Volume 2   Issue 2               Summer 2001

Behind Closed Windows
A Glimpse Inside Winstrom Windows

by Penny Beverage

Situated on the outskirts of Chicago in the suburb of Park Forest, Ill., few can glance at Winstrom Windows and realize the huge amount of work that is transpiring behind its walls. But, the company—originally begun in Jamaica, N.Y., nearly 600 miles away—manufactures both residential and commercial windows for seven states. 

With only one plant and a total of 80 employees, it prides itself on quality, accuracy and precision.

Early Beginnings
Winstrom Windows began as a division of Suburban Bronze in Jamaica, N.Y., which opened in 1904. When the company’s owners decided to start manufacturing aluminum windows in the 1940s, it opened Winstrom as a division. 

The Winstrom division was housed in Jamaica with its parent company until 1958.In that year, Stephen Fodor, an employee of Suburban Bronze, was offered a partnership in Winstrom if he agreed to move to the Midwest. The choice was not a tough one for Fodor, who picked up his bags and headed west to Park Forest, where he and his brother, Les Fodor, ran the company until 1988. During his career as part-owner of Winstrom, the Jamaica plant closed in the 1970s and the Fodors were left to run the now-independent company alone.

In 1988, Les Fodor passed away, and his brother Stephen sold the company to Michael Lowenthal and Ronald Feldman, who now own Winstrom.

According to Michael Muckian, marketing director for the company and a 19-year veteran of Winstrom, sales have skyrocketed since Lowenthal and Feldman took over. “Sales have grown tremendously,” Muckian said. “They’ve more than doubled.”

However, the company declined to disclose its annual sales.Behind Closed Doors (and Windows)

Despite Winstrom’s modest beginnings, it now manufactures all types of windows. Although the company began manufacturing only aluminum windows, it now makes vinyl replacement windows for residential installations, in addition to aluminum commercial windows and aluminum residential storm windows. The company chooses to make only aluminum commercial windows because of the strength the metal provides. Likewise, Winstrom chooses vinyl for its replacement windows because of the thermal qualities it offers consumers, along with a decreased need for maintenance, Muckian said.

Although Winstrom orders its vinyl already extruded and finished from Dayton Technologies in Monroe, Ohio, the company extrudes its own aluminum with its own proprietary designs. In addition, the company insulates its own glass right at the Park Forest plant.

“Down to the 1/32 inch”
Along with the ability to extrude its own aluminum, insulate its own glass and produce a variety of shapes and designs of both commercial and residential windows, the company prides itself on the quality of each individual window.

“We had a middle manager once who complained about our precision,” Muckian recalled. “He said, ‘They’re just windows,’ and I said, ‘But they’re Winstrom Windows.’”

While most companies measure their glass, aluminum and vinyl to 1/8-inch accuracy, Winstrom measures everything to 1/32 inch, with four times the accuracy of others, Muckian said. The company repairs its own machines and has a special tool room for perfecting the machines and increasing their accuracy, a process the company refers to as “Winstromizing.”

Quality is of utmost important to both the company and to Muckian, who wrote a letter to Door & Window Maker’s sister publication, USGlass, in 1996 (see June 1996 USGlass, page 8; also, see sidebar below).“[Our competitors] have to do something either better, different or cheaper than everyone else,” Muckian said. “We do everything better and some things differently.

“What makes a manufacturer successful is making sure the customer—the dealer and the distributor—can sell with confidence and make a fair price on the product.”

Muckian added that for a company to maintain the kind of longevity that Winstrom has, it must sell based on quality, not the lowest prices. “You have to sell quality if you want to stick around,” Muckian said.

Winstrom finds its employees and dealers stick around the way the company has. “Once Winstrom gets a dealer, we rarely lose that dealer,” he said.

The same goes for the company’s employees, Muckian said. Seven employees in the plant have been there for more than 20 years. “Once you’re in, you’re in,” agreed Tom Matheny, director of operations for the company.

Windows A la Cart
In addition to the extreme precision with which Winstrom says it works, the company is also set apart by its unique selling style—an a la cart approach. Muckian compares the method to picking side dishes at restaurants. A customer—or distributor—can choose exactly what customizations he wants on each window and Winstrom can provide them in any unique combination, particularly with its newest series, the V-series.

