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March  2004

Plant Tour

 

Flying High
An Entrepreneurial Spirit Soars at Eagle Window & Door


by Alan B. Goldberg

Much has changed since its beginnings as a small company in 1977—owners, facilities, equipment, methods and policies and procedures. But some things have remained the same. One of them is the manufacture of quality aluminum-clad windows and doors with energy-efficient features. Another is as characteristic of this company as the products it manufactures, even if it may not be apparent to visitors who tour its modern office and manufacturing facility. 

Jeff Murphy, vice president of marketing and sales, refers to it as “pervasive entrepreneurial spirit.” He says, “it’s in every corner of this plant, in every stage of our manufacturing and it’s practiced by everyone. It is the way we have been since we were formed and it is something that comes right from the top.” 

History
Eagle Window and Door Inc., began 26 years ago in Dubuque, Iowa, with a group of 20 ambitious people, experienced in window and door making, and part of a vacant manufacturing plant. The highly qualified workforce and the physical location were left behind due to industry changes, giving Eagle the backbone from which to build its business.

In its initial year, Eagle produced its first aluminum-clad wood casement window. Three years later, as the business prospered, techniques improved and designs were enhanced, the clad sliding patio door was introduced. It was to be one of many product introductions to take place over the next six years. Clad double-hung windows, circle-tops, geometric windows and French doors comprised the five new product lines. 

The company survived difficult times in the 1980s, which it credits to the dedication of its employees. It was sold to Masco Corp of Taylor, Mich., in 1987 and during its nine years as part of Masco, Eagle grew substantially, increasing market share from expanded distribution in North America and Japan. New products reflected its growth as French sliding doors, entry doors, bi-parting doors, radius casements, elliptical units and a full line of aluminum-clad wooden windows and doors were launched.

With housing starts flat in the early 1990s, the company took advantage of a soft economy. It fine-tuned its products and created distribution in new markets. In 1996, Eagle was bought again, this time by American Architectural Products Corp. (AAPC). 

With high growth between 1996 and 2000, Eagle found that ts facility was no longer adequate. In October 2000, a new 390,000-square-foot facility was completed nearby. 

“The year 2000 produced record sales, representing a 93-percent increase from just four years earlier,” says David Beeken, president (and one of the original employees). “Our business doubled in just five years, the major factor which led us to create our own new quarters.” 

As Eagle was fully profitable, in May, 2002, AAPC sold the company, to Linsalata Capital Partners of Cleveland (LCPC), the current owner, in an effort to reduce their debt. Beeken’s comment set the stage for its future. 

“With the new ownership, we are able to focus on what we do best—building quality windows and providing unparalleled service and support,” he says.
According to Murphy, the entrepreneurial spirit is one of many company attributes that “makes us a little different.” He says the company does many things others in the industry can’t, or won’t, do. 

“We focus on aluminum-clad and everything is made to order. We start with our backbone and add many options. We use engineered lumber—laminated veneer lumber (LVL)—for strength and rigidity. We have the widest selection of colors and 11 different finishes. We glaze our windows from the inside so there is no exterior stop, reducing the amount of water that may get in. And we pride ourselves on distribution. We use one-step distributors who are window specialties distributors,” says Murphy. 

Manufacturing Processes
The move to a new and modern building marked a turning point in the company’s history. Beekan recalls that the post Civil War building was beginning to take its toll, affecting efficiencies in processes and production. 

“Now, we’re on a 27-acre tract and can add 180,000 square feet when needed, but we can double our production at this time, without any expansion. And all the manufacturing facility is on one floor, compared to five in the old plant,” says Beekan.
The lobby is surrounded by a two-story 40,000-square-foot office for executive and support functions. Inside the plant, a 25- foot roof throughout makes it possible to add mezzanine sections as needed. 

Describing the new manufacturing operation, executive vice president Charles Daoud says the workflow is north to south. Raw materials are received from the north end and finished products are shipped from the south end. The center is the staging area where materials are stored and readied for use. Since every window is built to order, the plant never has to modify a standard to meet a customer’s requirement. Each unit has its own identity and its own bill of materials to guide production.

