Growing in an Emerging Niche in the Door Market

Precision Entry has found success with a unique focus on the replacement entry door market and by making a complete entry system, one door at a time
By Christina Lewellen
August 15, 2004
FEATURE ARTICLE

In 1983, a big company named Sears took a chance on a little company named Precision Door & Glass to provide its customers in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Indiana with replacement entry doors. Today, that company is a Window & Door Top 100 Manufacturer and its business with Sears is nationwide.

 

Before the agreement, Precision, based in Sugarcreek, OH, was a pre-hanger of primed, unfinished doors and had about a half dozen accounts with local lumberyards. Precision didn’t even have a salesman, which Sears required to call on its stores, so Bill Mullet, president and CEO, hired Willis Schlabach, who now serves as vice president of sales and marketing. Schlabach recalls that the Sears partnership was formed when the retail store’s supplier at the time went out of business. Precision picked up the ball to produce the Sears model—a finished door made for the retrofit market.

 

 

Precision supplies its doors pre-finished to the customer's specifications.

 Precision supplies its doors pre-finished to the customer's specifications.

“When you’re small, you have to have someone who believes in you,” says Schlabach. “For us, it was Sears.” The small Precision team took a learn-as-you-go approach to the Sears regional partnership and the result was that it found its proverbial home in the custom replacement door market.

 

“We do an entrance, not just doors,” Mullet emphasizes. “That’s what sets us apart.” Precision doesn’t manufacture its own slabs, but instead focuses on door systems that come complete as a finished door with glass, hardware and framing options. Company officials explain that Precision is different from other pre-hanger competitors because its customers are buying a system that has everything—the deadbolt, kick plate, knocker, glass, frame, painted finish and other options—under one warranty.

 

“Typically, when customers went to buy a door, they’d buy the door and then go out and hire a painter and hire an installer,” Mullet reports. “They [also] had to buy all the parts and components. We provide a door with all the hardware attached, with the door painted and with the interior trim if they want it. It’s a one-stop deal. When the installer walks away from that job, the door is finished.”

 

Renamed Precision Entry in 2002, the company was founded in 1977 as an aluminum storm door and window producer. In 1995, Precision acquired Sugarcreek Industries, another Ohio-based window and door manufacturer which was going through bankruptcy. Sugarcreek, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Precision, continues to operate out of a separate storm door and replacement window manufacturing facility located about three miles from the Precision Entry plant.

 

With the acquisition of Sugarcreek, the combined product offering has grown to include steel and fiberglass entry and patio doors, vinyl and aluminum replacement windows, aluminum storm windows and doors and vinyl patio doors. Another company subsidiary, Monarch IG, supplies insulating glass with Super Spacer to both Precision and Sugarcreek.

 

Precision Entry specializes in the replacement door market. Like most pre-hangers in the industry, its doors follow nominal sizing. That means the company can supply both the door and surrounding frame or it can provide doors that fit into most existing openings if the homeowner decides to forego new framing. What the early relationship with Sears taught the company, Schlabach explains, was to offer a finished product to the customer. The customization is not about sizing options, but rather about the homeowner piecing together a certain color with the glass and hardware he or she chooses to create a unique entryway for his or her home. “We definitely found a niche at that time when we started customizing the doors, making one door at a time,” adds Mullet. “It’s mass customization rather than mass production.”

 

The Emerging Replacement Entry Market

Mullet suspects that some of the larger door manufacturers may be intrigued by the idea of producing replacement entry door systems but may have a hard time managing the demand for customized products. “How do you paint 20 colors if you’re a mass producer?” he asks. “But as more companies look at the possibility, it’s going to keep us on our toes. It’s going to force us to get new ideas.”

 

Because most consumers have a limited amount of expendable income for home improvements, replacement entry doors compete with siding, replacement windows, garage doors, landscaping, decking and other housing upgrades for market share. Schlabach says doors were once considered an add-on to window or siding purchases, but have increasingly become a premium investment for homeowners. He estimates the door replacement market is about 15 years behind the window replacement market.

 

“The window industry has done a really good job of convincing people that new windows are needed,” he notes. “Doors are just as big a need. When we started, nobody did replacement doors. Yet you walk through your door everyday.”

