Volume 8, Issue 6 - June 2007

Where is the Bar for Hardware Suppliers?

Door and Window Manufacturers Have a Lot to Say
by Alan B. Goldberg

Give door and window manufacturers a venue to express their views and they will not mince words, particularly when it’s about expectations. In this case, as a follow-up to a survey, we asked about hardware suppliers—their products, service and support. 

Quality Tops the List
Manufacturers were unanimous in their comments about quality.

“Quality is always number one with us,” says Don Neill, vice president of administrative operations for BF Rich in Newark, Del., who has been using one supplier (Truth Hardware in Owatonna, Minn.) for many years. “Without quality, nothing else matters.” 

Don Jones, vice president and general manager for Champion Window and Patio Room Co. in Cincinnati, links quality with delivery and says they are both critical. “You can’t have one without the other. High quality is meaningless if we don’t have product to meet our production schedule and the same is true of on-time deliveries if the quality does not meet our standards.” Not all suppliers can be all things to all manufacturers.

“We use about eight suppliers,” says Jane Davis, co-owner of Davis Woodworking in Attica, N.Y.

She explains that no one supplier has everything. “I prefer the vendor who specializes in one or two products and does them well versus one who tries to do everything and ends up being terrible at it all.”

Davis Woodworking is not the only manufacturer to use multiple suppliers. WinDoor Inc. in Orlando, Fla., does as well. “There is a vast number of different hardware available for all kinds of applications and no one supplier can carry them all,” says Ray Hufnagle, engineer for WinDoor. “Manufacturers can not sell the same thing year after year without making some kind of change.” 

Sunrise Windows in Temperance, Mich., uses two primary suppliers. Cliff Langdon, vice president of operations, says that although both are based in the United States, they do have product that comes from outside the country. 

The ROW Window Co. in Joliet, Ill., uses five suppliers: Ashland Hardware Systems in Lowell, Ind., Deco Products Co. in Decorah, Iowa, Intek Plastics Inc. in Hastings, Minn., Truth Hardware and Unique Balance in Dubuque, Iowa. “We use them for what they do best,” says Pat Malcom, purchasing manager. 

The Karey Kassl Corp. in Plainview, N.Y., also uses a number of suppliers because making a custom window requires many different custom-made hardware parts. “Since we build a high-quality window, we need every part to conform to our quality standard,” says Ron Kassl, general manager. “Fortunately we have been able to do that in custom-made tilt latches from Ashland and heavy-duty sweep locks from Bronze Craft.”

Pricing and Lead Time
After quality, price seems to be the next most important factor. 

“Pricing is always an issue these days as all of our suppliers are instituting small order charges or fuel surcharges,” Kassl says.

That is an issue with ROW as well. “One of the biggest obstacles for us is that we are smaller,” adds Malcom. 

“It’s hard for small companies to compete. I can’t order a full truckload, yet I need to have some flexibility in order to work with my customers. We want a good deal as well.” Langdon says while pricing is part of any decision, the primary reason for working with their suppliers is that they continue to provide innovative, good-looking products. 

“I know there are less expensive products that anyone can make [which he says are often copied], but I feel if we don’t support those who are investing in research and development, then we stifle the continued development in the industry.”

Jones views commodity pricing as his biggest challenge. “I know my suppliers can’t control increases in vinyl, zinc and other key materials, but that doesn’t make the problem any easier.” He says that as more and more suppliers are purchasing overseas, namely from China, lead times have lengthened considerably in the past few years.

Manufacturers seem to be somewhat flexible with lead times, but to what extent varies with each one.

“I can live with longer lead times as long as the supplier is consistent,” Neill says. He cautions that dependability is going to make the difference. He says that on occasion he has looked offshore—something he had long resisted—but the quality must be there.

“At one point, the Chinese attracted us with equal quality and lower prices. Patriotism is one thing but I had to look at the bottom line.”

However within the past year, Neill has observed some changes that he attributes to high demand for imported products. “They can’t seem to handle the demand so their lead time is higher, pricing is higher and there could be some question about consistent quality,” he says. To Davis, what is most important about lead time is the supplier’s sense of honesty.

“The lead time I give my customers is based on the information I receive from my suppliers, so don’t make me look like an idiot by giving me wrong information,” she says. For that reason alone, Davis has replaced suppliers, no matter how impressed she was with the quality of their product. 

The Personal Touch
Where manufacturers seem to be especially vocal is customer service.

“Many salespeople don’t understand their own products and how they apply to us,” adds Neill. He says a sales representative must have not only some degree of expertise about his product but be able to work with the customer, “with me!”

Kassel agrees. “The ability to speak intelligently about products, ship dates and pricing in a skillful manner is key to quality customer service,” he says. “I find that a simple phone call in a timely manner is relatively tough to come by.”

Davis looks for another attribute that helps her customers. “I like suppliers that provide free or discounted samples that I can pass on to my customers to help them promote our products.” Her key suppliers are Von Morris Co. in Camden, N.J., Merit Hardware in Warrington, Pa., Haeffle America Co. in Archale, N.C., and Stanley Hardware (of Stanley Works) in New Bedford, Conn.

Although there seems to be a reluctance to rate suppliers, a few have.

