HOMEGROWN PETIT INDUSTRIES PRIDES ITSELF ON INNOVATION
by Debra Levy
Left from center and clockwise, three generations of Petit’s: Rusell, Dennis, Matthew and Mrs. Dennis Petit.
That’s the term people here have for the annual group of visitors that congregate to admire the fall foliage and fallen leaves in late Autumn. Along with hard vowels, deep-sea fishing and Dunkin Donuts, “leaf peepers” are something of a local tradition in Northern New England.
On the surface, such a traditional and cornered area of the country might not seem the best place for a window manufacturer to grow and prosper. But homegrown manufacturer Petit Industries is doing just that—one unit at a time—from its headquarters just outside Portland, Maine. The company recently reached a number of milestones: it expanded its capacity, began exporting, inaugurated a new logo and this year will reach the $1 million in sales mark for the first time.
Petit’s products are placed in some of the most prestigious and historic locations in the country including the Marble House, Kingscote and the Elms in Newport, R.I., Historical Deerfield in Deerfield, Mass., Fort Scott in Kansas along with historically-preserved buildings in Allentown, Pa., and Charleston, W.V.
At first glance, the view from South Street in Biddeford, Maine, is deceiving. It shows what appears to be more of a house than a factory, but one walk around the corner and you’ll see the additional space used for manufacturing. Petit manufactures and distributes interior doors and moldings, magnetic interior insulating window systems and screens, exterior shutters and doors. This third-generation family-owned business has developed products for more than 54 years with an eye toward energy conservation and historical preservation.
Originally founded in 1947 as a heating and energy-conservation company, Petit has been an innovative product developer. “My father never pushed me,” says president Dennis Petit. “We always talked about things, but he never pushed me toward the business. He is a great inventor with a great knack for developing simple products that save energy. I think I got a lot of my inventiveness from him.”
“Pepére is probably one of the world’s greatest authorities on energy conservation,” says grandson Matthew Petit, also the company’s marketing manager, “but he’s very unassuming about it all.”
Magnaseal is the name of the company’s signature product. It is a custom-manufactured insulating window that installs within or over the existing window cavity on the inside. Dennis Petit is quick to remind customers what the product is not. “It is not a storm window and not a prime replacement window,” he says.
Since the unit mounts from the inside, it is virtually invisible from the outside. It is also available in wood veneers or custom colors and, through a very innovative process, can be made for circle tops and bowed windows. The windows are made with acrylic rather than glass to keep the weight down. Proprietary bellows are built into the moldings to prevent “bowing” or “pop-off” conditions.
Large rolls of acrylic and cut lengths of vinyl and wood are brought into the shop, cut, trimmed and assembled. Bowed or circle tops are fabricated in a closed room and only a few employees know how the process is done. “Being able to offer curved radii products has been a great advancement for us,” says Dennis Petit.
Petit says a lot of the company’s inventions are a result of his tinkering. “We see a need and try to fill it,” he says. “Casement windows need screens, so we make them in season. We also make roll-up screens and a variety of other products as we see a need.”
The company sells those products to consumers, authorized dealers and authorized distributors throughout the United States and Canada. In Europe, Petit’s products are offered through a licensing agreement. Most products come with a lifetime guarantee—“almost unheard of in the industry,” adds Matthew. “This is because our system was designed to never break down.”
“Expanding nationally and internationally really helped us,” says Dennis. “When asked how a small company was able to finance such an expansion, he cites a solid working relationship with Fleet Bank. “We worked with them to get an SBA Export Working Capital Program loan” says Dennis, “and it’s really worked out well.” (see related box below.)
Given his positive experience with the SBA, does he have any theories why there are so many negative stories about working with them? “You have to be straight-forward and honest with them,” says Dennis. “Don’t try and pull the wool over their eyes. They are trained to look for that. Show your frailties up front. Don’t hide them. We are not perfect,” he adds, “there have been plenty of times we’ve taken one step forward and two steps back, but this is part of business. They know that.”
Petit says he hopes eventually to have two manufacturing locations in the United States, but one is fine for now. When asked if has difficulty competing on projects in distant locations, Petit cites an Internet site that he says has helped reduce his shipping costs quite a bit. “We use our own trucks locally,” he said, “and we use freightquote.com,” he says (see related story below). “It’s an excellent site that helps you find the low-cost way to get your freight where it’s going. I have only had one problem with them since we’ve been using them and they resolved it quite nicely.”
Matthew Petit has also been hard at work on the company’s expansion. He recently led efforts to change the company’s logo. The new modern look now appears everywhere, including on the company’s new truck. “I see their truck everywhere,” said Ed Brill of Biddeford. “You’d think they have fifty of ’em.” Petit is also testing some new methods of selling his product directly to consumers, ranging from being the featured company of the month at the local bank to selling the product from kiosks and carts at local malls.
“Energy efficiency is important everywhere,” Dennis adds, “it’s important to this area especially to have low-cost ways to keep people warm.”
Otherwise, of course, the leaf peepers would never come back.
Debra Levy is the publisher of USGlass, the sister magazine of Door & Window Maker.
One the Move with Freightquote.com
Petit Industries has had great success using freightquote.com to move its windows and products beyond its immediate shipping area.
Established in 1998, freightquote.com offers a centralized directory where business-to-business customers can view the offerings of multiple carriers. The site eliminates delays and the haggling of the auction process by offering real-time instant rating with aggregated pricing for less-than-truckload, truckload, expedited, local cartage and intermodal freight.
Once the shipper enrolls he enters details including origin, destination, weight and class. The system returns with all the options available and allows carrier selection. The site further simplifies shipping by providing automated freight documents, consolidating monthly billing and online record keeping.
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