Going from Good to Great

Christina Lewellen
February 15, 2007
COLUMN : Talking to Dealers | Management

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” makes the point that it’s easy enough to identify what separates a good organization or company from a bad one. We can see examples of good vs. bad companies in all tiers of our industry—manufacturers who don’t deliver on time versus ones that do, dealers who don’t return customers’ calls versus those who do. But what separates the good from the great? Perhaps manufacturers who deliver on time with consistency and accuracy of the order? Dealers who return calls quickly and pleasantly?

Dick Wilhelm, the executive director of the Fenestration Manufacturers Association, told me that he recently met Jim Collins and had the opportunity to ask him how an association can be sure it truly serves its members. Collins told him that he should ask his members on a regular basis, “What keeps you up at night?” If you get the answer, he said, you have the direction for your association.

Could that simple question be enough to move your company from good to great? If you asked your customers what keeps them up at night, what would they say? Could you address those concerns?

I realize I’m throwing a lot of rhetorical questions at you in this particular column so let me provide a little food for thought as you walk this path of thought with me.

P&M Corporate Finance LLC, a Midwest investment banking firm that works in the building products industry, highlights some encouraging news and opportunities in a recent report about the window and door industry. It also identifies some areas in which companies could direct efforts to move beyond the “good” category. Consider these bullets from the report’s overview:

  • Capacity for branding, customization, and manufacturing scale provides growth-oriented companies within the window and door segment exceptional valuation opportunities.
  • “Sophisticated marketing is increasingly important. The window and door industry is entering a more mature phase of development, requiring a higher level of marketing sophistication to create and sustain competitive advantage.
  • “It is time to revisit distribution strategy; distribution is playing an increasingly important role in shaping customer experience and perception of the window and door product. It is imperative that a distributor’s skills, attributes, and customers match well with product expansion opportunities.”

Branding, marketing, distribution. On the dealer/distributor side of the industry, we have some very solid case studies in these areas, thanks to our Dealers of the Year winners. Our top “leadership” winners, Portland Millwork and Custom Exteriors, have branded themselves in their local markets—their impressive referral rates and customer feedback have made their company names worth their weight in gold. And if you’re looking for ideas to beef up your distribution and installation methods, read about Regency Windows and E.F. San Juan—these companies have refined the process of getting windows and doors into holes into a form of art. If you’re looking to take your company to the next level, these retailers’ strides to become great might fit into your corporate fabric.

If you do have the opportunity to ask your customers what keeps them up at night—or even if you just take your best guess—you may find that the answers fall right into these areas of opportunity and potential growth-centers as outlined by P&M Corporate Finance’s report. Taking the opportunity to address your customers’ needs in the context of these developing trends could result in your company being one that has graduated from good to great.

To review P&M Corporate Finance’s industry report, visit www.pmcf.com or call Tom Doyal at 312/899-4460. If you’re interested in learning more about separating the good from the great, visit author Jim Collins’ Web site, www.jimcollins.com.

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