Brand New after 85 Years

October 8, 2013
SPECIAL FEATURES | Close-Ups
    
Overall Excellence

LEADERSHIP IN THE
HOMEOWNER MARKET

 

Window Pro

Wixom, Mich.

Despite having been in business for more than eight decades, Window Pro operates a bit like a start-up, constantly on the lookout for growth opportunities, ways to build its reputation among key audiences and talented leadership to control the reins. Jake Zahnow, president of Window Pro and the fifth generation of the company’s family leadership, doesn’t rest on the laurels of past success as his strategy for the future. Instead, he and the Window Pro team have sought out new categories of customers, contemporary ways to run the business and even found significant expansion opportunities in the region of the country that was arguably the hardest hit by the economic downturn—the footprint surrounding its home base of Cleveland, Ohio.

  
 Economic challenges in the area it serves did not stop Window Pro from looking for opportunities to grow.

“Many companies fail to reinvent themselves, or reenergize their staff with new talent,” says Zahnow. “Recruiting, hiring, training and motivating new team members in all areas is a very large focus of Window Pro’s and we believe it is this core value that will enable us to be flexible, take advantage of new industry trends, and ultimately be successful for the next 85 years.”

While the company still primarily serves homeowners with a solid focus on the installed replacement market, Window Pro’s leadership has expanded its strategy to include professional customers as well, leveraging its existing operational structure and customer service approach to strengthen its trade business. It has also found a foothold in Detroit—a city that made headlines and history for declaring bankruptcy—by focusing on the opportunity rather than making assumptions about the potential of the marketplace. “Window Pro is celebrating its 85th year in business in 2013,” Zahnow says. “We have been in business this long because over the generations we have been able to quickly react to changes in the marketplace.”

“I have advised Window Pro for three generations,” says Ron DeGrandis of McGladrey LLP, who has served as the company’s outside accountant for more than 35 years. “Window Pro stands out from other companies and possibly other clients of mine because they are not afraid to make big long-term changes if they believe it is in the best interest of the company. Sometimes against my advice, they have sacrificed short-term gain for long-term prosperity and I think that is reflected in the fact that they are celebrating their 85th anniversary this year.”

Always Evolving

Window Pro’s roots stretch back to its early days as a roofing company and retail lumberyard. Even before that, Zahnow’s family was in the logging business in Michigan at the turn of the century. Through the years, Zahnow worked at the company off and on while his father was at the helm, and eventually stepped into a leadership role to uncover the next phase of development for the company, which had evolved through the years from a lumberyard to a wholesaler to a specialty window and door dealer.

Window & Door recognized Window Pro as a 2009 Dealers of the Year winner in the category of Innovative Thinking. After having represented a single window line for more than 35 years, Zahnow and his team were recognized for successfully leading the company through a comprehensive vendor transition. Formerly a Renewal by Andersen rep, the company moved to the Marvin family of companies, representing Infinity by Marvin and Marvin wood products, and took the opportunity at the time to engage in a full-blown rebranding effort.

  
 Jake Zahnow, president of Window Pro, is dedicated to finding growth opportunities for the fifth-generation company.

Since that time, Window Pro’s leadership has continued to look for ways to not only weather the storm of the economic downturn—like any other company in the building products sector—but also expand its service levels to increasingly discerning homeowners. “When the market started to contract in the late 2000s, we redoubled our focus on the replacement market and changed long-term suppliers, in an effort to focus on increasing the value of the products and services we offer rather than only trying to eliminate cost,” Zahnow says.

Although the dealer transitioned to Marvin, it continues to provide service to its former Andersen, Eagle and Renewal by Andersen customers. With more than 20,000 customers under its belt in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio, and now Detroit, Mich., Zahnow explains that Window Pro sticks to its long-time mantra to take care of its customers and employees, and that the rest will fall into place. “You do not stay in business for 85 years without extremely dedicated employees who consistently provide positive customer experiences,” he notes.

Window Pro prides itself on its installation process and Zahnow knows that the customer service buck stops at the in-home experience. “What we’re selling on the replacement side is the window installation,” he explains. “And for us, it gives us a chance to go back to that customer to talk about cleaning, additional hardware and screens. If we’re going to be around for another 85 years and we have good data, we can approach them again in the future.” Given that the company had already been in business for so long, Window Pro’s customer service focus was not easily rattled by the downturn, Zahnow says, regardless of how long it lasted. “We knew that over the long term, adding more value was a much better strategy than reducing our level of service,” he says.

Team Mentality

A big part of Window Pro’s customer service success comes at the hands of having the right team on board. “Despite Window Pro’s longevity, we are a very young company,” Zahnow says. “Most of the leadership team is in their 30s and the average employee age is well under 40. But we still have employees who have been with us for a very long time. Our controller recently celebrated a 40th anniversary with Window Pro.”

