Sunroom Maker Planning Its Own Addition
Recently, it began a “soft launch” of a new replacement window line it has developed with the vinyl extruder Rehau Inc., reports Peter Allen, Four Seasons director of marketing. The line is being sold by a limited number of Four Seasons dealers, as well as its company-owned locations. The company is also introducing a new name, Four Seasons Home Products, for these locations, as well as its other franchise dealers that eventually choose to add the window and other product lines.
Peter Allen (left) and Patrick Marron in Four Seasons' retail showroom at its headquarters.
Established in 1975 as Four Seasons Solar Products, the Holbrook, N.Y., based manufacturer started when the nation’s first energy crisis help fuel a boom in homeowner interest in sunrooms. That boom never really went away, according to Allen. Homeowners have continued to look at these products to gain more living space. As choices have expanded, performance has been improved, and new high-style options have been added to these lines, overall sales have continued to grow. “We haven’t been immune to the downturn that everyone else has seen,” Allen notes, “but we do see our market as a growth market still.”
The sunroom manufacturer is looking beyond the sunroom market, however, thanks in part to its new ownership. In 2001, Four Seasons was acquired by Ultraframe, a British manufacturer of conservatory roofing systems. Ultraframe, in turn, was acquired by the Latium Group in 2006. “That acquisition has been real beneficial,” says Patrick Marron, Four Seasons president and CEO. Latium is a $1 billion company, he notes, and one of its primary properties is Everest Windows, a company that sells windows and other home improvement products to homeowners in England. “They’ve really taken us out of the manufacturer mindset,” Marron notes, enabling Four Seasons to become a much more forward-thinking marketer and company.
The new thinking is visible in the company’s recently developed tag line, “Build the Best.” “There was a need to refresh the brand,” Marron explains. The “Build the Best” theme serves the company in a number of important ways. For homeowners, it clearly sends the message that the company offers superior products and reinforces the fact that Four Seasons is “a name you can trust,” he states. For dealers, it sends a message that with Four Seasons, “they are selling a preferred product, something that gives them a real advantage.” Finally, he notes, “Build the Best” has also been an important theme in implementing an internal culture change.
Discussing the internal culture change, Marron indicates that the company has not completely lost its “manufacturer mindset.” The company has implemented numerous changes in recent years to improve its manufacturing operations—both from a quality and efficiency standpoint. Reflecting a commitment to lean production, he points to areas of the plant where insulated floor sections were once stacked high, but now are delivered on an as needed basis. He points to a recently acquired CNC saw that can handle the complex cutting requirements involved in sunroom and conservatory components, enabling the company to produce such items more quickly and more accurately.
The sunroom manufacturer's headquarters and manufacturing facility on Long Island occupies more than 200,000 square feet.
Another key effort at Four Seasons over the past few years has been to diversify the product line, Allen reports, even prior to getting into windows. The company now offers a products ranging from solid roof screen rooms for entry level markets all the way to elegant, high end Victorian conservatories with real wood beams on the interior. Choices in straight and curved eaves enable the additions to be combined with a wide range of home styles. “The product range has been critical to attracting more dealers,” Allen says. “They like the flexibility. They can take advantage of opportunities in specific markets—focus on the higher-end for example, if that market is strong. All the while, they can work with one supplier.”
Allen, meanwhile, also points to a whole range of materials and services developed to help the company’s over 300 dealers and franchisees increase their sales and profitability—the result of the expertise and knowledge gained from Latium and Everest Windows’ experience. One direct example of lessons learned, he notes, is a recent effort to get more visitors to the company Web site to make appointments with Four Seasons dealers. The changes—including an offer of a free book on sunroom design options and a $500 coupon for visitors that make an appointment—have worked, increasing that conversion rate from 3 percent to 7 percent. “That’s a real benefit for our dealers.”
The aluminum fabrication department at Four Seasons' plant.
Four Seasons is looking to expand its dealer base, and looking for many of its sunroom dealers to add its window line eventually, but the company has no plans to rush the launch. “We will plan on the next stages when we are happy that all is working the way it should, to ensure total customer satisfaction,” says Allen. “You may say that this is long-winded process but we are adamant on providing our customers and the end consumer the ultimate experience.”
GREEN AND SOLAR TOO
Looking to the future of Four Seasons, Marron also points out that the manufacturer isn’t forgetting its core product line. He sees the emergence of the green building movement as a real positive for the sunroom market. “We’re seeing more interest and a lot more thought going into passive solar design,” he notes. He sees even greater potential for the business if photovoltaic technologies continue to progress. The company tried a photovoltaic glass option for the roofs of its products numerous years ago, but “we were too far ahead of the curve,” as far as the capabilities of the system. “It just wasn’t very attractive,” he adds.
As photovoltaics evolve, he sees them becoming more effective in collecting power and becoming less visually objectionable, potentially looking just like clear or a tinted glass. “We’re watching the technology very closely,” Marron reports. “If a sunroom can really become not just an additional living space, but a real electricity source, that would obviously represent a huge opportunity for us—for the entire industry.”