Doors In Motion Gets Moving

Automation adds "coolness factor" to sliding doors
Christina Lewellen
June 1, 2010
FEATURE ARTICLE | Close-Ups

Windows and doors certainly serve a functional role in a home, offering comfort and protection. They also add an element of style to many homes, as colors and finish options have exploded in recent years to keep up with homeowners’ varied tastes.

But in an era of flat-screen TVs, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, it’s a bit of a stretch to think of windows and doors as having a “coolness factor.”

Doors In Motion, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company specializing in the automation of multi-slide and telescopic windows and doors, aims to change that. In business for nearly 10 years, Doors In Motion has developed an opening system that can automate virtually all types of sliding doors and windows, it states.

While Doors In Motion still targets those who may need assistance opening doors, it also markets the 28-year old that "likes having a remote control in his pocket that can open up the whole back side of his house."

The company's product was originally designed to assist homeowners that may have struggled with opening heavy, multi-paneled sliding doors, but Sam Ater, VP of sales, says it’s the “coolness factor” of automated doors that has given the Doors In Motion a foothold in the upper-end market.

“In most cases in high-end homes, that multi-slide door is the focal point of that house,” he explains. “It’s the first thing you see when you walk into that home—this giant door going out to the patio, overlooking the ocean or some incredible view. Then you add to that the automation that opens the door in six inches per second—that’s cool.”

In fact, as hardware options for heavy, multi-paneled doors have evolved over the last decade to deliver better performance, automating for operational purposes has continually dwindled. “We still market to the Americans with Disabilities Act segment, but we also market to the 28 year old because he likes having a remote control in his pocket that can open up the whole back side of his house,” Ater says.

For the first phase of the company’s development, Doors In Motion’s products were best suited to warm weather climates, particularly those with coastal or scenic views, and the luxury segment of the residential market. However, the price for its automating units has steadily declined.  The company has introduced wireless products to make retrofits a bigger portion of its business, and a smaller-motored units are now offered to automate smaller sliding doors. All of this means that the “coolness factor” is poised to go mainstream, Ater suggests.

“We can work with any door manufacturer,” he says. “I don’t want to compare the product to a garage door opener because it’s more specialized than that, but that’s kind of what we want to be. We want to be a system in a box and you can put it on whatever door you select.”

“We’ve had Doors In Motion automated doors in every home we’ve built now for the last five or six years,” says Rod Cullum, president of Cullum Homes, Paradise Valley, Ariz. “In most of the homes, we do more than one opening so the owners can push a button and open all of the doors at the same time. It’s about the cool factor.”

Sam Ater co-founded the business in 2001.

Humble Begininnings
Ater and a friend no longer involved in the business founded the company that later became known as Doors In Motion in 2001 in order to solve a single problem. “My friend was working as a superintendent for a builder,” Ater explains. “He was building a house for a lady who had these huge multi-slide doors put in and she couldn’t move them. She said to him, ‘You either pull them out or find a way for me to move them.’”

Even though Ater came from a different industry, he instantly saw a market for this type of product and embarked on a journey that would result in several iterations of the Doors In Motion product, each version improving its functionality and performance.

With the aid of a private equity firm that bought a majority stake in the company in 2008, Doors In Motion has expanded its product line with more “mainstream” products designed for one- and two-panel doors, developed a dealer distribution model and introduced a wireless product ideal for the retrofit market. “The system has changed quite a bit over the last nine years,” he says. “But we’re a stable product now and 2010 is all about moving to a wireless solution.”

Doors In Motion's standard Series 500 system is for multi-panel openings. It recently launched smaller units for one- or two-panel doors as well.

Doors In Motion does not sell sliding doors or windows; it integrates its automation system with manufacturers’ doors and windows in practically any size they offer, Ater says. The automatic door opener is mounted on the side of the door where the panels stack when open. The system operates smoothly and quietly, and offers three safety features (motion sensor, clutch and pressure sensitivity) to ensure that unintentional obstructions halt the automation. Doors with the Doors In Motion system can still be operated manually if the system is unlocked with the wall switch or remote, he notes.

Doors In Motion offers its Series 500 for doors with three or more panels, as well as “automation lite” in its 200 Series, built with a smaller motor for simpler, one- or two-panel doors. Its Series One product, also designed for one- or two-panel configurations, is a wireless product that houses all of the automation components in a single casing. 

“People would call us at the last minute and say they wanted automation for their doors and windows,” Ater says. “But it’s tough to run wires through a house that’s already been drywalled. Since wireless technology is getting better and better, and it takes about a third of the time to install it, that’s what’s driven us to a wireless solution.”

The company is also planning to launch automation products designed for bi-fold and lift-and-slide doors in 2011, Ater says.

Ater points out that his company's product can automate practically any door without making modifications to the product itself. "There's no modification to the panel, to the track," he says. "The dealer doesn't have to alter the door at all. They can sell a manual door, or we can add our product to it and it's an automatic door."

“We’ve worked with Doors In Motion on a lot of new leading-edge changes they’ve made, all of which were great,” Cullum says. “The product they have right now is by far the best it’s ever been in terms of ease-of-use and reliability.”

Crescent Glass Inc., a Palm Desert, Calif., dealer, specializes in high-end custom homes and president James Linnell says his company has offered its customers Doors In Motion automation for about eight years. “I’ve looked at other motor systems out there and this is the most complete system, not only in terms of functionality but also the safety features,” he notes.

Though Doors In Motion has partnered with several door manufacturers, the company has also established a dealer distribution model, and is looking to add more channel partners to its network.

Doors In Motion works directly with manufacturers to automate certain offerings in their existing product lines, in some cases fabricating panels into a multi-slide or bi-fold door. “Most manufacturers of wood/clad products do not offer a multi-slide door or bi-fold so we help them get into that space,” Ater says.

Though Doors In Motion will sell to builders, homeowners or other buyers for a MSRP price, the company is focusing on growing its dealer distribution model. “We really want to push people back to the dealer because they’re certified to install the product,” he says. “We want to control the installation because there are so many variables to installing doors.”

Currently, the company has dealers in about 30 states, and Ater and his team are working on expanding the company’s footprint. With a comprehensive training and installation certification program, coupled with a product that’s been continually improved, a dealer looking to add automation to its offerings shouldn’t be challenged to get involved with the Doors In Motion, says Linnell. “Over the years, Doors In Motion has simplified the process to where anyone should be able to do it,” he notes.

“My field manager is a jack-of-all-trades,” Linnell continues. “We had done motorized gate operators and window coverings before [we offered] Doors In Motion, so for us it’s very easy. If you have some electrical ability on your staff, it’s really not that hard to figure out.”

Ater and his team has also found that training independent installers to handle the Doors In Motion product line is helpful to his distributor clients that don't have installation teams in-house. "If a distributor doesn't have installers, we set them up as a dealer of the Doors In Motion product but certify independent installers in that area to handle those projects. It's a model that's worked well for us this year."

Manufacturers can also align themselves with Doors In Motion to offer their dealer networks traditional manual or products enhanced with automation. As a manufacturer, Western Window Systems, based in Phoenix, still sells a majority of manually-operated doors. But being partnered with Doors In Motion has brought the company a source of differentiation, some additional business, and a way to turn customers’ heads. “It’s been a great marketing tool for us,” says Scott Leech, vice president of sales. “When we’re at trade shows and those big automated doors start opening by themselves, it grabs customers’ attention. Even if they don’t end up buying a lot of automated doors, it may help us establish a new relationship.”

 

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