Volume 11, Issue 5 - June 2010

feature

NO Slowing Down
Variety and Differentiation Help One Ohio Window Company Continue to Grow

by Ellen Rogers


Forty-percent growth in a given year is a sizeable achievement for any company in any industry. Forty-percent growth a year, nine consecutive years, also is a monumental one. But for Vista Window Co. in Warren, Ohio, such numbers are no surprise.

“We’ve been on the Inc. 5000 list two years running. Our goal is to be on the list again for 2010 because if you make it three years in a row you become part of their Hall of Fame,” says Dan McCarthy, company chief executive officer, who, along with Jim Collins, chief operating officer, are the primary shareholders.

From the company’s unique production process to its operational philosophy, McCarthy says it’s his company’s approach to business that has helped it continue to grow.

“We deliver on what we promise and we keep our commitments,” he says. “You can solve a lot of problems just by answering the phone.”

Getting Started
Having worked in the building products supply business most all his life, McCarthy says by the time he was 45 he was ready to do something in which he’d have an ownership interest. He founded Vista in 2001.

“During that time a bunch of guys I’d worked with at the previous company also decided they’d rather own a piece of the action and they came forward with me and pushed this idea into reality,” says McCarthy.

One of those guys was Ed Kalaher, who serves as president of Vista. Kalaher says he has been in the building supply industry since he finished college and joined McCarthy and Collins to start up Vista.

Producing vinyl windows and patio doors for the residential replacement market, Vista today has an annual dollar volume that
ranges between $30 and $50 million and produces about 220,000 units a year.

“Depending on the time of year, [we produce] 3,000 to 10,000 units a week,” says McCarthy.

With 180 employees, the company operates a 47,000-square-foot facility located on seven acres in Warren, Ohio, as well as a 56,000-square-foot facility, also on seven acres, in Swansboro, Ga. In addition to its two plants, the company also has a joint venture with Simonton’s McAlester, Okla., plant.

“Simonton’s plant manufactures our product line under our licensing agreement, under our trademarks,” says McCarthy.

“But it’s the same exact product,” adds Kalaher.

“And that’s the only joint venture of its kind in this [industry] that works like that,” says McCarthy.

From its Ohio plant, Vista’s products are shipped east of the Mississippi River, north of the Mason-Dixon line; from Georgia, the company’s products are shipped east of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon line, with the exception of Florida.

“Our joint venture with Simonton also allows us to ship pretty much nationwide because they have a logistics system as a company that goes to pretty much every major city in the United States regularly,” says McCarthy.

Structuring for Growth
The Vista team is organized in a way that Kalaher says keeps them thin in the middle management layer.

“For us, [this is] quicker for decision-making and is more efficient, and that’s because we have the benefit of a pretty broad ownership and management team that is invested in this business and running it,” says Kalaher, who explains that management is made up of six operating shareholders.

“Everybody is onsite, involved in the business. We are the central core management team and those below each of us have their own specialty,” says Kalaher. “On the floor we have a production leader and different zones of production that also have leaders. Essentially we have a core ownership group and then we have a series of leaders.”

The company also is structured so that communication with employees is open and constant.

“We communicate with all employees on a quarterly basis to keep them in the loop on what’s going on with the company,” says Kalaher. “Every part of our plant is considered a zone and those zones receive an audit each month and those audits are an opportunity for employees to voice suggestions and concerns.”

McCarthy adds, “Depending on the area of the business, those in our front end of customer service, for example, are empowered to take care of customer problems immediately. And one of the things we have as a credo is ‘take care of the problem now and argue about whose fault it was later.’ What matters is solving the problem and so those employees are very active in day-to-day operations and that portion of the business.”

Production Procedures
Part of what McCarthy says sets Vista apart from other window manufacturers is its production process.

“We call it constant flow production. The material moves, the people don’t and [the material] constantly moves until it’s a completed order,” says McCarthy. “The important thing about the way we do constant flow production is that we have changed the way windows get manufactured. We have broken the manufacturing process down to component manufacturing rather than product line manufacturing.

We have lines that make frames and we have lines that make sashes—it doesn’t matter what type of window it is. So this methodology of production allows us to be much more efficient than the average manufacturer that uses a batch and queue production methodology. Where [in other companies] a customer’s order is broken down and sent to three or four or five different areas, in our production paradigm the order stays together and gets made all at one time on the same two lines.”

McCarthy says this process has helped them create an efficient operation.

“We actually manufacture windows on two- to three-day cycles and we deliver them in seven days and all of that is related to that system of production,” he says.

While lean manufacturing is a part of Vista’s process, there is not one particular method the company uses.

“Continual improvement is just part of our life; we don’t call it anything particular; we just do it everyday,” says McCarthy. “We are constantly improving, tweaking, trying to be more efficient where we can be.”

“We have a fairly extensive audit system and, because we don’t split customer orders, the philosophy of this company is everyone works for a complete order on time. We take principles from different manufacturing methodologies and put them into that,” says Kalaher.