Kassl says if he had to give his suppliers an overall rating (1=outstanding and 5= poor), it would be a ‘2.’ Some are outstanding and some are average,” he says.

For Jones, the issue is two-way communication, he says. “I want my suppliers to tell me what is going on in the marketplace and I can relate to them what my customers are demanding. In this way, we help each other.”

What Must Suppliers Provide?
Dan Alexander, national sales manager of G-U Hardware in Newport News, Va., sums it up this way: reliable products delivered complete and on-time; technical support and continuous improvement.

According to Dan Raap, vice president of Amesbury’s hardware division in Sioux Falls, S.D., manufacturers want a smooth process from start to finish and no issues.

Pat Junker, vice president of sales for HOPPE North America in Ft. Atkinson, Wis., refers to quality, service and to deliveries as “the minimums to get in the game.” Beyond that, he says the company needs to be responsive to specific customer relationships. 

To Matt Kottke, marketing support manager of Truth Hardware, customers look to Truth “as their solution provider.” He explains that the company’s level of support is more than problem-solving and providing quality products in a timely manner. “Our customers turn to us to work collaboratively with them in developing hardware that works in unison with their window systems,” adds Kottke.

When the Going Gets Tough
According to Alexander, predicting the direction of the market from one season to another is one of many challenges hardware suppliers face. Materials are another challenge. “Having the correct components in the correct finishes on time and complete is a balancing act that works best when the lines of communication between manufacturer and supplier are clear and everyone works within the parameters of the supply chain,” says Alexander. Offshore competition and material price increases are challenges for Amesbury, HOPPE and Truth.

“We continue to work with our customers and manufacturing teams to find ways to offset increases in the 300-stainless-steel used in our gear systems and the copper used in our handle sets as these base materials remain at historically high levels,” says Junker.

But even beyond those, Kottke says, is helping customers position themselves for the rebound in the residential housing market which he looks at more as an opportunity.

To Hufagle, the hardest thing to deal with is facing customers’ designs of doors and windows without having been consulted first.

“Too many times, I have found that a little intervention by the hardware supplier prior to the customer designing a new door or window would have made the task of fitting the hardware easy.”

From what manufacturers and suppliers are saying, the question may not be how high the bar is for suppliers, but how well both parties can work together to raise it. 

Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the industry.

Easy-Going Hardware
New Door and Window Hardware Boasts Many Benefits 
It’s the month for hardware to shine—not just with new finishes, but innovative locking options, installation features, handle choices and many more accompaniments. Read on to learn about the new and upgraded hardware in 2007.

All Eyes on i-Lock™ from Roto Frank of America
The Roto-i-Lock™, a new sliding window sash lock that offers installation flexibility and balance, is now available from Roto Frank of America Inc. in Chester, Conn.

Roto-i-Lock’s automatic latching and retention feature makes it easy to determine if the window is locked or unlocked. The hardware’s internal mechanism has two retention clips and two springs. In addition, its latch is positioned in the center of the lock for maximum balance. 

The product comes in six standard colors and custom colors are also available. The main lock is available with various exposed attachment screw locations that provide window manufacturers flexibility with installation and aesthetics. For additional versatility, a removable plastic snap-on cover is available. www.rotohardware.com 

Cam Lock Keeps It Simple
Philadelphia-based Household Metals Inc. introduced its new cam lock system for its aluminum storm door line. This patent-pending system allows for the effortless changing of windows and screens, and requires no tools. With a pin-and-locking arm embedded in the door there are no screws to lose, or clips to break. A one-fourth, self-stopping turn releases or locks the window in place. hmidoors.com

Lock Up in One Step with Hoppe 
The HLS™ 7 Series stainless steel multi-point locking system is the latest hardware offered by HOPPE North America Inc. in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

A simultaneous retraction function enables all of the locking points to be retracted by pushing down on the handle with one simple motion. An exterior handle lock-out feature enables the user to activate the multiple locking points from the exterior of the door by lifting up on the handle.

The new hardware also incorporates many new performance improvements, including an anti-back drive feature that prevents locking points from disengaging with excessive pressure changes or forced entry attempts. www.us.hoppe.com 

Truth’s Got it Covered with Smart Upgrade 
Truth Hardware in Owatonna, Minn., has introduced a stylish new look to upgrade its EntryGard® window operators. A new nesting cover and folding-handle design gives homeowners a smooth and attractive option to the out-dated look of yesterday’s model, according to the company. And with the folding handle option, there is no interference with window treatments such as curtains or blinds. The new operators are available in a wide variety of colors and decorative finishes.  yyä www.truth.com

Ashland Debuts Clever Hardware for Vinyl Hung Windows
Ashland Hardware Systems in Lowell, Ind., has debuted a new hardware that integrates the tilt-and-lock function of hung style vinyl windows. DualTech™ is a simple, intuitive operation with a clean-lock rail appearance. It also delivers a high level of performance and security.

With Flex-Fit™ technology, the connection bars flex laterally with the latch and lock units to create a custom fit into many profile designs. Sash fabrication for the entire system is also very simple, requiring a basic one-step route operation for both the latch and lock. www.ashlandhardware.com


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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.