Working Harder and Smarter

Canada’s Durabuilt Windows & Doors marks 25th anniversary while positioning itself for the future
March 13, 2013
FEATURE ARTICLE | Close-Ups

Durabuilt Windows & Doors is celebrating. This year marks the Edmonton, Alberta-based manufacturer’s 25th anniversary; the launch of a new logo and brand image; and a place on Canada’s Best Managed Companies list.

The reasons for that honor are many, but Joe Sunner, president, says Durabuilt’s success is rooted in “hard work, around-the-clock dedication and persistence.” After immigrating to Canada from England, he and his son Harry joined the 12-person shop in the early '90s, when the company was manually producing vinyl windows for the local market. “We would work day and night, six days a week, fulfilling sales orders," he recalls, "and Sundays all day completing service work.”

 
 Durabuilt’s team celebrated the company's 25th anniversary and rebrand efforts  with a commemorative window creation.

That ethos has enabled Durabuilt to grow and thrive since the Sunner family acquired the company in 1995. “A can-do attitude--or we’ll try harder mandate--has been a part of our culture that we live and breathe, and engrain into all of our employees,” says Harry Sunner, vice president. Today, the manufacturer operates a 180,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant, as well as several sales operations in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with 400 employees serving much of Western Canada.

“Honestly, the truth of the matter from my perspective is that one of the main factors that has defined Durabuilt and our will to survive is that we have not been given any real breaks,” Harry Sunner adds. “And in saying this, I mean that the competition has always been fierce from day one, so we’ve learned to never take any order or customer for granted.”

Hard work is certainly part of the equation for Durabilt's success, but double-digit annual growth rates for the past 17 years also make clear the manufacturer has taken steps to work smart. President Joe Sunner points to many reasons for the company’s long-term success, including a healthy balance of growth and spending. As a private, family-run business, the ability to make timely, corrective decisions has also proven to be a competitive advantage. The Sunners give much of the credit to the company’s employees as well.

  
Durabuilt’s executive management from left to right: Harry Sunner, VP; Joe Sunner, president; Amar Randhawa, GM; and Sunny Kalkat, operations manager. 

“We’ve surrounded ourselves with industry experts and maintained a strong mix of original 'Durabuilt’ers' and new team members,” says Joe Sunner, who actively oversees the financial aspects of the company today. Two key members of the senior executive team and ownership group he points to are Amar Randhawa, general manager, who oversees the operational aspects of the business, including HR, IT, R&D and the plant; and Sunny Kalkat, the operations manager who oversees all day-to-day aspects of the production, delivery and procurement functions. Both have been with the company since the Sunner family became owners.

IMS Certification
Randhawa played an important role in one of Durabuilt’s more recent initiatives, achieving Integrated Management Systems Certification, a program using internationally recognized standards to measure the quality, relevance and effectiveness of an organization’s management systems. Durabuilt was accredited when three critical management systems--ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environmental), and OHSAS 18001 (occupational health and safety)—were voluntarily implemented and audited.

“Initially, we were just doing research to further improve our lean practices," Randhawa explains. However, Durabuilt has already been able to reduce space and waste, and improve efficiencies that have saved the company from further expanding its manufacturing facility. “The process to achieve this certification was essentially three years in the making and involved some growing pains,” he says.

“Basically, IMS reviews the entire ‘integrated management systems’ of an organization and how we do everything from answering our phones, to monitoring production, to handling customer service issues and sequence orders,” he states. It included a full review of all processes by department, development of detailed standard operating procedures by division, and setting key objectives and plans that were then translated into visible reporting and measurements that could be consistently displayed and reviewed by department. It also meant bringing in a third-party auditing company to review all of these processes, in addition to setting improvement goals and targets annually.

“IMS Certification allowed us to test and challenge our systems to ensure we had the back-end processes in place to support our customers and future growth,” Randhawa continues. “This was a goal that our team set to measure our effectiveness, lean practices and metrics against the best in the world. [It is a] very proud achievement for everyone involved.”

 
 Employees play an integral role in the IMS program and Durabuilt's success, with the manufacturer recognizing "6S Champions" on a monthly basis.

The IMS process reflects Durabuilt’s longer history of continuous investment in infrastructure, Kalkat notes. “Our facility features more than $13 million worth of cutting-edge technologies from around the world,” he states. “We continuously invest when the market is hot, and even when it slows down, taking advantage of our resources to focus on continuous improvement projects in slower times.”