"Every part of our plant is considered a zone and those zones receive an audit each
month and those audits are an opportunity for employees to voice suggestions and concerns.
"


Supply Chain
In addition to the process, a window manufacturer also needs reliable machinery, material suppliers, such as Veka, AGC Flat Glass North America and Caliber Glass LLC, and a top-notch production staff to take hold of the reins. Wes Scott is the company’s vice president of production and is responsible for all decisions surrounding the plant’s equipment. For Vista, that decision was to go with Sturtz machinery.

McCarthy and Kalaher both admit they have little input when it comes to machinery selection.

“Wes used to work for Wegoma and used to manufacture this type of equipment and he set up many window plants,” says McCarthy. “It’s a big advantage when the people who are deciding what machinery will be the best for our business are people who grew up inventing that business and building those machines.”

He continues, “Because of Wes, anything that might happen that could be a problem is fixed in stride.”

Kalaher adds, “And because of the way Wes trains our maintenance people, when you are the person who used to build these machines and install them for window companies across America, you don’t train your maintenance people on troubleshooting; you train them on how the machines are built.”

When selecting equipment Scott says there are several features he looks for, such as innovation, quality, cost and lead time.

“Fortunately, I began my career in the equipment business, so I am familiar with most of the companies that supply equipment to our industry,” says Scott.

His background and experience on the equipment side is also a plus for Vista.

“Typically an equipment supplier offers training to the maintenance personnel and helps train on diagnostics and some repair. If that fails then generally the next step is to call the equipment manufacturer, and equipment is such these days that it ties directly into the computer of a piece of equipment to help diagnose the problem,” explains Scott. “In Vista’s case, being that I am originally from the equipment side of the business, I generally am able to diagnose and fix any issue on my own, which greatly enhances our company’s ability to not be down for very long. Our lead time to our customers is our number-one priority, so we have a distinct advantage in this area.” 

McCarthy agrees. “Most people in this business who have any type of automated equipment, when it goes down they call the manufacturer to come fix it. We never have to do that. We fix it ourselves online and we solve the problem in the amount of time it would take the manufacturer to set the date to come fix it.”

Under Wraps
Vista also is focused on ensuring customers receive a quality, well-made product. To back this up special care and attention go into packaging and shipping.

“We put egg crate corners on the windows, shrink-wrap the windows or patio doors completely; if it is a painted order it has a 3M film on it, which is a very heavy plastic wrap that protects the exterior surface,” says McCarthy.

“When we finish a product off the assembly station, not only did that product never hit the ground before it was assembled, but it still never hits the ground until it goes into the truck,” adds Kalaher, who says they also own their own fleet. “In our warehouse we have a racking system used to store products and that rack is moved around for loading so we’re not handling the windows or patio doors too much.”

McCarthy agrees.

“When you drag windows around, especially white vinyl windows, it creates static electricity which has a tendency to collect dirt,” he says.

Worth the Effort
Vista’s hard work has paid off, as a number of its customers point out the company’s dedication and commitment to quality. Rick Berteotti, president of Trinity Supply and Installation in Pittsburgh has been working with Vista for nine years because a sales representative introduced them to the windows.

“We gave it a shot and it worked for us,” says Berteotti, who adds that they soon grew their Vista offerings and today work with them as their exclusive window supplier.

While finding a good supplier may be challenging for some dealers, Berteotti says there are a number of characteristics about Vista that stand out.

“They have a quality, consistently good product,” Berteotti says. “They are always looking at ways to be on the cutting edge and to come out with something different. Also, their delivery time is like clockwork.”

Lee Ross, who is the president and owner of Window Factory Direct in Cleveland, has been working with Vista for about six years and says that as far as a supplier, Vista is “right on the money.”

“There is not a person there who is not willing to help you,” says Ross. “They also have a quality product. I looked around at other windows and theirs is superior to most out there as far as I’m concerned.”

Vista’s suppliers have also recognized the company's abilities.

“Vista has enjoyed much success and growth in the market over the past few years. This is not due to artificial stimulus such as government subsidized programs, but rather their dedication to providing superior service and support to their customers,” says Alan Funovits, sales director for Veka Inc. “Combine these qualities with a broad product offering, and you have success in the making. It has been exciting to watch Vista’s growth and we look forward to helping them grow even more, today and into the future.”

Forward Thinking
Vista is continuing to enjoy strong growth and a positive
market, particularly with so much growing emphasis on energy
efficiency.

In fact, energy-efficiency is a driving force behind Vista.
“Our industry, and thus our company, are founded on energy efficiency. We promote the premise that one size does not fit all,” says Kalaher.

“We offer window configurations that are as good as it gets in this industry, and we offer enough variety to satisfy homeowners in every part of the country,” he adds.

And it’s variety and differentiation that both McCarthy and Kalaher agree are some of its strongest assets.

“We have big company capabilities with a small company mindset and that’s from our regional philosophy,” Kalaher says. “In our estimation, there are not a lot of companies in this industry that have our capabilities and can be intimate with the customer because they have regional facilities. Usually they are much smaller companies and, though you can get a personal touch, they can only service a few states or regions.”

“It’s not that we’re a small company,” adds McCarthy, “We’re in a medium kind of niche, but we’re the smallest company in replacement window business with our capacity to be able to reach nationwide with our product line.”

Ellen Rogers is a contributing editor for DWM magazine.


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