The diverse blend of new and experienced employees results in a rich customer service experience for Window Pro’s homeowners, Zahnow explains. “This level of continuity helps our young team think long term,” he says. “We have a nice blend of experience with youthful enthusiasm. It’s a pretty exciting time.”

The blend also gives the Window Pro team the courage to think outside the box and step away from the way things have always been run at the company. “If we’ve tried something for the last month or two and it’s not working, we’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s go in a different direction,’” Zahnow says. “We’re embracing change and newness and we’re excited about trying new things.”

The proof of its employee-centric customer service is on display for all to see. As part of its rebranding strategy, Window Pro launched an informational blog and a full arsenal of social media sites, as well as the “Real-Time Customer Satisfaction” section of its website. Having partnered with Guild Quality to collect and display customers’ feedback and star ratings, Window Pro puts its report card in the public arena so potential customers can come to the transaction with a higher degree of comfort.

“We consistently earn the Angie’s List Super Service Award as well as the Guild Master Award from Guild Quality because of our commitment to quality and customer service,” Zahnow says.

The success with customers and satisfaction ratings has sparked even more trust among Window Pro’s leadership, which in turn enables the company to stay nimble and retain its entrepreneurial feel. “We’re able to pivot quickly, not only in strategy but also in execution,” Zahnow says.

Future Expansion

  
 Customer service allows the company to maintain its strong referral network.

An example of just such a strategic pivot was Window Pro’s foray into the Detroit market. Having served the Cleveland market for 85 years, the dealer looked to adjacent markets for growth possibilities. “In our industry, it doesn’t make sense financially or geographically to grow unless you grow contiguously,” he notes. “All the cities within a 500-mile radius of Cleveland have a similar demographic and similar opportunities and challenges.”

Still, expanding into Detroit could give pause to even the most risk-tolerant companies. The crippled auto manufacturing market in that region of the Midwest caused significant ripple effects to the extent that the city of Detroit eventually filed for bankruptcy. “I would argue that the Midwest economy suffered more than any other region of the country,” Zahnow reflects.

Zahnow and his team, however, understand that the struggling region still has plenty of opportunity. In the darkest hours of the recession, Window Pro acquired a window company based in Detroit. Though it was a risky move at the time, the Detroit location has experienced shocking growth since Window Pro’s team took the reins. “When you look at Detroit and take away the bankruptcies and the horrendous shape the city is in, you still have one of the top 10 largest markets in the U.S.,” Zahnow says. “Oakland County, Michigan, is still one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. While home values are erratic, in the demographic we serve—which is the upper end with Marvin—it’s a massive market.”

For the client base Window Pro targets, homes valued at more than $200,000 with owners who plan to stay put for more than five years, the Detroit market is “bigger than Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo combined,” Zahnow says. “Why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of that? Since taking over with the Infinity by Marvin line in 2009, we now have an operation with 20 people there and we’re producing massive amounts of revenue with a focus on trade and installed sales. It’s been a great deal for us.”

Window Pro took a similar approach to expanding in the professional market as well. While serving homeowners and installing its products remains its primary focus, Zahnow sees value in leveraging its product expertise and operational efficiency to serve the contractors and builders in the region. “The biggest issue on the trade side that everyone talks about is poor installation,” he notes. “We’re not installing everything we sell on the trade side but we’re actively using that competency to convert builders to Marvin. We’re trying to leverage our core competencies to take advantage of that market. We think the timing is good because of the recovery in the building market.”

Expanding its trade market required some adjustments to Window Pro’s inventory approach and accounts receivable, and Zahnow notes that selling to professionals requires a different type of salesperson. Still, he adds, “We can leverage overhead and be brand experts. I think a lot of people may look at the [trade] model and say that it’s not interesting—they want to be one side or the other. But for us, our roots started in distribution and we’ve morphed into retail. We’ve never lost time with our roots.”

Constant Transition

Zahnow and the Window Pro team find that remaining in a state of constant transition and evolution is the key to staying relevant to its customers. “We did a major transition to a new supplier, but we’ve made it and we have a much broader focus, a wider geography and a lot more opportunity,” he says. “We changed the whole look and feel of the business.”

While Zahnow aims to keep the business fresh, he doesn’t plan to abandon the slow-and-steady mentality that has kept it successful for decades. “I’m not thinking much about any additional geographical expansion,” he explains, “because I see a lot of opportunity in our existing segments to grow. I think it’s about getting better at what we do every day rather than adding product lines or geographies.”

The goal, he says, is to maintain the company’s high level of customer service, drive profitability and promote the Marvin brand in the markets Window Pro serves. “In more than 85 years of business, there have been a lot of ebbs and flows in the business, but we’re pretty excited about what’s going on right now,” Zahnow says. “We feel like we have not only survived one of the most challenging times in our industry, but we’ve come out stronger.”