Volume 48, Issue 2 - March/April 2009

Shelter Names Best Companies to Work With

What makes a company “the best” to work with? Is there truly just one quality that moves a company from better to best? If so, what is it? The answer, it seems, is complex. According to feedback from companies participating in Shelter’s magazine’s “Best Companies to Work With” survey, one common theme among respondents is exceptional delivery methods, but there are additional qualities that make a company the best. Shelter chose winners based on the respondents’ feedback on the winners’ willingness to go “above and beyond” for their customers. Award winners are suppliers, distributors and dealers—any company within the building product supply chain. 

1. Steves & Sons Inc.
home office in San Antonio, Texas

Number of employees: 800 employees company wide

Years in business: 143 years

Facility size: 1,250,00 square feet under roof

2008 sales: $140 million

Two of Steves & Sons Inc.’s customers who receive goods from its plant in Lebanon, Tenn., say it’s difficult to find only one time Steves & Sons has gone “beyond the call of duty” for their companies. 

“There are almost so many that it is ridiculous to try to hunt for ONE,” says Lynn Mirts, purchasing manager/human resources for Dealers Warehouse Corp. in Powell, Tenn. “For many years, when we got in a bind, Doug—the manager—would put a couple of doors, that somehow one of our salesmen was ‘desperate’ for, in his own vehicle and bring them here.” 

“The biggest deal they ever pulled was many years ago,” says Mirts of Steves. “We got an enormous job of birch doors. We split the order with two vendors. As it turned out, all of the doors had defective skins, and all of the skins had come from the same manufacturer. Steves agreed to immediately replace their doors; the other vendor refused. When Steves found out that all of the skins came from the same vendor, Steves replaced even the competitors’ doors. That incident has never been forgotten here.”

Steves hasn’t personally delivered doors only for Dealers Warehouse Corp. It’s done the same for Grandview Window & Door—a customer for 27 years, according to Grandview president Dudley Schaefer Jr. 

“Your word and handshake is how they do business, and everything is done up front and face-to-face,” says Schaefer.

He says anyone in purchasing or sales can call sales or manufacturing at Steves to get help or information. 

“It is an old family business, where you can talk to any of the owners anytime and they are genuinely glad to hear from you,” Schaefer adds.

Doug Gartner is vice president of plant operations for the Lebanon facility, and he feels very flattered by this award.

“I feel very honored to have had a customer(s) take the time to compliment what we do. We have always made it a priority to make it easy to do business with Steves and Sons,” he says. “I believe our office and plant truly understand that all we have to offer is service. We strive to differentiate ourselves from the competition by our attention to detail and dedication to customer service. Steves has invested heavily in plant floor integration to make sure we are making the correct product to our customers specifications and assuring that we ship complete and on-time every time. Normally, no news is good news but to hear that we are doing a great job from our customers is a wonderful compliment.”

2. Buffelen Woodwaroking
Tacoma, Wash.

Number of employees: Did not release.

Years in business: 96 years

Estimated facility size: 200,000 square feet under roof

2008 sales: Did not release.

Buffelen Woodworking in Tacoma, Wash., is another door supplier receiving the “Best Company to Work With” award.

“The J.B. O’Meara Co. feels very fortunate to have made the decision 20 years ago to select Buffelen to be our source of stile and rail doors,” says Cathy O’Meara, product manager. “The customer service personnel are extremely knowledgeable and well-trained. Quotes, product information, specs, etc. are sent to us very quickly. They do their best to help us if we need items added to a truck with short notice.”

“It’s nice to know that paying attention to what our customers’ needs are does actually have an impact on them,” says Joe Guizzetti, general manager and CEO of Buffelen. “At the end of the day, what we are trying to do in this challenging economy is truly find out what their needs are and satisfy them.”

Guizzetti says this is paramount in this competitive market.

“Today is so competitive a customer can find a vendor for almost anything they want, so if you are not willing to do it, they can find what they need pretty fast.”

3. Craftmaster Interior Doors
home office in Chicago

Number of employees: 1,000 employees company-wide

Years in business: 35 years

Facility size: Did not release. 

