MGM Follows Its Own Path to Success

Focusing on new construction products, Tennessee manufacturer sees itself as small fish in a big pond with plenty of opportunities as a result
John G. Swanson
February 15, 2007
FEATURE ARTICLE | Close-Ups

MGM Industries does its own thing—in more ways than one. It’s most obvious “thing” is its product line. Unlike most vinyl window manufacturers, the company makes a mechanically assembled window to better mimic the look of wood windows.MGM is very much a family business.  The Gaskins, from left to right--Joe heads up sales, Marshall founded the company and is now officially retired, Zeke manages production and Abe is president.  With the four is Mary England, and MGM employee recently honored by the company for her near-40 years of dedicated service.

A tour through the company’s plant in Hendersonville, TN, reveals many other differences too. Unlike most manufacturers its size, it extrudes its own vinyl. MGM has taken its own path in developing its own manufacturing software, too. Most recently, it’s added equipment to take vinyl scrap and reduce it to “the consistency of table salt.”

These investments—and its unique product line—enable the vinyl window manufacturer to “compete with the big boys and still be profitable.”

Celebrating its 40th year in business, MGM started off as a manufacturer of jalousie and storm windows. Marshall Gaskins, who was involved in the glass business at the time, was approached by some business associates asking if he wanted to go into the window business. “I said, ‘I’m not making a living now, so I might as well.’” Gaskins bought the others out, eventually passing it onto his sons—Abe, Joe and Zeke. Abe Gaskins was named president, “because I’m the eldest,” but the three emphasize “it’s run as a democracy.” 

There was never an official demarcation of responsibilities between the brothers, they agree, but each has gravitated naturally to focus on certain elements of the business. Joe handles sales, while Zeke focuses on production. Abe focuses on new product development, and, in the recent past, has focused many of his efforts on the company’s extrusion lines.

When MGM first entered the vinyl window business in 1985, it quickly established itself as a company that would follow its own path. Like many companies entering the business, it started with replacement windows. The Gaskins had their own ideas, however, and quickly turned their focus to new construction, developing a proprietary single-hung window with 49⁄16-inch jambs and brickmould. “We saw a real opportunity for a window that could fit somewhere between a shop-built and a clad product,” says Joe. Originally, it was using cellular PVC profiles in the sash. “We were doing a composite before it was cool,” he adds. Eventually, problems with the cellular PVC led the brothers to focus on rigid vinyl. MGM, however, had found its niche as a pioneer for vinyl windows in the new construction market.
One of the most recent additions at the MGM facilities is new equipment designed to regrind vinyl scrap for use in its extrusions
And when other window manufacturers started developing vinyl products for new construction, MGM actually welcomed them to the market. “The big guys help create the market,” Joe notes. “They increase awareness and overall demand, and at our size, we know there’s plenty of opportunity for us.”

A Window & Door Top 100 manufacturer, reporting annual sales between $30 million and $40 million, MGM primarily targets independent lumber dealers, serving customers as far west as Kansas City through to the East Coast. Its success can be attributed to numerous factors, the brothers report. They point to a broad product line, ranging from the low to high end, unique product features that appeal to both dealers and their builder customers by easing installation and reducing service issues, and finally, the “look of a wood window that no other company can match,” according to Abe Gaskins.

A key to that look is the fact that MGM mechanically-assembles its sash to retain the stile-and-rail appearance and its frame sills to provide a variety of performance and installation-related benefits. While most other vinyl window manufacturers switched to—or started with—welded corners, Abe says, “we just don’t see it making a better window. We do the testing, we know our numbers—we wouldn’t gain a thing.”

The company does weld the top corners of its frames. “That’s where it offers benefits,” Abe notes, but despite the fact that most vinyl window manufacturers promote the superiority of a welded product, MGM’s approach isn’t questioned by customers. “The look and performance of the product speaks for itself.” In fact, he claims, mechanical assembly is proving to be a real advantage when it comes to designing a product for coastal markets, something the company is now doing.
Window assembly operations at MGM facilities in Tennessee
Using corner keys in the sash—not just reinforcements—is enabling its new product to achieve high design pressure ratings. “We’ve tested it up to a DP-65, because that’s as high as we can go on our test wall. We’re confident we can go a lot higher.” He’s also confident the product will do well in impact testing.

GETTING INTO EXTRUSION
While not the first vinyl window maker to begin extruding its own profiles with proprietary designs, MGM began looking into the idea of vertical integration fairly early, and it may have been one of the first window manufacturers of its size to take the plunge. Abe, in fact, started pushing the idea in the ’90s, but “I was voted down,” he recalls, pointing to the fact that the family business is run as a democracy. In retrospect, he notes, that proved to be a good thing. “If we would have gotten into it when I first wanted, I think it would have killed us,” he says. “When they finally said yes, we were really ready.”

The company started extruding in 2000, and then set up a separate building to house its extrusion department in 2003. Joe and Zeke credit Abe, and the long hours he put into it, for making extrusion work for the company. The company now runs eight extrusion lines, and its in-house capabilities are key to its continued success in a competitive new construction market dominated by much bigger manufacturers. “We could survive without it,” says Abe, “but it makes it a lot easier to be profitable.”

The do-it-yourself approach has benefited MGM on a number of fronts. Abe has traveled to China to find sources for extrusion tooling. MGM decided early on to develop its own manufacturing software system, and again, Abe notes, there are opportunities to find programmers there who can enable the firm to develop that system even further. He is now looking to bring such a person over to America to work at the MGM plant and truly learn the business.

One of the latest ventures at MGM is the installation of equipment that can take its vinyl scrap, and regrind it for use in the company’s extrusion. With the equipment, Abe says, the company can achieve cost savings on its vinyl and still produce the highest quality extrusions.

The willingness to make these types of investments has positioned the company well for continued growth. It recently completed construction on a building addition that will add more than 100,000 square feet to its operations and give MGM more than 400,000 square feet of space overall. The new structure, to be used initially for shipping, provides additional space for production and warehousing, and expands the vinyl window manufacturer’s capacity by more than a third.

“We’re big enough to have the economies of scale,” adds Marshall. “Where we have the advantage is that we’re still small enough to deal with. Our customers know they can get one of us on the phone.”

The personal contact MGM can offer its customers as a family business is key to continued growth, agrees Joe, and he sees plenty of opportunity for that. He points to new markets that will be opened up to the company with the launch of its coastal product line, and the fact that “as a small fish, there’s still plenty of room for us” in MGM’s existing markets. “Within our niche, we know no one can match the breadth of our product line,” he concludes. “We have everything from the low end to the high end. That’s a big advantage.”