Walking Into Entry Doors

Window manufacturers and retailers adding entry doors to round out product offering and increase sales
Christina Lewellen
April 1, 2007
FEATURE ARTICLE | Products, Channels

Entry doors, unfortunately, may have a bad reputation among “window” people. They may be perceived as difficult to order, tricky to install and perhaps too costly a product to roll into a window order. But, traditional window retailers and even manufacturers are taking a second look at entry doors as a potential profit center. Not offering a “whole house” package, some industry representatives say, is leaving potential dollars, well, at the door.

“For years, everyone thought when you needed a door, you went the big box route or to a lumberyard for a door without a paint finish,” explains Phil Wengerd, director of marketing for Precision Entry. “What dealers are discovering is that it’s one of the top products on the list of house improvements for curb appeal. It’s easy to sell and it’s also fairly easy to make a good profit on the product.”

It just makes sense to talk about entry doors when you’ve been invited into a house to talk about replacement windows, says Jeff Kendall, president of Custom Exteriors, a specialty dealer serving Northern California. “We’ve already spent the advertising and marketing money to get the appointment to be there for windows,” he says. “The first thing you walk though is the front door. If you’re doing all the windows and patio doors, why leave the front door sticking out like a sore thumb?”

Custom Exteriors didn’t always offer entry doors. The dealer, like most, started with a focus on replacement windows. Then, about four years ago, the owners started looking at what selling and installing entry doors would entail. It wasn’t necessarily an easy add-on to the business, but it was worth its initial challenges to round out the company’s product offerings. “There’s definitely a learning curve and we had some early mistakes, but it’s not really that tricky when you learn to do it the proper way,” Kendall says.

Even window manufacturers are increasingly adding entry doors to the products they produce and offer to the market, or arranging for distributor agreements with door suppliers to keep their dealer and distributor networks in a one-stop-shop frame of mind. Among the biggest window manufacturers in the country, companies like Pella, Weather Shield, Kolbe & Kolbe and Marvin have either acquired entry door producers or expanded their own capabilities in the last several years. West Coast window manufacturer Milgard launched its first entry door, a fiberglass product, last summer and changed its name to Milgard Windows & Doors to reflect its expansion into the door side of the business. “The addition of entry doors really is a natural progression for us,” says Pete Placido, Milgard’s director of sales and marketing. “It makes sense for our business, as well as our customers because now we will be an even more valuable supplier and partner by providing customers with a single source for windows and doors.”

Despite the initial challenges that come with first eliminating preconceived notions about entry doors and then getting rolling with the product line, veterans of the process say entering the entry door market is a worthwhile venture. “It was magical how we were able to turn this on and what kind of result we’ve gotten from it,” says Joe Davis, new business development and tactical operations leader of Mr. Rogers Windows, a Chesapeake, VA, dealer.
Entry doors are no longer strictly a lumberyard or big box product, manufacturers and retailers are discovering. Traditional window providers, including high-end manufacturer Marvin, are increasingly looking at rounding out their product offering with entry doors, completing a “whole house” package.
Most dealers categorize entry doors as a natural progression in their product offerings, since they do fill another opening in the house. If a salesman is invited into the home to present window options, it provides a free opportunity to pitch a door system sale, says Willis Schlabach, vice president of sales and marketing for Precision Entry. “You can only run so many leads with your salesman so you have to look at how you can add-on value and close the job,” he says. “Doors help do that. The lead costs are fixed so any add-on value takes away from those lead costs.”

Rusco Window Co., a vinyl window manufacturer serving the greater Roanoke, VA, area with direct sales and several other states with a dealer network, is a distributor for Precision Entry’s products, as well as other entry systems. David Malus, the company’s sales manager, says having door products available to go to market with its replacement window products allows Rusco to create a whole house transformation for its customers. “Entry doors go hand in hand with windows,” he notes. “When you’re in a home selling windows, you’re looking at areas of air infiltration. If you do the windows, the next logical area is the doors.”

While most potential customers call Rusco to address window replacement issues, Malus explains, the sales force is trained to feel out entry door needs as well. “Mostly, they call for windows. But we’ve got a very experienced sales force on commission,” Malus says. “They know if they’re in the home, it’s the perfect opportunity to bring up the doors.”
Sales people invited into a home to pitch replacement window products have the perfect opportunity to broach the subject of entry doors. Even if homeowners opt to tackle windows first, they may make the entry door “phase two” of a project.