“Everyone has a good, better and best, but what we do differently is we allow the customer to put exactly the features they want on the V-10 and V-20,” Muckian said. “It’s a complete a la cart approach.”

The V-series contains a line of double hung, slider, casement, picture and awning windows, all available with a variety of features. The V-10 is a basic window and as features are added to it, it transforms into the others in the line.

“It starts bare bones and you can build it up with exactly the features that are important to you,” he added.

Pressing On
When asked if Winstrom—along with the rest of the fenestration industry—faces any particular challenges in today’s world, Muckian came back to the company’s strength: quality. “Currently, the challenge is giving your customer the best value, with value being a balance between quality and price,” he said.

In addition, future challenges include the goal to manufacture the windows of the millennium, which will switch tints and shades at the touch of a button or switch. As for actual problems facing the company and the industry as a whole, Winstrom finds pricing to be its biggest challenge “Focus on price and consolidation is driving out a lot of middle-sized businesses … the trend is consolidation,” said Muckian.

Homeward Bound
Although Winstrom considers itself a regional manufacturer, the company transports its products via its own trucks to seven different states, all within a 350-mile radius of Chicago: Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin.

It does so with its own two trucks, which travel the area delivering the company’s windows regularly. Deliveries are made every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from one or both trucks, depending on the quantity of each particular week. In the commercial realm of the business, Winstrom makes a few direct sales, but mainly works through distributors, as it does in the residential end of the business.

The company has provided replacement windows for such historic landmarks as Bancroft Hall in Annapolis, Md., on the campus of the United States Naval Academy. The project took more than a year, manufacturing the very specific shapes of windows present in the building, which is more than 100 years old.

On average, Winstrom manufactures 500 to 600 windows a week, with commercial and residential combined. 

A Family Affair
Michael Muckian, who led Door & Window Maker on its tour of Winstrom Window’s manufacturing facility, is as firm a believer in quality as the rest of his company. 

In 1996, he was so disgruntled by the decrease in quality that he wrote a letter to Door & Window Maker’s sister publication, USGlass, on that very topic (see USGlass, June 1996, page 8). 

A cousin, Bruce Muckian of Seattle’s Hartung Glass, happened to read the article and noticing the unusual last name which he shared, wondered if the seeker of quality could possibly be a relative.

In an effort to find out what seemed to be a long shot, Bruce wrote USGlass and requested Michael’s contact information. The two got in touch and sure enough, found out that they were in fact cousins, whose grandfather had settled in Duque, Wis., years and years before they were born.

Together, the two searched out other relatives neither had met in Ireland, where their grandfather was from. Now, they have an annual family reunion with both relatives from Ireland and the United States. The first was in 1998 and is usually held in Duque.

Last year, the two cousins traveled together across the world to Ireland for a special family reunion, in the homeland of their grandfather, with hundreds of relatives, many of whom they’d never met.

Yet, the window tradition doesn’t stop here. After finding each other through USGlass magazine, both united by the industry as well as blood, Muckian discovered their grandfather shared this bond with them, too. “My grandfather sold anodized storm windows, but I didn’t even know it until he passed away, and then my grandmother told me,” Muckian added.

Between the two cousins and their grandfather, the fenestration industry seems to be a family affair. And, the tradition lives on with Muckian’s younger brother, John, who took a job with Winstrom Windows several years after Michael himself did and has now been there for approximately 15 years.

Expanding Horizons
In February, Winstrom’s “Maze” commercial double-hung window was tested for sound transmission coefficient (S.T.C.) at Riverbank Acoustical Laboratories in Chicago as part of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association’s accreditation procedure. 

The window received an S.T.C. rating of 35 when glazed with an insulating unit made up of ¼-inch laminated glass on the exterior and ¼-inch annealed glass on the interior. When combined with the company’s W400 double-hung storm window, glazed with 1/8-inch annealed glass, the S.T.C. rating was increased to 40, a significant increase, according to RAL laboratory manager David Moyer.

Winstrom hopes the advancement will allow these windows the opportunity to be considered for installation in such high-noise areas as those near airports, trains or roadways.

If you would like Door & Window Maker to tour your facility and feature your plant in a future issue, please e-mail us at planttour@glass.com.

Penny Beverage is an assistant editor for Door & Window Maker magazine.

© Copyright 2001 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.