Volume 9, Issue 1 - January 2008
Karey-Kassl Corp.’s story may seem like that of other window companies. The Plainview, N.Y., company started from nothing, more than 65 years ago, and has grown into a successful window operation that still thrives today. This company, like many others, has reinvented itself and introduced new product lines to serve new markets (particularly the commercial one) in order to survive in a competitive market. And, while many door and window companies are investing in automation, Karey-Kassl has decided to focus on people and processes rather than machines.
Starting from Nothing
“Our grandparents came from Germany with carpentry skills and an entrepreneurial spirit, ” says Gary.
“They made wooden screens for steel casement windows in apartment buildings and brownstones in Brooklyn and Queens,” adds Ron.
Recognizing the need for a screen in summer months and glass storms in cold months, the young owner designed his own storm windows, which integrated aluminum as a key component. Unlike the standard mill finish of the 1940s, aluminum could be painted, creating a new look and endless choices.
“At its peak (1962-1972), the business was producing 1,000 windows a day,” says Ron. Upon its tenth anniversary in 1947, the company reached other milestones: Jalousie windows were added; a combination storm and screen door was developed; and the Karey Products Corp. was formed, with headquarters in a commercial building in Mineola, N.Y.
“He built his own building,” says Gary. “Starting with 10,000 square feet, he doubled the size within four to five years by adding a second floor.”
In 1960, a modern, 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with room to grow made it possible to mass-produce a storm window line. Kassl’s two sons, Robert and Ronald, joined the company in the same time frame, when the focus was on new products for a window replacement market that was in its infancy. In 1965, the company introduced a retrofit window that featured easy installation and low cost. In 1968, the company patented a tilt sash double-hung replacement window, referring to it as “the first in the world.” This new design made use of a panning and trim system that allowed the old frame to remain and the new frame and panning to be installed from the inside of the building.
An additional 20,000 square feet eventually was added to the facility.
Less than two years later, a non-thermal line of coastal windows and shutters was introduced to the Caribbean market.
“We made a commercial product that was geared more to the residential market. It was built on a commercial platform but attractive to coastal and high-end uses,” adds Gary. “We have since established a niche in this market and we are serving it with innovative windows for residential and commercial use.”
The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot building adjacent to its facility in the 1970s to support the Caribbean market.
New product development continued through the 1980s and included a heavy-duty, commercial double-hung window. Carving another niche, the company developed a line of vandal-resistant windows for the school replacement and institutional market. It also became one of the first fabricators of a Vekeplast (VEKA Inc.) vinyl double-pane window.
Another highlight of the decade was the formation of Kassl Window Co., which occurred in 1984. But it was the merger of The Karey Products Corp. and Kassl Window Co. into the Karey Kassl Corp. ten years later that marked a turning point in the company’s history as the third generation—Gary and Ron Kassl—assumed control. The main office and manufacturing facility still remain in Plainview.
Opening More Doors
“We took this heavy-gauge, aluminum door and modified it to make it look like a wooden door of the 1950s vintage,” says Ron.
Developing a new line of doors proved to be a far greater challenge than developing a new series of windows.
“We had to make significant changes. A complete door department had to be created within our building and we had to hire newly skilled people,” says Ron.
New equipment also was necessary. Saws had to be large enough to accommodate aluminum extrusions that were two inches by six inches. Additional safety procedures had to be implemented which was done with the help of the machinery manufacturer, Elumatec U.S.A. of South Bend, Ind.
The company continues to develop new doors and windows and its annual volume, 12,000 to 15,000 units (depending on the economy), reflects its success.
Making It Manually
Thirty-five people work in manufacturing on a single shift. The operation is divided into two assembly areas, aluminum and vinyl, and begins with extrusions that are cut manually to size. Pneumatic and hydraulic processing machines are used for alignment and drilling holes. Balances, carriers and other components are hand-assembled as frames are put together.
In an adjacent sash area, aluminum is cut to size, weatherstripping is inserted and aluminum is punch-pressed into shape. Stainless steel pivot bars are inserted into the sash so the unit can tilt. All fasteners are stainless steel and tilt latches are polycarbonate, rather than PVC, for added strength.
Another internal operation is the fabrication of insulating glass. Two horizontal washing machines are used in the initial step and glass is moved by conveyor to fabrication. Truseal’s Swiggle has been the sealant system of choice for many years but the company is about to make a change.
“Although we have been very happy with Swiggle, we are looking forward to using Truseal’s latest product (Edgetherm®) which will give us the benefit of warm-edge technology,” says Ron.
The company also makes its own muntin bars. Internal bars are roll formed and extruded aluminum is used for external applications. Many types of glass are used, depending on the application. He says most of it is reflective glass for the Caribbean market because of the heat-reflective characteristic.
“We use a vast array of glass—laminated, tempered, tinted, reflective—from many suppliers,” adds Ron.
In the final assembly area, glass is inserted into aluminum, using either drop-in glazing or marine glazing. The completed unit is packaged adjacent to the loading dock and shipped on the company’s fleet of trucks.
According to Ron, the company produces about 300 windows a week for the heavy-commercial market.
Investing in People
He says the company has maintained a tradition of investing in people instead of finding ways to eliminate them through automation.
“Rather than a CNC machine, we rely on the craftsmanship of the person,” says Ron.
All training—whether job skills, safety or working more efficiently—comes from the line foremen. This informal, family-style approach seems to have paid off, considering the years of service of its employees. “I started as a shipping clerk 33 years ago,” says Al Miller, one of three shop foremen. “Much has changed since then. I have worked in manufacturing and service, and I can honestly say we are more efficient today working with fewer people.”
If anyone exemplifies longevity, it is Frank Burkle, one of the original employees who retired in 2000 as plant manager after 50 years of service. From his perspective, the turning point for the company was the move to Plainview.
“This move was the biggest change. The space seemed overwhelming—it turned out to be too small and two expansions were needed to keep up with the demand.”
Longevity also applies to suppliers, as the company has had a longstanding relationship with them.
“Our supplier of aluminum extrusions for storm windows and entry doors, Keymark Corp. in Fonda, N.Y., has been with us for 50 years, which says a lot about their service and support,” says Ron.
Surviving Through Challenges
He points out that when storm windows were at their peak, the company covered a large market through a network of specialized window dealers. The emergence of the big-box stores marked the end of an era. Small dealers could not compete and eventually this segment of distribution practically disappeared.
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the door and window industry.