Some entry door systems can cost as much as or more than the entire window package for a house, industry representatives point out. But that doesn’t mean that top of the line products are exclusive to the high-end market, Davis of Mr. Rogers Windows says. Sales personnel need to be trained to communicate the value of an entry door system, he notes. “A lot of companies don’t want to take on [entry doors] because they’re perceived as only for high-end customers,” he explains. “But what you’ve got to realize is that everybody deserves one of these doors. You’ve just got to sell the value of the product.”
Davis points out that homeowners may buy window products for performance or maintenance characteristics and while these are important in entry doors too, the bottom line is that buyers make the investment for curb appeal. “With an entry door, they buy sex appeal,” he says. “They buy a door that just makes them salivate.”

Some customers may hesitate to tack-on an entry door to their immediate window order, citing the additional expense, but will often come back to the company when the time is right to invest in a new entry door system, says Davis. “We even sometimes recommend that customers buy in phases,” he explains. “They can make the door part of their purchase package but not necessarily simultaneous with their windows. Maybe they’ll make a small deposit for the door to help with their budgetary concern.”

Custom Exteriors confirms this approach, saying that most customers become increasingly displeased with their entry system once new windows have spruced up their homes. “In some people’s minds, phase one is windows and maybe phase two is doors,” Kendall says. “The new windows look so bright and crisp and clean. And most doors are solid doors. Letting light into the entryway is such an easy fix for people.”

Adding entry doors to its product offerings wasn’t necessarily an easy venture for Custom Exteriors, a replacement window dealer, but owners Kevin Guntry and Jeff Kendall say early challenges in the areas of installation and inventory were worth the eventual payoff.DOORS, A DIFFERENT BEAST
No one is denying that entry doors come with their own set of challenges. Just as a manufacturer can’t start producing door systems with existing window equipment, dealers and distributors can’t just throw an entry door catalog into the sales pitch with the rest of the window information. “The thing about getting into the door business after you’ve been in the window business is that you have to go to business a little differently,” explains Tom Sinning, director of dealer sales for Marvin Windows & Doors. “That customer who wants a $15,000 or $20,000 custom entry door—which really says to anybody who walks up to the house, ‘This is who we are and this is our lifestyle’—they really demand a high touch. It’s been a real training and cultural change for some dealers to add doors.”

While most Marvin dealers provide wood doors to the high-end market, servicing luxury builders and remodelers, Sinning points out that even middle market buyers have come to expect certain features and performance from building products. “The middle market demands things like granite countertops or stainless steel appliances throughout the house,” he says. “They want certain amenities in their homes and the entry door is one of those things.”

Davis says Mr. Rogers Windows really started pushing entry doors in marketing and sales campaigns in the last five to seven years. What was initially offered as sort of a convenience item for customers, entry doors have now become an engine for the company’s annual sales figures. “We’ve gotten to the point that customers will call about entry systems because we put them in all of our show venues and advertising,” he says. “That has been an evolution. It used to be that we were the ones driving the sales of doors. Now the customers are doing the requesting.”
That evolution, he notes, has come at the hands of a solid marketing campaign and a trained sales force. Doors are still far more expensive than windows, and dealers need a sales force that believes in the add-on value, he says. “The biggest obstacle is developing a professional sales team that can sell the product,” Davis says. “It’s a top-line product and the sales and marketing team has to relay to the consumer just how special the door is compared to anything they can buy in a big box store.”

In addition to sales force buy-in, entry doors are accompanied by a learning curve in the areas of ordering and installation. While companies like Precision Entry and Peachtree Doors & Windows still provide catalogs and price sheets, they, and many other manufacturers, have developed electronic ordering software that helps dealers’ sales teams offer buyers the right door with the right options. “The electronic tool we use will ask every option question in order to get to a specific price point,” explains Ray Finnegan, national sales manager for Peachtree’s entry door systems. “They can accomplish the whole order with all of the questions and won’t have to go back to the homeowner to re-quote or ask about an additional option they might have missed.”

“Being able to learn the terminology and measure and get the right product on the truck, there is a little bit of learning curve there,” agrees Precision Entry’s Wengerd. “Doors are not necessarily easy but they’re not quite as complicated as people might think. As a manufacturer, we’ve tried to make the process easy. Our online ordering system takes a lot of guesswork out of the process because it won’t let you order things that cannot be manufactured by us.”
Extensive aesthetic options offered in door lines can be managed with manufacturers’ ordering software systems, which can electronically guide users through the process—ensuring that what is ordered can actually be manufactured.
Most manufacturers also tackle head-on another significant hurdle in offering entry door systems—installation training. Precision Entry has developed a certified installer training program so dealers’ crews can visit the manufacturing facility and learn different scenarios that come with putting in front doors. “We have a certified trainer who takes them through taking the old door out, prepping the opening, putting a new one in to make sure it’s level and plumb,” says Joe Klink, marketing projects coordinator of Precision Entry. “It gives them not only the knowledge but the confidence in how to sell our products.”