Daoud points out some of the new equipment that has impacted the quality of its units. 
“Our state-of-the-art CR ONSRUD router enables us to produce one of the top double-hung units on the market and our new CNC router, which has three axis, was purchased six months ago specifically for a new product line,” he says.

He adds that in an operation where everything is custom, much of the specialty equipment is made in-house, including fixtures and special forms. 

On the “west side,” aluminum extrusions are painted. Proper painting is a major emphasis as paint is applied electrostatically in custom colors. 

“The use of engineered wood in our window frames is part of our environmental awareness and increases the structural performance of our product line,” says Daoud. “In another area, wood is pre-treated with a preservative bath to protect it from decay and insects. By pre-finishing interiors, window installation is quicker and easier.” 

Jeff Roen, production manager, says the plant is geared to environmental awareness. He points out that materials are recycled, including aluminum, cardboard and broken glass. Dust collectors can be found at every work station to prevent air contamination and the dust is actually sold to businesses that use it in their operation. 

“Preliminary testing for water and wind pressure resistance and pressure resistance as well as tests for sealants, weatherstripping and structural design are done on the ‘east side’ of the plant, in a research and development area. Independent laboratories are used for product certification,” says Daoud. 

On the “south side,” orders are staged and components are collected. Completed units are shrink-wrapped, packaged for shipping and loaded onto trucks, in one of 16 shipping docks.

The company’s production staff is nearly 600, including supervisors. 
“We depend on many superior second and third generation window craftsmen to produce our products,” says Daoud. “They are skilled, dedicated and have actually formed planning teams. Cross training is done on a regular basis so there is the flexibility to handle a change in the product mix.”

Murphy points out that the company has designed its products to provide optimum performance. He explains that the extruded aluminum exterior cladding is many times thicker than roll-formed aluminum or vinyl cladding and is backed by a structural warranty. All units, he says, feature the company’s Low E-Maximizer Plus insulating glass unit that is treated with a special engineered coating on one surface for added ultraviolet protection and incorporates argon gas, improving thermal performance. Interior components are natural wood, which is available in seven wood species or the standard pine. Eleven factory- finished interiors and unlimited exterior colors include 50 standard colors. 

Eagle units are certified with the National Fenestration Rating Council. The company also complies with the Energy Star™ windows program. 

Changing To Meet End-User Needs
Beeken notes that as the company was defining its identify in the marketplace, it had to change its corporate culture completely. 

“Just ten years ago, for instance, most Eagle customers inventoried doors and windows. 

With the move to custom-made products, keeping an inventory of standard items did not meet end-user needs.” 

A new order-entry system is being developed that will simplify the order-entry process, says David Daack, inside sales manager. 

“Our objective will always be to make it easy for front-end input for our customers and de-tailed output for the factory to build.”

“We’re supporting our distributors with a wide selection of promotional and collateral material, product hand samples, distributor-advertising packages, videos, radio spots and sales aids,” says Sharon Rea, manager of marketing communications.

“One of our biggest objectives is helping the distributor and end-user resolve their problems,” says Pat Wagner, field services manager. “We conduct training sessions and we tear windows down to demonstrate how to service them properly.”

Today, Eagle windows and doors can be found in high-end residential new construction, high-end residential remodeling and commercial construction, from coast to coast. Products include: bow and bay windows, casement windows, awnings, double-hungs, sliders, circle-tops, geometrics, sliding patio doors, French sliding doors, French doors and many options and accessories.

“One of our challenges early on was typical of a new organization … establishing brand position in a market with well established competitors,” says Murphy. “We are establishing ourselves as the leading manufacturing of customizable, high-quality window and door products. As we go forward, we must be creative and strategic in the way we operate and the products we introduce. Most important, we must remain focused on who we are and never lose sight of the entrepreneurial spirit that has been a part of this company since its inception.” 

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