Staying a Step Ahead on Service and Performance
When Anlin Industries started in the window business in 1990, virtually no one was selling vinyl replacement windows in California. Milgard Windows was promoting vinyl for new construction somewhat, but there was little activity in replacement windows, recalls Eric Vidmar, vice president of Clovis, CA-based Anlin. Most of the window upgrade products selling at the time were storm windows, but that did not deter Anlin founder Tom Vidmar, who saw an opportunity based on the success of vinyl products in other parts of the country.
Anlin started out trying to sell vinyl windows locally in the Fresno area, but “the market wasn’t there.” Glass shops were willing to take on the line, but they demanded “pull through,” explains Stan Fikes, Anlin’s general manager. “They were not going out and selling these products. It was essential to tap into the specialty dealer.”
At Anlin, they knew specialty dealers sold vinyl windows successfully on the East Coast and quickly decided they had to find those types of dealers in California. They were relatively rare, but Anlin found one in Sacramento willing to give the manufacturer a try. “As far as a business plan, we basically asked him what he wanted,” Vidmar recalls. On his initial order, he asked for 24-hour turnaround. “What did we know? There were five us at the time; we went back to the plant and did it and got him his windows.”
Slowly, the dealer started selling more windows. “We worked to get each of the orders filled as he needed them, and within 90 days, we had 100 percent of his business. That’s what we love,” Vidmar adds, “to have dealers who rely on us for 100 percent.”
The company is still one of Anlin’s best dealers, and Anlin remains extremely grateful to its owner. “He really kick started us. Not only did he buy from us; he liked our service so much, he recommended us to five or six other guys in the Bay area,” Vidmar says. “That really got us started. It really established the strategy of high quality product and service, service, service.”
A family affair
“From Our Family to Yours” appears right on the Anlin Windows logo. And that statement represents more than just a slogan; it’s a way of life at the California-based vinyl window manufacturer. A former Ford executive, Tom Vidmar left that company specifically because he wanted to start a family business. Now with 300 employees and sales of over $50 million, one of Anlin’s biggest challenges is maintaining the “family feel.” The company invests significantly in cultivating a sense of “family” and “fun” in the workplace, says Eric Vidmar, because maintaining the same type of commitment shown by the original five employees is key to providing high quality products and levels of service.
One way Anlin maintains the family feel is by hosting bi-monthly events for its employees and their families. Vidmar points to such events as a fishing derby, a golf outing (where even non-golfers are encouraged to come) and a day at a water park. The company also hosts a Christmas party, to which dealers and vendors—also part of the “family”—are invited as well.
Special events are only part of the equation. As part of a 100,000-square-foot plant expansion completed last year, Anlin spent $1 million on a cafeteria known as Grandpa’s Grill. It has also invested in computers for some of its employees’ families. “We’re truly concerned about their quality of life, and that means the quality of their family life. We ask people to work hard and we know that means it’s not just the worker that’s affected,” Vidmar notes. “In the short run, it kills you. Accountants wonder what you’re doing. In the long run, it pays back tenfold.”
The company works to maintain a sense of family and fun in its day-to-day operations. “We expect managers to spend 50 percent of their time on the floor—finding out what’s going on, talking to people, simply cheerleading. We don’t want that separation between management and the plant,” Vidmar states. As for fun, he notes, his father Tom keeps a razor and shaving cream at the plant. “If he’s out on the floor and sees someone that hasn’t shaved, he’ll take that guy off the floor and make him shave. It’s all in fun, other workers are laughing, ‘ha’ you got caught.’” On their birthdays, workers are also singled out for special attention.
“Recognition is huge at this place,” Vidmar states. And now that the workforce has grown, Anlin’s leadership makes sure to spread the recognition around. “You can’t keep rewarding the same people. Yes, you have some stellar employees and you have to give them a pat on the back and reward them one on one, but you don’t want to be seen playing favorites.”
The whole program
“To differentiate yourself, you need the whole program,” says Vidmar. “A homeowner that buys our windows has bought the whole program. They’ve bought our dealers. They’ve bought us. It’s an open chain and we form a true partnership with our customers.”
