American Windows & Door Makes a Lasting Impression

Family business makes all decisions with the customer in mind
Christina Lewellen
October 20, 2010
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups

Going the Extra Mile

Excellence in Customer Service

American Windows & Doors

Woodland, Wash.

  
  The entire Driver family has dedicated itself to taking customer service to a new level and leaving a lasting impression with American Windows & Doors' customers.

The leadership at American Windows & Doors figures that the key to establishing a lasting business is to make a lasting impression.
Bill Driver, president, and his team—comprised mostly of immediate family members—make all of their business decisions and policies with customers in mind. Homeowners in the region surrounding Portland, Ore., have certainly taken notice.
“We have had companies promise to do quality work, give us good referrals [to check] and then deliver inferior craftsmanship,” says Duane Leaf, a homeowner who recently completed an extensive window and door replacement project with the dealer. “This can leave a homeowner slightly leery of the next contractor. American Windows & Doors was none of that. They are the example that other companies should aspire to become.”
American Windows & Doors focuses on the details, making sure to guide homeowners down the project’s path with full attention to their needs and no pressure when it comes to making a decision. Driver offers options by carrying multiple manufacturers’ lines and slows the process down enough to make sure homeowners know what to expect—especially with regard to what it means to get a quality installation and how new lead paint requirements will impact their job.
The result is that the small company, which has increasingly moved away from its roots serving contractors and other building professionals, has created word-of-mouth buzz focusing on its customer service among local homeowners. “Even though last year was a bad year, we’re about 70 percent ahead of where we were [in sales],” says Driver. “I think that’s mainly because we just do a really good job for people and word is getting out.”
Going the extra mile only resonates if it’s done on a consistent basis, Driver also asserts, so he and his team make customer service an integral part of how they do business. “’With Integrity and Honor’ is our slogan,” he says. “We really do it to the law, follow it to the letter.”
NOT A SALE
Driver started the company in 2000 with a partner who left the business a short while later. This left Driver in charge of shaping the business model and the personality of American Windows & Doors, and he pulled on some of his past experiences in the industry as his business matured.
Driver had spent most of his career working in sales for a window and door dealer and, on the other side of the transaction, as a sales rep for a local manufacturer. “The manufacturer I worked for sold only to dealers,” he explains. “My job was to go in and make them sell our windows and nobody else’s. But I had a hard time with that because I could see that our product line didn’t cover all their needs.”
This experience shaped Driver’s approach to starting his own dealer operation. “When I first opened the doors here, it was with the consumer in mind—not partnering with one manufacturer,” he says. “There are so many different products out there, and you can’t find it all with one company. Since I had good connections, I opened up accounts with all the local manufacturers and some national manufacturers.”
The dealer carries about 20 different product lines today, and Driver prides himself on offering local customers options when he’s being considered for a job. “When I go in to meet with a homeowner, I can ask what their needs are and know I can fill it with some product,” he says. “They don’t have to settle because I don’t offer a particular product.”
Driver's philosophy is to play the role of consultant with homeowners, offering many options and exploring what product would best serve customers' needs.
This philosophy of representing multiple lines requires more education and guidance to homeowners on Driver’s part—he still handles most of the company’s sales—but it really shapes the feel that potential buyers get from the American Windows & Doors experience. “There’s really no pressure from us at all,” he explains. “I don’t take a bunch of samples out to a house. I just meet the homeowners to see what needs they have and at the end of the process, I’ll send them a quote in the mail.”
Driver’s consultative process doesn’t tend to overwhelm buyers because he feels comfortable enough with the nuances of his product lines to make specific recommendations based on what wish list his clients are communicating. “They always ask, ‘How do you rank them?’ and I tell them I rank them based on quality and I’ll share with them the top five or so products based on what they’re looking for,” he says. “I give them a quote for several different products and I let them choose. We have really happy customers because I never make them feel pressured.”
Driver also encourages homeowners to take the time to consider what type of goal they have for each window and door opening. He stresses that one hole might be best filled by one manufacturer’s window, while another hole is best served by another product line.
