Volume 8, Issue 3 - March 2007
Raises the Bar in a High-End Market
Russ Traficante, co-founder and vice president of WinDoor, based in Orlando, saw the need for an improved door system while working for another door and window manufacturer. Traficante, no stranger to the door and window industry, shared his vision with a customer, Frank Lukens, Jr. It was a unique product that offered both an impact and non-impact glazing system and a level of quality that would be unparalleled. The two businessmen formed WinDoor in 2001 and Lukens now serves as its president.
“Our desire was to develop the best doors and windows, not just meet codes but exceed them,” says Traficante.
The company adopted a philosophy of designing products based on strict commercial standards for durability but with attention to aesthetic appeal to homeowners.
Time to Expand
In the start-up year, sales reached $1.8 million, according to Traficante. The following year, they more than doubled to $4.6 and more than doubled again in 2003 to 10.3 million. Sales were nearly $17 million in 2004 and $31 million in 2005—$10 million beyond its projection. In 2006, sales exceeded the forecast again with more than $42 million.
But success, especially when it is achieved so quickly, can bring its own set of challenges.
Hanus says the company grew to 25 people within a short period of time. The most obvious indicator of rapid growth was the need for more space. Within 18 months, the plant expanded to 50,000 square feet and employed 45 people. Twelve months later, the company leased space next door for another 36,000 square feet, and one year later, an additional 44,000 square feet. At that point, there were 200 people, and that is when planning began for a new facility.
“Our biggest challenge has been adequate room,” says Traficante. “We grew so fast, we used up our space. We have outgrown every facility within 12 months. We kept leasing more and more space, bumping out walls. We built this building so we wouldn’t have to lease again.”
In September 2006, the company moved into its new 310,000 square foot facility that took ten months to complete. Anticipating a high rate of growth when the new building was planned, Traficante designed it to support $250 million in sales in a single shift. It features an attractive interior with showrooms that create ideal settings for its doors, says Tony Grossi, director of sales and marketing. The roof was built to withstand hurricane winds, the windows (manufactured by WinDoor of course) are impact-resistant and meet the large missile impact code, the ceilings in the manufacturing area have a minimum clearance of 30 feet and can accommodate high extrusion racks, and the facility far exceeds current building codes. In fact, a local official remarked that it meets the requirements of a county shelter says Traficante. The building also has its own generator system so it can be self-sustaining. As far as the location, the area is exploding in growth and development.
The Change to Automation
“We will continue to automate because of the substantial time and labor savings we have seen. Through automation in some departments, we have more than tripled production,” says Grossi.
One such example is the new automated frame unit by Joseph Machinery that processes the corner fabrication and fastener locations to meet certain code requirements. He says this equipment allows the same team members that produced these fabricated parts to do in a day what used to take them three. Joseph Machinery was selected because they meet the company’s complex and extensive re-tooling needs.
Grossi points out that there is a goal to re-tool all panel systems with automated equipment for the new thermally-broken doors and windows the company will be introducing. Not all components are produced inside. Laminated impact glass and insulating glass are supplied by Cardinal, PPG and Techno-Glass.
“These suppliers were selected to insure our quality. They are the premier suppliers of technically advanced glass systems and they have business philosophies that are in keeping with ours,” says Grossi. “Our special business relationship has fostered a true ‘partners program’ that affords us timely glass supplies.”
To increase efficiency, orders are optimized so there is minimal waste.
Expanding the Market
“We are developing thermal break to thermally improved products, using an advanced thermal strut technology,” says Grossi. “We will continue to offer impact-resistant door and window products that meet the needs of discerning customers in the coastal environments.”
The target markets are the coastal regions, west to Texas and north up the eastern seaboard.
“We already have dealers in place in coastal areas such as the Carolinas, where our thermal break products will be introduced. We just set up an organization in Mississippi to meet the challenges they are facing,” adds Traficante.
Since most states have selected the Miami-Dade protocols, Grossi says meeting individual state codes will not be an issue.
“We have already met the TDI Texas Department of Insurance requirements and of course AAMA 506 and Miami/Dade protocols,” says Grossi.
Traficante points out that a large percentage of the residential doors are marketed through the distribution of large wood window manufacturers.
“We are to aluminum doors as Pella and Andersen are to wood windows,” he says.
A potential target market is the Caribbean “where we believe there is a need for the level of quality and performance that we offer,” adds Traficante.
Testing and Certification
“We were the first manufacturer to be fully tested for an impact-resistant door,” says Grossi.
He points out that the company tests for impact as well as resistance to sound transmission and has one of the highest acoustical ratings for aluminum sliding doors.
Two independent, third party testing agencies—the Fenestration Manufacturers Association (FMA)/ Keystone Certifications and Miami-Dade—are used and they not only test for certification but also make on-site inspections. In-house testing is done to AAMA and ASTM protocols. The company has a full-time, quality assurance manager and a team of people who do spot checks at sites, often unannounced, to be sure doors are installed according to specifications.
“This is a costly program but we feel it is well worth it. We even provide the AAMA 502 water test at no cost to verify that the door performs in accordance with the client’s specification,” says Grossi.
He points out that dealers send their lead installation people to a full day of training at the facility.
“Our new training room serves many purposes. We also use it for plant training programs, including safety and quality control,” he adds.
Design and Versatility
Versatility is another factor.
“Today, we get excellent on-time service and high quality (imported glass) and price is not the issue.”
As a result, the company will consider additional off-shore purchases in the interest of being able to better serve its customers. Traficante points out that with hardware, the issue is technology.
“We’re looking at handle systems that are made out of composites for non-corrosion. The Europeans are way ahead of us on this technology,” he says. “We expect to be the only door manufacturer with a product that is totally non-corrosive. We are looking for a better technology, whether it is state-side or anywhere.”
Again, he points out that the issue is not cost but quality and lead times.
Labor is another issue, says Traficante.
“What limits the industry today is not capacity. It’s the huge labor shortage, especially with installation.
Grossi explains that the company offers plant tours that include career opportunities at WinDoor to high schools, trade schools and colleges. At this time, there is no apprentice program being developed.
More Growth Planned
Traficante says the company is not affected by a softening market.
“Right now, we are focusing on replacement. This is our lowest growth year and we will still be at 25 percent” pointing out that the company has always outperformed its projections.
“People who want the best will demand the best and we welcome those demands.”
In less than a decade, what began as a vision has led to a fast-growing manufacturer whose doors have raised the bar in a high-end market.
Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the window industry.