided we needed to get back to doing what we do best, which is doors and windows.”
His company also used to “sell every type of door and window imaginable,” Kirk says. Then, six years ago North Georgia Replacement Windows became an exclusive partner with Marvin, narrowing its offerings to just Infinity.
Fenestram went through a similar evolution. Northern Window and Door in Westerville, Ohio, does business in Medina, Ohio, as Fenestram and when the branch was started in 2001, “We really wanted to be something different up here,” he says. “We wanted to find what we’re passionate about.”
Focusing the workplace on people-oriented values and the right products brings great meaning to selling doors and windows, Dashofy suggests. “I’m a student of mission, vision and values—who are we and where are we going? How do we please our customers, and what is our reason to exist?” he says.
If you’d told Hartzler 10 years ago that he’d find purpose in doors and windows, “I’d have called you crazy,” he says. “Yet here I am. Every single day I wake up and love going to work … You can’t ask for anything more than that … We love what we do.”
2020: $2.5 million
2021: $4 million
Founded in 2018 as a branch of Northern Window and Door in Westerville, Ohio, Fenestram aimed “to be something different,” says manager Jed Hartzler. The company spent its first couple of years “knocking on doors,” Hartzler says, adding, there were “a lot of doubters.”
With four employees, Fenestram sells exclusively doors and windows, using two full-time installers—a group that’s proven to be small but mighty.
In 2022, he projects his company’s revenue will grow to $6 million.
“We hired good people, then produced growth without bringing on any additional employees. We hire for character and train for success.”
Woodbury Supply Company
2020: $28.4 million
2021: $40.5 million
Founded in 1979, Woodbury has grown to six locations, including three under the name Millwork Masters. While the company sells a broad range of building supply products, doors and windows make up 65% of its volume. With around 80 employees, Woodbury has managed to nearly double its revenue from 2018 to 2021, growing from $19.7 to $40.5 million.
“We have our seat belts fully fastened,” says John Niland, vice president. Niland says “real quality talent” has been the biggest difference maker.
“The customer is always our top priority, because without them we have no business. Our main cultural focus is on keeping that on the forefront of all our minds every day and being proud of the quality of our work, while letting that show in how we do business.”
The Power of Culture
When owner Keith Dashofy took over Pella Windows and Doors of Seattle in October 2019, little did he know that it was headed for one of the toughest periods in history for U.S. businesses: the COVID-19 pandemic. Dashofy immediately set out to do some restructuring, primarily focusing on “building culture,” he says. The results have been impressive—including total growth of 84% over the past two years.
“I get the greatest joy from watching people develop and grow. It’s a key driver for me.”
North Georgia Replacement Windows
2020: $10.5 million
2021: $18.6 million
With just one location and 25 employees, North Georgia Replacement Windows posted astounding growth from 2020 to 2021—nearly doubling revenue. Started in a bedroom of co-owner Ted Kirk’s house, in 2022 the company is working on a 26,000-square-foot building, where it plans to grow operations to cover the full state of Georgia.
With a philosophy that focuses on constant improvement, Kirk says the company aims to be the Chik-fil-A of doors and windows.
“They’re so efficient and run a great organization,” he says.
“I read one of [Chik-fil-A founder] S. Truett Cathy’s books, and he discusses how he was in a meeting one time and other executives were talking about growing revenue, getting bigger and making more profit. He said, ‘Wait a minute. Let me tell you something—we need to get better. Our customers will make us grow bigger. We need to focus on getting better.’ That’s a philosophy that we’ve undertaken.”
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