Homeowner Leaf says these options upped her and her husband’s comfort level considerably when selecting a dealer for their project. “It made me feel like he was concerned about the final impact and how it would improve our home and our lifestyle,” she explains. “In some cases we saved several hundreds of dollars for the final impact and in others we chose to pay slightly more for the better open view and function. As a result, I do not have any ‘should have’ regrets about the whole project.”
INSTALLING RIGHT
At American Windows & Doors, installation also goes a long way in making a lasting impression. Most customers get a sense of the company’s philosophy toward installation long before they meet with any of the personnel who work there.
The dealer’s Web site, www.ezquotewindows.com, prominently touts the American Architectural Manufacturers Association-developed InstallationMasters process, and highlights the dealer’s dedication to following those industry-best standards. Even though AAMA-developed standards takes consumers into the land of “industry speak,” Driver feels it’s important to educate homeowners about what they can expect from his company. “This is how we install windows, every time,” he says. “I explain that there’s an association of all the window manufacturers and this is how they recommend products be installed.”
Building on the recommendations outlined in the InstallationMasters program, American Windows & Doors brings its own attention to detail and workmanship. Driver and his team feel so confident in the performance of their installations that the company has developed a warranty to give buyers peace of mind. “We go above and beyond industry standards, which is why we offer a 10-year installation warranty,” he explains.
The installation team at American Windows & Doors is encouraged to go the extra mile for homeowners, looking for ways to leave them completely satisfied with the experience.
The installation itself is only half of the customer service picture, Driver asserts. Just as much attention should be paid to making sure the consumers are comfortable with the process and have clear expectations about what total replacements entail. One of Driver’s sons, Brandon Driver, heads up the installation crew, making sure the company’s customer service philosophy carries all the way through the construction phase of the project. “He has a real eye for detail and he’s very personable,” Driver says of his son. “Brandon does a good job of making the customers feel comfortable and we tell our guys on every project to try to find something to do for the homeowners that they don’t expect. Even if you see an opportunity to take the garbage out for them, do it to build the trust and help them feel comfortable.”
“American Windows & Doors brought the same level of customer service to the actual installation aspect of the project,” Leaf recalls of her replacement. “They told us how long it would take, and they stayed on schedule. The quality of the work was excellent. The skill set at placing the windows and the front door was exceptional work. And although this might seem minor, they cleaned up the site so thoroughly each day we would not have known if they were there.”
The newly-imposed and still-changing requirements for the EPA’s lead paint abatement rule has presented American Windows & Doors with yet another opportunity to stand apart from the competitive crowd, Driver says. By being upfront with consumers and helping them understand that doing an installation according to these rules—the only way the company will complete an installation—may require an additional investment. “As soon as we found out about the lead certification, we were right on top of it,” he says. “I put it right in my quote that we’ll have to do some lead paint testing, and this may cost more money. When people decide to go with us, I’ve already been upfront about testing the house. When I come to do the final critical measure, I test it and they were expecting it.”
This process of educating consumers seems to be catching on among the local competition as well, Driver notes. “We’re trying to educate people on the right way to install windows,” he says. “I think it’s finally catching on because now the competition is starting to quote this type of installation.”
FAMILY FIRST
American Windows & Doors has been in business more than 10 years and Driver is convinced that exceptional, consistent customer service will be the key to its long-term success. This matters to Driver, because he aims to build a family business worth passing on to his kids.
“I’d like to build this company, and keep growing down this path,” he says. “I think customer service is recession proof and I’d like to be able to hand over this company to my kids.”
Driver and his wife, Vikki, have seven children, most of whom are adults. Vikki Driver manages the administrative aspects of the business, while other children—in addition to Brandon running the installation crew—contribute to the day-to-day operations of the company. Even their youngest children, at 11 years old and 14 years old, are committed to making American Windows & Doors stand apart from the competition. “Everything we do is with our family,” Bill Driver explains. “Our kids go everywhere with us and do everything with us. They’re a big part of who we are, and what this business is about.”
The Drivers are active in their church and community organizations and Driver believes it’s important to have customers see how committed they are to being accessible and involved. “More than anything else, we’re just honest people,” he says. “That’s all it is. We’re just trying to do business honestly and give people more than what they’d normally get for their money.”

Click here to see our other 2010 Dealers of the Year.

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