Fast-Growing Dealers July/August 2023August 17th, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs
It’s About Creating Your Own Market Conditions
After the housing and remodeling markets came down from their COVID-induced highs, much of the door and window industry has returned to a more normal pattern of demand. But not for these dealers.
Between 2020 and 2021, this year’s Fast-Growing Dealers posted an average of 144% growth. One added a whopping 388%. How did they do it? The common ingredients include passion, business acumen, and a commitment to superior service and craftsmanship.
Abby Windows & Exteriors
No. of Years: 12
Doors and windows:
60% (of business)
2021: $6.8 million
2022: $11.8 million
Abby Binder never intended to work in the door and window industry. Not for long, at least. But her company’s growth trajectory proves an abrupt change of plans was the right decision. Binder went to college to become a gym teacher, but when she graduated in 2005 she began working for her stepfather’s door and window company. The arrangement was supposed to
be a stopgap.
“I would go up to the door and hear customers whisper to each other, ‘Oh, it’s a girl coming to the house,’” she says. “They were just not expecting it at all because [the industry] is so male dominated.”
At the same time, she also faced opposition over how she felt a door and window company should operate.
“I started seeing that quality products in our market weren’t being sold, so much as higher-volume types of windows,” she says. “I approached my stepdad at the time and said, ‘I think we should take a different angle. I think we should start selling a higher-end, triple-pane product.’”
Her stepfather saw things differently.
“If you think you can do this so much better, then prove it,” he shouted, while slamming a 10-foot piece of trim coil to the ground, adding, “I bet you can’t. I bet you’ll trip over your own feet in this industry.”
The disagreement marked a turning point for Binder, who immediately started her own company. These days, “We’re one of the few woman-owned home improvement companies, and quality is at the core of what we do,” her company’s website declares. And its seen “nothing but growth ever since,” she says.
Part of Binder’s strategy includes selling primarily triple-pane windows—not just for comfort and energy performance, but for condensation resistance in a state that sees wild temperature swings. In the interests of ensuring customer satisfaction, she’s made triple-pane glazing more or less standard. She also operates on the belief that there is no one-size-fits-all method for achieving quality installations. Instead, “We have a customized method for everything—eight different ways to install a window,” she says.
At first, she was resistant to the idea of growth, believing that it would be difficult to maintain her company’s standards without putting her personal stamp on everything. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and her business took off, “Sometimes life happens for you, not to you,” she says. “I prayed a lot. And my fiancé, who is also my vice president, she was right by my side through everything—to the point where we’d wake up talking about work and would go to sleep talking about work.”
Since that time, her company has grown to three project managers and coordinators, 10 sales reps, a sales director, a director of operations and now has a dedicated call center. She also just opened a 17,000-square-foot showroom and added a full-time brand ambassador.
After 12 years of success, “For two women to be able to do this in the construction industry, it’s kind of an anomaly,” she says.
Brightside Home Solutions
Locations: 4 (3 added in 2022)
No. of Years: 3
Doors and windows:
100% (of business)
2021: $1.7 million
2022: $8.3 million
Brightside owner Chris Hill got his start in doors and windows in 2014 by selling for a replacement dealer in Utah, making his way up the ladder quickly to regional manager.
But eventually, “I got to a point where I put a lot of effort into those markets and really desired to have ownership, and more creative control over the business to continue growing and expanding,” he says.
His employer was settled in its way of business, so Hill relocated to Arizona, joining another company. When COVID-19 shook things up at his new job, Hill and his wife, Isabel, did some soul searching. That led them to Portland, Ore., where they started their own door and window company.
“It came with growing pains, so we’re humble about it,” Hill says. “It’s not an easy process. As we spread in other markets, we have to develop those markets, and that has its challenges.”
With a whopping 388% increase in sales from 2021 to 2022, the couple has every reason to be confident. The company is a registered Energy Star partner and was tagged a Home Advisor top-rated company. In 2020 it earned an award for Angie’s List Super Service and in 2021 was ranked Best of Houzz.
So far as how they’ve done it, one of their biggest differentiators is “how the customer is taken care of on the back end of a project,” Hill says. “Here in the Pacific Northwest, I noticed that a lot of window companies, in my opinion, have archaic practices when it comes to finishing work.”
For instance, he noticed that some contractors warned in big, bold writing that extensive caulk work and paint touchups would be necessary after completion. In his mind, this was unacceptable. Instead, his company focuses on tight installations and uses color-matched caulk for a nice clean finish. Instead of leaving homeowners holding the bag on touchups, “We hired our own house painter,” he says, giving them “peace of mind that the project is done when we’re done.”