Anlin’s dealers rely on its quality products and service because they want to make their customers happy, Vidmar continues. “They get a lot of their business through referrals, and if they leave a house with a happy homeowner, they’ll get those referrals. I think the value of referrals in this business is grossly underestimated. Our guys get it.”
Anlin works hard to keep both the homeowner and its dealers happy, and specialty dealers are not easily satisfied, Fikes notes. “They’re not going to put up with run-of-the-mill, builder-grade service. They demand excellent marketing materials, excellent after-sales support and punctual delivery.”
Anlin’s goal is to deliver that and more to its dealers, serving not just as a supplier but a partner, Vidmar emphasizes. “We really believe in being loyal to our dealers. Other manufacturers set up dealers and give them assurances that as long as they buy a couple hundred windows and doors a month, they’ll get an exclusive territory. Those dealers will turn around six months later and find a glass shop is offering the same product line. They’re told it’s a different channel, but it still has an impact. We truly protect our dealers. Yes, there are stipulations they have to meet. We want dealers that can really push the value added. They want to sell the best and tell homeowners they’re getting the best. For these dealers, one of the worst things that can happen is to compete with someone else with the same product.”
“We have a great reputation for what we can do,” Fikes says. “Other manufacturers call on our dealers, and it frustrates them.” Bob Belsey, an industry veteran who now represents Anlin in the Los Angeles area, adds that it is very unique to be able to talk to dealers and hear how satisfied they are with the type of delivery and support they’re receiving. Pointing to the Christmas party, for example, he says dealers value the individual relationships and the “family feel” at Anlin. “They truly see it,” he says, and that has translated into a tremendously loyal dealer base.
A new product line
Originally, Anlin’s product line really stood out. Its vinyl windows offered considerably higher energy performance than competing aluminum windows and storm upgrades. Since that time, however, the market in California has upgraded overall to higher performance levels. “The energy crisis in California has made us a better company. It’s forced us to step up,” says Vidmar.
Anlin started in the vinyl window business as a licensed fabricator of CertainTeed windows. The company designed and extruded excellent products for the East Coast, Vidmar states, but at the time, it was not offering products specifically for the California market—most notably a horizontal slider. Adding horizontal sliders, which now account for about 50 percent of Anlin’s sales, was an important step in enhancing Anlin’s product line, but the company also wanted to offer products with higher energy performance.
To achieve this goal, it partnered with Cardinal Glass and Edgetech IG to create its Infinit-E proprietary glass package. The glass is a double-layer, silver-coated low-E that offers a 0.26 U-value when argon-filled and a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.27. The Platinum Elite spacer product—a proprietary version of Super Spacer developed in conjunction with Edgetech—features three hollows in the extrusion to provide even better thermal insulation than standard Super Spacer, according to Vidmar.
Anlin invested significantly in equipment to manufacture the new glass package, installing three highly automated IG lines last year, giving it a capacity of about 3,600 units a day. The primary reason Anlin invested in the highly automated lines was quality, Vidmar reports. “Everything I’ve seen and learned about making IG boils down to ‘You don’t want to touch the glass,’” he explains. “As glass was getting bigger, grid options were expanding and the sensitivity of the glass coatings became more important. The goal was ‘you can’t touch it.’”
Anlin consistently looks at ways to make production more efficient, but its priorities are different than a lot of manufacturers, Vidmar notes. Its commitment to quality is evident in the fact that it still cleans visible weld seams by hand. “We just don’t think the machines do a good enough job as far as the look of the window,” he says.
Since the introduction of Anlin Window Systems branded products just three years ago, business has grown 156 percent, Vidmar reports. It wasn’t an easy transition, however. “Creating the product line, the design, the marketing. That was the most fun,” Vidmar says. The hardest part was getting prepared and running two lines concurrently. Anlin had two sets of tooling in the plant for the transition. When it started selling its own line, it still had a backlog of CertainTeed product orders to manufacture. “We were working 18-hour days at the start. It was a real struggle, but our goal was ‘the customer cannot see any hiccup.’”
The fact that the transition was smooth from a customer perspective reflects the attitude and commitment at Anlin, concludes Vidmar. “Tell me something we can’t do, and we’ll prove you wrong.”