Leadership in the Homeowner Market

Heritage Door Kicks Niche up a Notch
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2008
FEATURE ARTICLE | Strategies & Practices
Heritage Door & Window focuses on replacement doors to help homeowners upgrade their entryways. Anthony DiCunto (left), owner, and Jason O'Hara, showroom manager, contend that doors require a different skill set than replacement windows and have built the business by offering focused product knowledge, pre-finishing services and quality installations.

Most of the time in this industry, the words “windows” and “doors” roll together into a barely-a-breath-in-between phrase—as in, “Dealer X Windows & Doors” or “Manufacturer Y Door & Window.” The folks at Heritage Door would argue, however (and probably without much objection), that windows and doors are entirely different beasts. That’s why when this dealership was founded about 11 years ago, it was established as a specialty door retailer. Whereas many specialty dealers offer both windows and doors, with more of a volume emphasis on windows, Heritage Door spends most of its time on doors, offering replacement entry doors to homeowners seeking the heightened level of curb appeal.

The company does offer window replacement too, but the 50 or so doors on display in its showrooms make the obvious point that doors is what Heritage Door does best, says Anthony DiCunto, owner of the Morris Town, N.J., dealership.

Heritage Door carries a host of door brands—Jeld-Wen IWP, Marvin, Architectural Traditions, Simpson, Baldwin, Therma-Tru—and its door-centric business model includes a powerful marketing plan, in-house installers trained in the intricacies of doors, a centrally-located retail presence and a warehouse that allows the company to offer “factory finished” doors.

Years ago, entry doors weren’t really a project most homeowners looked to tackle. But with the attention on energy efficiency and curb appeal, more and more consumers are weighting entry doors equally with replacement windows, DiCunto explains. About 80 percent of the company’s business comes from homeowners looking for an entrance upgrade; only the remaining 20 percent is with builders or architects.

“Despite today’s economy, most people realize what a new front entrance system—and I mean a real system with the hardware and decorative moulding—really tends to change the whole home’s view on the inside as well as the outside,” DiCunto says. “From $2,000 to $22,000, there’s so many great products out there. When consumers find somebody who really specializes in something like this, it makes their decision [to replace] pretty easy.”

Far from simply having a bunch of doors on the showroom floor, Heritage Door has gone to great lengths to make sure the entire door replacement project can be finished in-house. The company handles everything from finishing to hardware to trim, giving customers one-stop-shopping. “They are the experts all under one roof,” says Kevin Coates, sales rep for Brosco, a building products distributor with four locations in the Northeast. “You are not dealing with someone who sold you the door, someone who installed it and someone who finished it. If they have a problem, 98 percent of the time, they resolve it themselves.”

When DiCunto opened Heritage 11 years ago, he focused most of the business’s time and energy on builders and architects. He came to the table with extensive hardware knowledge, having spent part of his career in the wholesale hardware industry, and picked up the other facets of door selection and sales pretty quickly. “I think a lot of people in my industry suffer with hardware because they don’t know the ins and outs of it,” he explains. “I became a whiz with hardware and that was always the simplest part of the sale.”

He built his team—including his sister, Luanne DiCunto as CFO, John Levandowski as general manager, and eventually Jason O’Hara as showroom manager—appealing to builders who appreciated that Heritage could handle doors from concept to completion. But when several years ago the new construction market began to shift, so too did the business model of Heritage Door. “The new construction market in this area has changed so much that we have had to get away from relying on builders and architects,” O’Hara explains. “Four years ago, builders and architects were 60 percent of our business, but now we focus on the homeowner. We have adjusted and we have adjusted well.”

Today, nearly all of Heritage’s sales—DiCunto says 95 percent or more—are directly with homeowners. Further, nearly 90 percent of those sales are still in the concept-to-completion realm, including warehouse finishing services and installation.

During the transition from the new construction to the retrofit market, Heritage Door has fared well, requiring no layoffs during the adjustment, and is even looking forward to continued growth. The company is contemplating adding a third and possibly a fourth retail location in the future to complement its Paramus, N.J., and Morristown, N.J., locations. “We know the housing market is going to turn around and when that happens we will be ready to deal with not only homeowners, but back to dealing more with architects and builders,” O’Hara says.