 

Mullet sees homeowners replacing their doors for several reasons including security, energy efficiency, durability and beauty. The word is also getting out that entryways add real value to a home, he suggests. “You can change the windows in a house and people from the curb can barely see it. But you can make a huge impression by changing a door on your house. It gives you an elegance that is noticeable from the inside and the outside.”

 

The growth of the big boxes has done a lot to make homeowners aware of door replacement benefits, Schlabach notes. “Everybody fears [the big box retail stores] but frankly, I love them. There is no such thing as bad advertising or market awareness. They are benefiting everybody.”

 

As big manufacturers and big retailers focus more on this product segment, the market will change, however, and Precision officials know it will have to change too. “We can’t stay in the same spot or we’ll lose what got us here,” Schlabach says.

 

New composite products are becoming popular, for example. Mullet says Precision is committed to keeping up with these types of trends and it will continue to evolve as the market and consumers’ demands change.

 

One Door at a Time

“You can make a custom product and you can make it quickly if you have the right equipment and the right people behind it,” Mullet says. Precision Entry’s manufacturing plant combines highly-automated material handling with traditional craftsmanship to produce its residential door systems. The plant features an overhead transport system, which glides doors through production under the watchful guidance of employees. The doors pass many quality control checkpoints from start to finish to make sure the products do not have scratches, dings or paint streaks.

 

Most finishes at Precision are applied by an automated paint line. Laser eyes scan a door on the line and the paint spray within the booth is automatically adjusted depending on the requirements of the order. A white door with one cut-out for glass that exits the finishing process may be immediately followed by a different style of door in green or red.

 

Using state-of-the-art technology to increase quality is well worth the investment, Mullet states. “When you do it manually, you have people who get tired. You have people who have bad days. And while people are extremely important, our robots and reciprocators don’t get tired. They have consistent quality day in and day out, hour in and hour out, so we can provide our customer with that good, high quality.”

 

A Precision Entry system is made only once it has an owner. That means that a lot of money is tied up in inventory—cash flow that is neatly stacked up on shelves and organized in bundles within the plant. But the company has made it a priority to have the correct components waiting for the worker who reaches for them in order to keep cycle times consistent and within customers’ expectations. “We are committed to give what we agreed to and more, but never less,” Mullet notes.

 

The Precision and Sugarcreek plants are clean and bright. Bosses greet floor workers by first name and employees—some of whom have an Amish background—take pride in the work they do. The company is family friendly “to the point that we would sacrifice certain things,” Mullet adds. “We’re very service oriented but family is the most important. We have 22 trucks on the road. We make sure every truck driver is home for the weekend. We want them home because we think family is important.”

 

Also a reflection of the company’s values is its partnership with the World Vision organization, which distributes Precision’s “seconds” or rejected materials to low-income families in the U.S. and abroad.

 

Quality Dealers for Quality Doors

Precision offers its systems through three channels: distributors, window manufacturers and retailers. Most Precision dealers are local businesses that offer homeowners exterior products such as siding, shutters and garage doors, Schlabach reports. While some general building product distributors and lumberyards offer the company’s systems, these operations tend to focus most on the new construction business. Purchases at these locations are cost driven with the homeowner or builder making many decisions at one time, and Precision entryways are designed to appeal more to the consumer who is able to focus on what he or she really wants from a door, he explains.

Precision officials have high expectations for their own operations and they place similar demands upon the company’s dealers. “We do not want dealers who do not satisfy their customers,” Schlabach says. “If we set a high standard for our products, I think it’s fair to expect the same high standard of our dealers.”

 

Precision dealers who take care of their customers, do a certain amount of annual business and keep their accounts current are recognized with Platinum status. The company hosts a bi-annual meeting to acknowledge the accomplishments of its prominent Platinum dealers.

 

Currently, Precision Entry has retail dealers on the East Coast, throughout the Midwest and in some Southern states. The company is gearing up to expand its shipping abilities to the West Coast, Schlabach reports. “We will not grow into a territory until we are ready to fully commit to it,” he notes, however.

 

The company is committed to continued growth. In 2003, Precision Entry was included in Window & Door’s Top 100 manufacturers list in the sales of $40 to $50 million category. In 2004, Precision had climbed a rung to the $50 to $75 million category and company officials predict it won’t be long before the magazine will have to make room for them in the $75 to $100 million grouping. The prediction is not about ego, according to Mullet—it’s about commitment to satisfying the custom niche they’ve created for themselves in the growing replacement door market.