While some dealers initially dedicate a crew or limited number of crews to handle most door installations, others see the value in cross training the installers to manage the higher-maintenance product. Malus says that Rusco manages subcontractors for window installations, but the company keeps all of its door installations in the hands of in-house employees. “We’ve got the right people in line and we feel comfortable installing doors,” he says.

Marvin’s Sinning points out that factory finished entry door systems also require a higher level of handling care to protect the glass and finish. “When you get a pre-finished door, that door is like a piece of furniture and it needs to be handled like that,” he says. “You can’t handle it like a piece of 2x4. That’s not going to work. Those handling issues are challenges not only for the dealer, but for the contractor and/or installer.”

Involvement with entry doors also presents dealers with some logistical challenges. The first dance to master is unequal lead times. The windows for a particular project may show up a week or two earlier than the entry door system so the dealer must make choices about whether to install in phases or warehouse the items until the whole package is ready. “Some people who have tried doors have become frustrated because of how long it takes,” explains Wengerd. “If I have a home improvement project and I’m doing the installation of the windows in a very short lead time, I can find myself frustrated because I can’t collect on a project until the door comes in. That’s when the homeowner will write the final check.”

So Wengerd recommends dealers seek out a manufacturer with a solid track record of on-time delivery. “There have been advances with customized door products in the last couple of years that is driving down lead time significantly,” he says.

Wengerd, Finnegan and other suppliers also warn dealers to keep a close handle on hardware and other accessory items that can erode margins if they’re not included in the initial pricing. “We’re a total system,” Finnegan says of Peachtree. “Everything from the sill to the cladding and everything in between is our product. Instead of piecing together vendors, we control all that product and also have the pricing software that details all of that product for the customer.”

Kendall says Custom Exteriors has capped its hardware choices to simplify the ordering process, as well as what it has to maintain in stock. The dealer offers customers its choices and if they opt for something else, they can provide it at the job site. “I think you need to be careful with hardware,” he says. “You could go crazy and turn into a Home Depot if you offer too many hardware choices. The key is to keep hardware choices streamlined.”

Despite the inventory challenges, Sinning says he sees more and more dealers getting involved with hardware for entry systems in an effort to further develop the one-stop-shop nature of the business. “It could be a real nightmare with hardware,” he says. “There are probably as many hardware companies out there as window companies, and then you’ve got people who will build custom stuff in addition to that. But typically on a door like that, they’re not going to put a five dollar lock set on it. They’ll probably go out and get anywhere from an $800 to a $2,000 hardware package for that door.”

In new construction, dealers are streamlining door and hardware options for buyers who are often choosing entry door systems and windows among carpets, countertops and bathroom fixtures, says Peachtree’s Finnegan. Some manufacturers provide homebuilders’ sales agents with a limited brochure of entry products—maybe four or five pages instead of 60—to keep things moving but still expose the buyer to entrance upgrades, he notes. “Some builders have done well to know what doors are available and done very well at selling the upgrade,” Finnegan says. “The front door is a focal point and it makes the home look good, but a home selling agent is not going to use that big brochure in the selection process. A customized brochure helps narrow the selection.”

To make entry doors a truly integral part of a retail business, industry advisors suggest taking a separate-but-together approach. That is to say, while entry systems should be presented during a window pitch, it’s also a wise idea to think of entry doors as a separate operating unit of a business—one which requires a different skill set for installers, knowledge base for the sales force and a personal touch company-wide to make the buyer feel comfortable with the product. “If you’re thinking about getting into the door business at the retail end, especially with high-end luxury markets, you really have to sit down and look at that almost as a separate business if you’re going to be successful at it,” Sinning says. “You have to be a door boutique. If you’re not prepared to devote the resources to doing that, you’re not going to be as successful as you could be.”

Selling entry doors, Mr. Rogers’ Davis contends, becomes everyone’s job—not just the sales personnel. “It has to become the mindset of everyone in your organization from everyone who answers the phone to the person who puts the windows in—‘Are you interested in us bringing information on entry doors as well?’ Don’t wait for the customer. Ask them how their entry door is and ask them if they want information.”

The formula for success isn’t all that tricky, Davis says, as long as a company is willing to throw resources behind it. “Number one, you need to get a high quality product to begin with,” he explains. “Then you need customer support from the manufacturer and you have to take responsibility to train your staff to sell this product. If you do these three things, you can’t help but be successful. The door can sell itself.”

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