Targeting Sashlite at the High End

Northeast Building Products sees dealers eager for opportunity to offer ’something different’
Christina Lewellen
August 1, 2005
FEATURE ARTICLE | Close-Ups

Window dealers are always looking for something innovative and exclusive to differentiate themselves. Northeast Building Products says its dealers see its new high-end window line featuring Sashlite integrated sash/IG technology answering the call.


“Dealers needed something better,” says Fran Levin, vice president of the Philadelphia-based window manufacturer. “They’re all competing for the same margin. The industry has been kind of flat, and the people selling high-end products are looking for something new.”


One customer she points to is Kohl Building Products, a dealer/distributor with nine locations in Pennsylvania and Maryland, which jumped at the opportunity to offer Northeast’s Sashlite window as a private label line. The company anticipated an official August1 rollout to its professional builder and remodeler customers. Deb Ritter, vice president of marketing for Kohl, says that in the distributor’s nearly 60-year history, its customers have come to expect industry innovations, starting with the awnings and form windows the company offered when her great-grandfather opened its doors.


Builders and remodelers today still look to the dealer for products that will differentiate them in the marketplace.“We do a monthly newsletter, and our customers say they find out about new things from that and our Web site.”


With this type of reputation, Kohl was interested in being the first in its area to offer the Sashlite technology, as produced by Northeast Building Products. “We just feel its our commitment to our customers to find the latest, greatest thing. Whether we’re saving them time or money with no callbacks, we want the leading technology.”


Under the dealer’s ProSolutions umbrella of branded products, Kohl is offering the new window line with a private label, calling it the Grande Lite. “We went on a mission for a product. We have customers that say, ‘Everyone has Simonton and Certainteed. We need something different.’ Something different gives us that edge in selling.”

 

SASHLITE TECHNOLOGY

What’s different about Sashlite windows is a design and manufacturing process that eliminates the need for an IG unit to be made separately and then glazed into the sash. Instead, the vinyl sash profile of the window incorporates the IG spacer, and the two lites of glass are glazed directly to both sides of the sash. The result is a window that offers enhanced structural and thermal performance. Northeast’s Crusader double-hung window using Sashlite technology, along with low-E glass and argon, has a 0.28 U-factor, based on NFRC testing. That number is even lower, 0.268, when vinyl profiles are foam-filled.


Alan Levin, Northeast president and CEO, points out that the technology also offers other benefits. Because a separate IG unit is eliminated and the same vinyl used in the window profile serves as the spacer system, the manufacturer’s Crusader Series also has a much cleaner look, offering a single-pane appearance, Levin notes. “It’s something salesmen can take out and say, ‘It’s better thermally and it has better aesthetics.’”


Although it began production of its new window line this spring, Sashlite technology is not a new concept to Northeast Building Products, Levin reports. The company produced its first sash as long as five years ago when the technology was top secret and still in the development stage, he reports. “I’ve been involved with the whole process and I became a believer when I saw the test reports coming back.”


Ritter says Kohl welcomes the challenge of marketing the new window line. “We were one of the first ones to really promote Intercept and the benefits of its energy efficiency when Simonton had it. But now that’s 50 percent of the market,” she says. “This is going to be for that customer who wants to go out to the market and say he has the most energy-efficient product. Based on the data, we can now support that.”


Aside from current customers, Kohl will also look at attracting new customers with the line—everyone from the competition’s customers to architects who are looking for cutting-edge technology, Ritter notes. “Sometimes architects get into jobs where they need numbers that go over the top. That will be a target also.”

 

GEARING UP IN THE PLANT

Kohl Building Products is very enthusiastic about the new window technology, but Alan Levin points out that Northeast also has many other customers in line waiting for the product. “We didn’t expect the volume to come in as quickly as it did,” he notes. “When we started this program, we had 700 to 800 windows backlogged.”


Over a month or two, the company was able to get caught up, learning on the job as floor workers mastered new equipment and skills. The biggest change for workers used to working with assembled IG units was making the switch to handling glass, Levin notes. With the Sashlite process, glass lites are fed through a washer and then manually applied to the frames. Before the panes are inserted, equipment applies the sealant around the edges of the vinyl frame. At first, Levin says, production would stall when the glass coming out of the washer was scratched or other-wise damaged; but workers quickly developed a process to hand off faulted pieces of glass and keep production moving. “It was zero to 60 in just seconds. Now we’re getting it under control and ramping things up. We’re writing procedures for the process.”


On the manufacturing floor, the new production line occupies a relatively small footprint—about 4,000 square feet—that includes cutting, processing, welding, corner cleaning, glazing and final assembly racks. “We wanted everything in a dedicated space,” Levin says. “It’s very organized. The people are working as a team.”


Northeast is the third manufacturer to get a double-hung Sashlite line up and running, Levin says. Production required new equipment by Sash Systems and a special sealant and desiccant from H.B. Fuller. Chelsea Building Products, a long-time supplier to Northeast Building Products, developed the new Sashlite window system now used in its Crusader line. Levin notes that the windows are available in white, almond and a two-tone cocoa outside/white inside. The company also upgraded its Crusader line with hardware by Truth, Ashland and Vision and foam by Lamatek, he adds. “We chose to make this our premium product.”

 

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Levin sees Sashlite technology lending itself to even more automation on the factory floor. And as newer innovations emerge in the way of equipment and software to automate the process, he says he’ll be on board. “I’m a factory guy. I like equipment.” Levin’s suggestion for second-generation machines includes automating the grid notching into the saw. “I definitely think this is the future of the industry, especially with some more automation. You really could build lines to put out a lot more windows in even less time.”


Ritter says Levin’s dedication to cutting-edge equipment is part of the reason Kohl is so comfortable doing business with the comparatively small window manufacturer. “They have such an unbelievable commitment to technology. They have all the latest equipment for a facility of their size.”


Levin anticipates that the 200 or so windows per day the company is currently producing will likely grow to the point this fall where a second shift will be added to keep up with Crusade orders. “We know the business is there whenever we’re ready. But we like to make sure we have controlled growth.”


Kohl foresees plenty of growth for the technology in the future. “We’re looking at Sashlite as being the cutting edge, knowing that eventually 50 percent of the market will have it,” Ritter states. “But if we can be the first in bringing it to our customers, we’ve achieved our goals.”

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.