Out of Tragedy, Hullco Exteriors Finds a New Purpose

Tennessee dealer looks for ways to do good for others without worrying about impact on business
Christina Lewellen
October 20, 2010
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups


Giving Back

Excellence in Community Service

Hullco Exteriors

Chattanooga, Tenn.

 
 When a member of the Hullco Exteriors family unexpectedly passed away, the team pulled together to complete a big project in his honor.

Like many family-owned and -operated businesses, Hullco Exterior’s 22 in-house employees and network of sub-contractors are like extended family to each other. The 30-year-old company is run by the second generation of Hullanders and the company has firm roots in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area it serves.
So when tragedy struck the Hullander family, it affected everyone in the extended Hullco family as well. Just months after the family welcomed a new son-in-law into the fold, he was killed in a car accident. The grieving took time, but eventually the company, led by president and owner Matt Hullander, decided they would do something to recognize their loss—finding at the same time a way to give back to the community.
In addition to the new Habitat for Humanity house that was borne from the company’s efforts, the employees found they had developed a new bond from the experience. Now they intend to give back to the community in other ways too, joining together as a group to contribute to those in need.
The community projects the company takes on may vary in size and scope, but the purpose is always the same—look for ways to give back and do good for others without worrying about what impact it will have on the business.
“To me, community involvement is when you’re not trying to sell something right there on the spot,” Hullander says. “It’s about putting in the elbow grease. You need to do it for the right reason and focus on the outcome of that community project, and not look at it as a marketing opportunity.”
Founded in 1977 as a company focused on energy conservation—selling wood-burning stoves, storm windows and even manufacturing storm and replacement windows for several years before partnering with Sunrise Windows for its products—Hullco has strong ties to the community and has a long-standing reputation for giving back. “Because of our roots, we try to be very involved in the community,” says sales manager Brian Brock. “There are times we take on projects that we certainly don’t publicize. Integrity is what you do when nobody else is looking and we try to operate that way.”
Hullco put its community service intentions to the test with an emotional Habitat for Humanity project, and ended up creating a culture that strives to seek out ways to participate and give back. 
THE LOSS
Just three years ago on his June birthday, Matt Hullander’s younger sister, Mandy, married Chris Horne. She and Horne had a fun and adventurous relationship and just a few short months after they were married, over the Thanksgiving holiday, they traveled to Cabo, Mexico, with some friends. While they were there, they were involved in a head-on collision and everyone was killed in the accident except Mandy Hullander Horne.
 
The Hullander family, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, supported the building of a house for a local family in need.  
Before the tragic loss, Horne was an active participant in Habitat for Humanity, traveling to sites in the United States and as far away as Ecuador to construct homes for the program. So when Matt Hullander decided after Horne’s death that he wanted to find a way to recognize Horne’s role in his family’s life, he turned to the local Habitat for Humanity to explore some options. “After some time passed, I decided that I wanted to remember him in some way and at the same time present an opportunity for our company and our employees to give back,” Hullander says. “I approached the Chattanooga Habitat for Humanity and explained the situation.”
With the local Habitat on board, Hullander went about raising the funds and securing the building materials he would need to complete a new home build. He approached other local business owners to ask for their support with building supplies such as tile, carpet, trim and the HVAC system. He also partnered with his window, door and siding suppliers to take care of those aspects of the project.
As owner of the company since he bought it from his dad in 2007, Hullander invested a lot of long hours and energy to lining up the project. But with a strong team supporting him, he was able to dedicate the time he needed to ironing out all the logistics, he says. “We have great employees and managers,” he notes.
With most Habitat houses, the organization hosts open volunteer days so community members can show up to the site and contribute to the building process. With Hullco’s project, there were so many volunteers from the companies, suppliers and family members that all of the volunteer days were covered by those who knew of Horne and the Hullander family. “We had so many people who wanted to help,” Hullander says. “All of these people either knew my sister or Chris or our employees. We even had a group of people from out of town—people who worked at the school where my sister and Chris taught.”
After ground was broken, the team jumped in and completed the entire project quickly. “They framed the home in two days and all of his employees, from office staff to installers, came to help with the build until its completion,” recalls Mike Roncato, vice president of sales for Sunrise Windows, Hullco Exterior’s window supplier.
When the home was completed earlier this year, Habitat and all of the participants held a dedication ceremony, handing the keys to the new house to a single mother and her two children. “It was a really emotional day,” Hullander notes. “That day that we did the dedication and handed her the keys, it made all the planning and headaches worthwhile. It wasn’t easy start to finish, but it was worth it in the end.”
Mandy Hullander Horne, who now lives in Wyoming, flew back to Chattanooga for the dedication and has kept in touch with the woman who received the home, Hullander says. “I think that since she knew so much about why we built the house, and her going through the process of the Habitat system to get the house, it means just as much to her as it does to us,” he says.
"Partnerships between companies like Hullco and Habitat for Humanity affiliates are tremendously important," explains John Lamb, a representative of the local Habitat for Humanity organization. "Building simple, decent and affordable homes in partnership with, not for, low-income families requires a considerable investment to provide the materials that community volunteers need to build homes."
THE GAIN
 
 The Habitat project created a culture of giving and service among the Hullco Exteriors team. The employees plan to get involved in community service initiatives on a regular basis.
Hullander expected that building the house would bring some level of closure to his family as they recognized their loved one, but he didn’t expect the level of bonding it would bring to the Hullco Exteriors employees. “Especially in those first few days after the groundbreaking, that’s when we had the most employees there at the same time, working on the house together,” he recalls. “This gave us an opportunity to work together, and it did bring us all closer together. We had sales people working with installers, and my parents came down to help as well.”
It made the staff realize that projects such as their Habitat for Humanity initiative should be a regular occurrence. “We discovered that we want to do something like this every year,” Hullander says. “We’ve gotten all sorts of ideas from employees—walks for life, races, some people have showed interest in being involved in the Special Olympics. We’re going to do something different every year.”
SERVICE CULTURE
The Hullco Exteriors team learned first-hand that community service is more about a culture of giving and support than it is a public relations or marketing opportunity. The connection this type of service creates between the company and the community is “by far the biggest reason we do it,” Hullander notes. “We’re not a franchise, we’re not a chain. We’re local. This type of involvement allows the community to feel more at ease with us because we’re one of them.”
Hullander says that as new employers come to town, bringing new residents to the Chattanooga area, and since Atlanta’s sprawl continues to reach up toward his company’s service area, it’s important that new potential customers understand what Hullco stands for. “If you look at other successful companies in our industry, they are all involved in the community,” he says. “And why not? The top companies want to stand apart from the competition and they’re in a position to give back to the community that supports them.”
Having a service culture not only brings a strong sense of camaraderie and commitment to employees, but it also will get a company’s name and reputation out into the community, Hullander says. Community service may not result in direct sales, he notes, but it demonstrates to potential customers what the company is truly about. “If you go out there and put in your time and effort, the reward will come back to you,” he says. “You may not be able to say you got a certain lead from a particular Cancer walk, but doing good for other people will always come back to you.”

 

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