2008 sales: Did not release.

Yet another door manufacturer is receiving this award because of its expert delivery methods.

Tom Quinn, product manager at Clem Distributing in Alliance, Ohio, has worked with its door supplier CMI for approximately two years at Clem.

“Just-in-time delivery. Most people say it, but CMI delivers it. With this tough market, we are able to grow our busy double-digit numbers because of how we can say ‘yes we can do that’ for our lumber dealers,” Quinn says.

He says that CMI is also open to new ideas.

“When I call with an idea about how we can grow market share, they almost always say, ‘Let’s give that a try.’” 

Quinn says he can always contact CMI’s decision makers.

“I have the personal cell phone numbers of all the people who can make things happen. We can talk at all hours if needed,” he adds.

“We are pleased to receive this recognition from Shelter magazine, but more importantly, from Clem Distributing,” says Bob Merrill, president and CEO of CMI, headquartered in Chicago. “Our implementation of lean manufacturing allows us to offer service that is unmatched in the interior door category. This philosophy drives everything we do, and it shows in our product quality and in the rich relationships we have with our customers.”

4. Southern Energy Management
Morrisville, N.C.

Number of employees: 50 employees company-wide

Years in business: 8 years

Facility size: 10,000 square feet under roof

2008 sales: $6 million

“This company installs solar systems and they had a tough time getting the panels in from the manufacturer for my business,” explains Jennifer Pippin, owner of Pippin Home Designs Inc. in Sherrill’s Ford, N.C., who has worked with the company for three years.“

Jon Goode [owner of Southern Energy] spent months working at my site himself, even when he was very sick … He worked tirelessly to get me the best system for my business and he has continued to follow up with me six months later to make sure that things are working as they should. I cannot count the number of hours he and his team spent at my jobsite working on this project. The manufacturer sent them incorrect parts for my system several times and they would bend over backwards to make things right for me.”

But Pippin’s regard for the company goes further.

“This is a family-held business owned by a husband and wife team, Bob and Maria Kingery, who are terrific people. They have a strong commitment to helping the environment, and they spend a tremendous amount of time and money educating the community about green building. They have also been more than gracious with me. As a result of the downturn in the economy, my company has been greatly affected and they have offered to work with me on an invoice I still have due to them. They are allowing me to make small payments on the rather large invoice and are not charging me interest on this invoice. They are also willing to spend time with me brainstorming about how we can help each other’s companies in the coming year. This is an exceptional company and the people are remarkable. I highly recommend them to everyone interested in their services.”

“We were proud to be involved with this ambitious project with Jenny Pippin and her company – who are so inspiring in their own right,” said Jon Goode, director of operations for Southern Energy Management’s Charlotte office, who led the integration of energy efficiency, green building verification and solar features of the home. “The project was a great opportunity to integrate and showcase a variety of products to help meet the client’s goals of living and working in a sustainable building, while also educating people about the almost limitless possibilities for green building construction and design options. It also proved a challenge for manufacturers and suppliers to demonstrate how their products fit into the ‘systems approach’ that is at the heart of green building. It was exciting to see our trade and product partners working to address the challenges as the project progressed, and we think everyone involved came away with lessons that will help streamline integration of products into future projects."

Honorable Mention

One company is receiving honorable mention in this year’s Shelter’s “Best Companies to Work With” Awards.

Stair House Inc. 

Number of employees: 14 employees company-wide

Years in business: 14 years

Facility size: 55,000 square feet under roof

2008 sales: $10.2 million

Butch Fairchild is president of Fairchild Sales and Marketing in Canton, Ga., and he appreciates Austell, Ga.-based Stair House Inc.’s attitude of “whatever it takes” to meet customers’ needs and requirements. He has done business with the company for 11 years.

“Their success is based on providing products and services to grow their customers’ businesses and, in turn, grow their own business,” Fairchild explains.

He says that Stair House goes above and beyond average customer service by providing “what you need to know when you need to know it.”

“It is more than talk at Stair House; it is a way of life,” he says.

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