Developing and Motivating Employees
Durabuilt is also very much invested in its employees. “The window industry requires years of experience and industry-specific skill sets,” Joe Sunner says. “It is often difficult to recruit/hire personnel with the necessary skills. It is for this reason that Durabuilt has developed a policy of building leaders from within the company when possible.”

“We truly empower our employees to make changes and look at new opportunities,” Kalkat says. “Due to the open-door policy of management at any level of the organization, you are able to see the VP or president, and they’ll greet you in the halls as they know you by name and welcome the sharing of innovative ideas. We motivate employees through ongoing training, variety of work and mentorship, as well through service award benefits at all levels of the organization. We also have formal training programs, as we recognize the value in making an upfront investment in the successful integration and training of our new employees.”

Durabuilt welcomes new employees from around the world and embraces diversification. “We celebrate holidays and festivals around these various cultures throughout the year,” Kalkat notes. “Durabuilt has been really focused on creating a culture that offers all staff a fun and rewarding place to work,” he continues, “and our new ‘all about you’ brand promise applies as much to our staff as it does to our external stakeholders.”

New Brand
Looking ahead to this year’s 25th anniversary, Durabuilt executives were not content to rest on its laurels. In preparation, the company conducted a year-long review, performing extensive market analysis, listening to employee and distribution partners, and connecting with end users ”to identify what truly makes Durabuilt unique,” Harry Sunner says.

One of those differentiators is the fact that Durabuilt has positioned itself as an innovator in the window and door industry that “continues to push the envelope forecasting trends and consumer needs,” he says. “We’ve recently launched exclusive products like our 5 Seal Defense System in our hybrid windows, resulting in operating casements that perform at the level of a fixed window: an industry first.”

 
 Durabuilt's open-door policy  encourages employees to share their ideas and feedback directly with executives.

He also points to the manufacturer’s investment in long-term partnerships with its dealer and building industry partners, “to the point where we understand their needs and business better than anyone.”

Another key, Sunner states, has been positioning Durabuilt sales associates as ‘subject matter experts.’

“Our customers expect a lot,” he adds, noting the cold climate in the markets the manufacturer serves. “But we help them understand that a quality window and door system should be able to offer tangible benefits and improvements. Durabuilt has taken the market position in really educating our consumers on the benefits of our industry leading products and available performance options such as triple-pane and low-E, so that they ultimately can make an informed decision on why they need it.”

Following the review, the company officially launched a new logo and brand image last month, coinciding with the announcement that it was recognized as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies. Every year, hundreds of entrepreneurial companies compete for this designation in the Deloitte LLP program, designed to recognize excellence in Canadian-owned and -managed companies with revenues of more than $10 million.

“Finding out we were receiving the Canada’s Best Managed Companies Award in our 25th anniversary year was a surreal and very proud moment for me,"  Joe Sunner says. "I compare it to the feeling of a proud father, as our team has truly exceeded even our expectations of where we thought the company was headed. We are so honored to have such an amazing group of employees and owe this award to them.”

Durabuilt’s sales team has been busy attending industry trade shows and visiting existing clients, including builders, architects and dealers across the West with launch packages showing its new branding efforts. “The feedback has been overwhelming so far and the support amazing from our key partners,” Harry Sunner reports. “We feel like we are now positioned and more ready than ever for the next 25 years with a fresh, consumer-friendly brand. Looking for increased growth across the West, the company wants to build Durabuilt up to a brand that consumers ask for.”

“All of our growth has been organic,” Joe Sunner concludes. “We have not made any acquisitions or naturally assumed any market share, so we feel we’ve really earned the respect, trust and business of our valued customers.”  Looking ahead, he sees “more of the same” for the company. “Durabuilt will continue to listen to our customers; forecast trends and changes; and invest in our infrastructures, company culture and employees.”

Durabuilt has a clearly defined vision, Harry Sunner adds. "After years of dynamic growth, there were many moments when revenues soared, and as with any business, profitability did not align," he says. "Today, we work smarter and not just harder. With a clearly defined roadmap for the next 25 years, a strong dedicated team, a new consumer-friendly brand--and the infrastructures and back-end processes in place to support it--we feel more confident than ever that Durabuilt is positioned to lead the markets we serve.”