Putting Together a Complete Package

John G. Swanson
May 1, 2007
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Management

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say, “We offer the complete package…,” talking about their companies’ products and services. No matter what they’re offering, whether they were a manufacturer, distributor or dealer, that could have been true, and could still be true, depending on the market or customers they serve.

Still for many window and door companies, that package is expanding—and not in small ways. We’ve seen wood window people add vinyl windows. We’ve seen distributors add installation. More recently, we’ve seen window people adding entry doors.

A product line encompassing windows, patio doors and entry doors is not a new idea, of course. Many distributors and dealers serving the new construction market have carried all those products and more for years. Many home improvement specialists have carried this product range too. Even some manufacturers—I can name Peachtree, for one—have taken this route.

The fact that this “complete line” is becoming more common is apparent in the recent addition of entry doors to Milgard’s line also, but that trend goes back several years. Pella added Pease Industries in 1999.

Christina Lewellen’s article on page 48 examines this trend more in-depth, and focuses particularly on the benefits traditional window dealers are enjoying when adding entry doors to their lines. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but the ability to add a fairly “big ticket” item to a replacement window sale is a pretty big incentive. The same is true for dealers serving builders.

Coming from the other side, consumers want a matching, or at least a coordinated look, and most likely, would prefer not to shop around a second time if they’ve found a company  they like that can do the job. In the new construction market, many builders are looking to consolidate their supply sources to streamline processes and save money through higher volume purchasing. That translates into demand for a more complete package—preferably delivered to the job site, and, increasingly, installed.

Initially, I suspect window manufacturers adding entry doors saw it as an opportunity to diversify and expand. Now, I suspect many are feeling pressured to enter the game. As consolidation continues, I suspect we’ll see more window manufacturers taking on doors, or perhaps acquiring door makers. Of course, some door makers may see the need to turn that equation around too.

So does that complete the package? I won’t say it’s a trend yet, but I will suggest another possibility. How about garage doors? In my 20 plus years covering the “window and door business,” I’ve always seen garage doors as their own animal. They have their own set of manufacturers, their own distribution channels and specialty dealers, and even their own associations.

If there was ever a solid line between the garage door and window and door industries, however, it’s becoming blurry. Jeld-Wen, one of the largest window and door manufacturers in North America, of course, also offers garage doors. Taylor Building Products is another long-time crossover, making both garage and entry doors. Both these manufacturers are promoting the concept of matching the garage and front door—and I’m sure it makes a lot of sense to a lot of buyers.

It turns out, although I can’t say I’m surprised, there are window and door dealers out there that have handled garage doors for some time too. I heard from several in response to something I wrote for a recent issue of WDweekly, our electronic newsletter. One dealer, in fact, told me his company’s been at it for its entire 83-year history.

“Our claim to fame is that we can fill all exterior openings on a house, and because we are focused this way, we know how to do that right,” says Dan Dopson of HPG Windows & Doors in Hagerstown, MD. “We have found that after our customers visit the boxes and the lumber yards, they really appreciate our ability to focus and tie these products together for them.”

Jim Lett of A.B.E. Doors & Windows in Bethlehem, PA, says his company has been successful in selling windows, doors and garage doors for more than 30 years. He sees others out there too, but notes, “there seems to be a more natural progression coming from the residential garage door side of the business entering the ‘door and window’ business than there are ‘door and window’ dealers entering the garage door business.

Others are testing the waters. I also heard from a window and door manufacturer and distributor serving the builder market. The company added garage door distribution and installation about four years ago, and more recently manufactured its first custom garage door. With a few more orders in already, it’s seen as a new opportunity.

I don’t know if this qualifies as a trend, and I’m certainly not saying garage doors are for everybody in the window and door business. I wouldn’t even say entry doors are for everybody in the window business. “The complete package” is always evolving from the customer’s perspective, however, and smart owners and executives will stay open to possibilities. No matter what segment of the business you’re in, it’s better to decide to be a specialist than become one by default.