Volume 8, Issue 2 - February 2007

Plant Tour

Growth through Investment … in People, Production and Policy National Vinyl Leaps Forward
by Alan B. Goldberg

Carved out of a secluded, wooded area in Chicopee, Mass., the current manufacturing facility for National Vinyl Products represents more than an office and plant. Built in 1900 and once a screen wire manufacturing operation, the building symbolizes the growth and change that have taken place since the business was purchased by Scott Channell in 2005. 

Beginnings in Bondsville

Starting in a 5,000-square-foot plant in nearby Bondsville, Mass., in 1984, co-founders Ben Surner and Stephen Fellers began to make doors and windows under the name National Vinyl Products, according to Channell. Eight people produced approximately 5,000 windows a year. The business prospered. In fact, additions to the building proved to be a temporary solution and it was just a matter of time before more space was needed. In 1995, the company moved to a 40,000-square-foot facility in Springfield. At the time, it was producing approximately 20,000 windows a year, mostly for the western Massachusetts market. Three years later, looking to the future, the two founders hired Scott Channell as vice president and assistant general manager to continue the pattern of growth and eventually become the next owner. 

The door and window industry was not new to Channell. He had been involved with manufacturing and installation. 

“Coming back here [to the area] was like a homecoming for me. I had worked with, and for my brothers Tom and Bob, although we all got our experience from our father who was also in the business,” says Channell.

In 2003, the company started producing Chelsea Building Products’ TrustGard windows. 

“We were the second fabricator in the country to manufacture these windows and it was both rewarding and challenging,” he says. 

The new window line was very successful and the company found its market expanding to all of New England and Eastern N.Y.

“With the introduction of this new line, we experienced substantial growth. In the first year, it was as high as 26 percent. Production increased from 85 windows a day to more than 150. On some days, it exceeded 200,” adds Channell.

More space was needed. That happened in November 2004 when the company moved to its present location, a 125,000-square-foot facility in Chicopee. Simultaneously, one year later, Channell purchased the company.

“Over the past 18 months, we have invested more than $500,000 in equipment and systems to improve productivity and sales,” he says.

Channell explains that there are three areas of focus: technology, innovation and customer service. He says these are the criteria by which the company measures its investments.

“If you do not focus on these three, you will be on the outside, looking in.” He says all of the changes and improvements are part of a goal for substantial growth within two years. 

Equipment

What visitors will not see walking through the plant, says Channell; is state-of-the art equipment. He likes to point out units—some old, some new—that not only work well for the operation but represent examples of improved efficiency. 

In the name of efficiency, the company made many purchases since Channell assumed ownership. For instance, a new four-point welder makes it possible to weld an entire double-hung set of sashes in a single cycle. With the original two-point welder, only one sash could be done at a time, which was two cycles, he explains.

“This unit allowed us to grow without adding more people or more shifts,” says Channell.

The purchase of a Ramapo wet-bed glazing table eliminated four people who were needed to apply tape glazing sash. But he quickly adds that replacing people in an operation does not mean that they leave the company.

“It [equipment replacement] is not about reducing people but about creating new opportunities in the interest of producing a better product.” 

“We accomplished two key things with this unit,” says Channell. “We increased productivity and we improved our quality. We could seal a glass to a sash every 30 seconds compared to the old way of applying tape which took two minutes,” he says.

The addition of a new Sampson sash corner cleaner meant the entire sash could be routed, processed and cleaned with a single machine, improving quality control. 

A Tiger Stop lineal positioner increased productivity by 15 percent. Channell says this will increase by another 30 percent when the unit is linked to a new software system. 

Last year, the company renovated its glass department.

“We invested $300,000 in a new glass PTC optimization system as well as a Billco glass washer,” he says. 

This capitalization included a press and sealant table by Spadix and a change to the Edgetech Superspacer system which he says gives them more efficiency with less downtime. 

“Spadix does a good job with consistency. The Enduron [model] is a workhorse and I’m very happy with it.”

He says the reason for selecting Edgetech was that it provided the best seal stability in the market and “we needed to go in a direction for longevity. We felt this system offered us and our customers the best opportunity for long-lasting, high quality units.”

Describing a new integrated system, Channell says it brought the company into the millennium to meet the manufacturers’ needs of today. He explains that after a long and extensive search, WTS Paradigm was selected to develop a totally integrated system. 

“The front- and back-end are very user friendly which allows us to grow our business and make it easier for our customers.”

He says another key benefit is that it will help the company reduce scrap on the back end and add efficiency to the operation. 

“It ties into our lineal saws and every other component including glass optimization and inventory. This system will generate significant savings for us and increase our efficiency.” 

Channell explains that in the past three and one half years, the output on the double-hung line has increased dramatically.

“We went from five windows per person per day to 11 windows per person. That is due largely to the equipment we have purchased.”

But he points out that there is another factor, equally if not more important: the human factor. 

Culture Makes the Difference

“Our most important resource is our employees and that is a recurring theme,” says Channell.

He believes that what makes the company unique is more about a culture of communication and change. Everyone knows that unless the customer and customer’s customer “are thrilled with our products and services, we will not grow.”

He says every employee is aware of the link between individual performance and growth. He refers to key performance indicators as a means for all employees to see and track performance against target. 

“If people know that what they do matters, they will be successful,” says Lenny Perrault vice president of manufacturing. “People must believe in what you are doing. They will work to help you achieve goals,” he says.

Stressing the need for customer service, Perrault says that in this industry, just being part of the supply chain does not work anymore. Competition is too keen and serving the customer in every possible way must be a priority in order to survive. 

Channell is pleased with the mix of people in the plant. “There are people like me who were born in this industry and know one way of doing things and new people who bring other ideas to the vinyl business.”

Today, there are 55 people who contribute to the company’s growth. 

The Market

Opportunities have been mostly in new construction. Welded vinyl windows include double-hung, sliders, picture windows, hoppers, awning, garden windows, bay and bow windows and custom shapes from circle tops to octagons and trapezoids. Patio doors are available in standard and custom sizes, swing doors can be made in almost any configuration and storm doors are made in multiple sizes and styles to meet individual needs.

“Our marketing is geared to our customers [dealers, distributors and installers],” says Tracy Channell, marketing coordinator and Scott’s wife.

She says the marketing effort covers a lot of ground. 

“We provide them with the information and support to help sell our products to their customer base.

”She points out that a lot of her work is really a personalized approach to each customer’s needs. 

“One day, I may be creating a newspaper ad and the next a marketing bulletin advising of available tax credits.”

She describes a key part of her job as finding ways to make improvements where they are needed.

“I fill in the holes with various marketing services to our customers,” she adds.

Cindy Mitter, office manager, also knows about customer service. Prior to becoming office manager in 2004, she was a customer service representative for three years. She sees her work as a variation of what her previous responsibilities. 

“I simply provide a different type of service but customer service is customer service.”

Challenges

Channell sees the current challenges as the impact of increasing costs—especially energy and health care—and the need to gain market share at a time when the market is slow and competition is stiff. For the future, staying innovative and taking advantage of the new technology are the challenges.

As for globalization, while the company is not affected by it, “we must keep a close eye on developments in China,” he says. 

As a U.S. window manufacturer, the company must work smarter and be as efficient as possible. He says the day-to-day challenge is to take advantage of every opportunity to be better and more efficient. 

“We are only as good as the last window we made,” says Channell, who in a relatively short period of time has seen the benefits of growth by investing in production and people. 

Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the window industry.




DWM

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