Part of what has helped Heritage make its shift to the homeowner retrofit market is its prime retail locations. Positioning its showroom in high-traffic areas helps attract customers to the doors, which really are a discretionary purchase, say the officials at Heritage. “Nobody needs a $10,000 door, but then want one,” O’Hara says. “If you have the industry knowledge and product knowledge, you’re going to get that walk-in business.”

Heritage’s business model goes over well with homeowners because the company can handle all aspects of the job from start to finish. Salespeople staff the showrooms and make extensive use of the physical displays to help narrow customers’ searches, and managers like O’Hara log countless miles around the region doing in-home consultations and quotes. The company prides itself on its knowledge of ancillary items like hardware and trim, helping homeowners build the entry system they envision. “Homeowners are more educated now than they’ve ever been,” he says. “If you can give them an answer immediately they’re more likely to react proactively.”

Heritage Door also offers a lot of post-sale value with its in-house finishing and installation capabilities. The company has a staging space dedicated to finishing, compete with a protective paint booth, to give customers an alternative to front stoop finishing. This service offers Heritage a competitive advantage, DiCunto says. “Finishing is what separates us from the box stores and lumberyards,” he says. “We are a complete specialty store. We explain to customers that their door is pre-finished and sprayed in a controlled environment, versus being brushed on their front door stop. There’s no odor in the house and no stain on the front steps.”

Heritage Door's showrooms feature plenty of full-size door displays to assist homeowners during the shopping experience. With the company's focus on doors, most of the floor space is dedicated to a variety of styles and options from a host of different manufacturers.

The finishing shop also pre-assembles the systems before they’re sent out into the field and allows Heritage to handle some shipping-related blemishes, too. “If a door comes in damaged, we can fix it before it goes to the site,” DiCunto says. “That’s why our vendors love us. We can fix it ourselves and save them the hassle. Plus, the customer doesn’t have to wait for another couple of weeks for another unit.”

Although DiCunto does have a roster of sub-contractors with whom he has worked for many years that he can call in for special projects, the vast majority of Heritage’s installations are handled by the company’s in-house crew. “When customers deal with us, only Heritage employees come to their house,” O’Hara says. “That way, if there is a problem, they’re speaking with us directly.”

The installers are specialty carpenters, DiCunto says. Installing a door is different than installing a retrofit window, he explains, and his crews must be trained to handle the framing, leveling and trim work that comes with handling a door system.

In a nutshell, it’s DiCunto’s goal to have all of the employees on the payroll that are necessary to see a job through from start to finish. “We have everybody from finishers to installers to orderers. With the in-house people here, we can handle every aspect of it.

“To be the right window and door dealer,” he continues, “you have to have everybody you need in your bag of tricks—from equipment to the personnel to be able to use it. I think that’s what makes us most effective.”

Heritage Door is by no means a huge company. It has fewer than a dozen employees and less than a dozen million in annual sales. But DiCunto and his team consider themselves a beyond-specialty retailer—serving almost a niche within a niche—and plan to continue to refine and expand its expertise in doors, particularly for the replacement market. The company’s window sales are expanding since it recently started offering Jeld-Wen windows, leveraging its relationship with the manufacturer for doors, but DiCunto sees the future of the company to be built door by door.

The focus Heritage has on doors makes sense given the product itself, DiCunto says. Often, people replace front doors with just that project in mind. “There’s only one front door so they tend to spend more money on that door,” he explains. “It’s easier for them to focus on that, whether they want it for looks or security or whatever their reason.” It’s important to DiCunto that Heritage offers the same level of focus back at the homeowner to guide them through the process.

“There’s so many aspects to a front door that people don’t think about,” O’Hara says. “The measurement, the finishing, the install. The companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s make us better because they don’t do all that stuff. Are we more expensive? Yes, and we can show the customers exactly why.”

This focus will increasingly resonate with consumers, Brosco’s Coates contends. “Homeowners are looking for experts in the different trades,” he says. “Heritage Door and Window, along with a few of my other customers, have this same business model, from concept to completion. They sell, prefinish and install. It’s one-stop shopping, and that is what homeowners are looking for.”

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