In a time when others are going full tilt with digital sales and advertising, “One of the things that we pride ourselves in as a company is that we do strictly door-to-door sales,” he says. “We get to choose our customers. We go where the needs are the biggest, to help homeowners see the value of replacement windows. In this way, we kind of consider ourselves educators.”
They also brought back the practice of full-sized window samples.
“I think that if we’re not showing a window sample, people don’t get the full benefit of what windows can do for their lives,” Hill says.
Regarding his company’s growth, “It does very much feel like a whirlwind or a blur,” he says. “I don’t know if we’ll see 380% growth every year, but I would like to continue with as much growth as we can sustain. Our goal is to become one of the largest replacement window dealers in the country and that’s gonna take time and effort. But, you know, we’re off to a good start.”
Kubala Home Improvement
No. of Years: 16
Door and windows: 100%
2021: $3.1 million
2022: $5.1 million
Kubala Home Improvement’s success is proof that you don’t always have to get things right from the get-go—not when you’re dedicated to pursuing something you love and you’re willing to learn along the way. “I got into this business because I thought it was fun to install windows, wrap and trim, and to hang siding,” says owner Patrick Kubala. “But I had no clue how to make money.”
In his first 10 years, “I just went in circles,” Kubala says. “I went to college for business and have a business degree, yet I still had no idea what the heck I was doing.”
The past five to six years, on the other hand, have been a completely different story.
In high school, Kubala worked in a hardware store, then for a rental property owner doing repairs over the summers. In college, he worked for a siding contractor, and when his boss went on vacation for two weeks, he took an independent side job. “I never went back and have been self-employed ever since,” he says.
Kubala started out doing all forms of exterior work, but, “I didn’t make any money in this business,” he admits. “For the first 10 years I was just going around in circles.”
Then, “I went to a couple of industry conferences and saw someone speak who owned a business. A few months later, I went to another conference, and I saw him speak again.” After the conference, “I was able to get in touch with him and was very lucky that he actually lent me some of his time. He also let me spend some time in his business,” he says. “Part of why I finally started finding some success was just seeing what success looks like … you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel.”
In 2019, Kubala pared down his company’s offerings to just doors and windows and deployed an approach that he describes as old school. “But not in a bad connotation,” he says. “We just spend time with the customer to understand what their needs are to thoroughly educate them. That’s our number one goal … it puts the customer in a position where they can make an educated decision, whether to do business with us or not. We feel that we’re giving them all the information they need to make that decision for themselves in their home.”
His company also offers a warranty on all of its products that lasts for as long as a customer owns their home, then transfers to one subsequent owner.
“I feel that’s gone a long way with our customers,” he says. “In fact, I even saw somebody on Facebook a couple of weeks ago who was looking for recommendations for a window and door company. Someone recommended us, explaining that they didn’t do business with us, but that they bought a house that has our windows in it with a full warranty, even though they weren’t the original purchaser.”
His advice for other dealers who are still figuring things out?
“The right information is out there. You just have to go find it.”
And the best way, he says, is by finding a mentor and a good example to follow.
No. of Years: 23
Doors and windows: 100%
2021: $20.0 million
2022: $30.0 million
In its journey to becoming a $20-million-plus company, owner Troy Jenkins says Walker Windows has seen a steady share of growth. But 2021 was different.
After MI Windows and Doors acquired Milgard in 2019 (both of which now fall under MITER Brands), the company looked to dismantle a program through which Milgard sold direct to homebuilders, Jenkins says. And when MI set out to find its most reputable dealers to take on those additional sales, Walker Windows topped the list based on its expertise and reputation.
“I understood that business model and what those jobs entailed,” Jenkins says.
The result was another $10 million in sales for the year, which he admits was a massive and sudden undertaking.
“It was a stressful time,” he says, one that was “a blessing and a curse.”
Thankfully, in addition to an experienced staff, Jenkins says just prior to the influx of business he implemented an enterprise resource planning program (ERP).
“We were able to utilize the software to help us control and have insight into where we were and what was coming,” he says. “I give my staff major kudos,” he says. “A new ERP system … Covid … then this. They stepped up and persevered. But, if I did not have the ERP system, I would have said no to more than I did, because it could have been detrimental.”
The opportunity would never have arrived had Jenkins not remained focused over the years on building his company’s employee base and reputation. In
order to ensure quality and timely work, he maintains a full staff to provide in-house service spanning sales through installation. As a result, more than 75% of his sales base includes repeat customers.
“You have to recognize what kind and level of service you want to provide,” Jenkins says. “We want to maintain our level of service and to grow naturally with that. Doing ERP and other things helps us do that. That’s the path that we want to go down.”
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