Volume 9, Issue 3 - March 2008

Plant Tour 
Customization Central 

Vinyl Window Designs Offers An Array of Options 
by Penny Stacey

“One thing you won’t find here is the luxury of space,” says Phil Lewin, vice president of marketing for the Woodbridge, Ontario-based Vinyl Window Designs. Despite its close quarters, though, the vinyl window manufacturer strives to offer as many options as it can for its customers.

“We have a lot of that things that are special, and there’s a lot we’re willing to do,” Lewin adds.

Diverse Roots
But the company wasn’t always able to offer so many options. Vinyl Window Designs was founded in 1986 when Philip Spatafora, the manager of a small aluminum replacement window manufacturer, approached his friend, Lino D’Uva, about going into business together. At the time, D’Uva was finishing school and was working in his family’s window installation/remodeling business at the same time.

“Both Phil and my experience was in the renovation industry,” says D’Uva, “and in 1986 the renovation market was flourishing.”

Beginning in a 5,000-square-foot facility with just five employees, Spatafora took on the role of president, which included handling the manufacturing aspects of the business. D’Uva took the title of vice president, and headed up the sales and marketing aspect of the business.

In 1988, after just two years in business, the company moved into a new, 18,000-square-foot facility and grew its staff to 25. In 1993, Vinyl Window Designs moved again—this time to its current facility in Woodbridge, which houses 55,000 square feet of space. Today, the company has grown to a staff of 200 employees at its Woodbridge facility, where it manufactures 750 to 1,000 vinyl windows a day (approximately 110,000 to 120,000 a year).

Along the way, the owners have acquired an extrusion facility (located near its main headquarters), and a number of other companies, including Aluminum Window Designs (AWD), which also is nearby. While Vinyl Window Designs sticks to residential, mainly replacement, windows, AWD makes commercial curtainwall for high-rise projects, in addition to residential high- and low-rise products.

In 1996, Spatafora and D’Uva acquired Performance Windows, a new-construction window company. In addition, over the years, they have acquired Alberta Window Design, Majestic Windows and Performance Shutters and have established a joint venture with New Lite in Jamaica to manufacture windows there.

Serving peripheral industries as well, Spatafora and D’Uva also have launched Nexus Products, which distributes basement windows for the new home market, where they are poured in concrete.

While many of these were additions to its product lines, the Vinyl Window Designs owners entered the extrusion business specifically so it could fill its own need for extrusions.

“We got into extruding in 1997 to make sure our current supply was filled,” says D’Uva. The one area the company has shied away from is the door market.

“Doors, though they go hand in hand with windows, are not what we do best,” D’Uva says.

While Vinyl’s sales are approximately $25 million annually, in total, the company says it sells $80 million in products worldwide (including its other businesses).

As recently as 2006, Vinyl expanded its Woodbridge manufacturing facility, and also recently opened a plant in Concord, Ontario.

On-Site Innovations
Over its 20 years in business, the company has grown its product lines and holdings, but company officials haven’t forgotten what they do best: vinyl windows. At the heart of its business, Vinyl Window Designs has focused on adding as many options as possible for its customers.

“A lot of manufacturers might offer just neutral-white windows or white-white windows,” Lewin says. “We make both so we can offer a choice.”

The company utilizes several different types of glass, including glass from Pilkington and PPG. One popular glass option at Vinyl Window Designs is PPG’s Solarban 60, which Lewin says is a low-E glass that has a better R-value and U-value than a hard-coated low-E glass. He prefers Pilkington’s glass for solar heat gain coefficients, though.

“While the U.S. market starts at 2-mil glass, known as single-strength glass, Vinyl Window Designs does not inventory or use glass of less than 3-mil, even in its inventory of both the hard- and soft-coat low-E glasses, even though this doubles inventory,” Lewin says.

Vinyl Window Designs offers SunClean, PPG’s solar-activated low-maintenance glass surface, in combination with Solarban 60, under the name “E-Clean,” as one of these options.

Vinyl Window Designs also offers several kinds of spacers, including the Intercept spacer from GED Integrated Solutions, PPG’s Ultra Spacer (under the brand name STAINLESS) and the SuperSpacer from Edgetech IG. The company prefers to use an argon fill.

“These kinds of options are not fun for creating products, but they’re good for the dealer,” Lewin adds.

Lewin notes that the Intercept spacer, which is equipped with a thin metal plate fed through the U-channel, sometimes gets bad publicity, but the company has utilized it often.

“A lot of companies have spent a lot of time convincing customers that metal is bad,” he says. He notes that while warmth, which is a popular quality in spacers is important, durability, structure and gas retention also are important, and Vinyl has found all of these qualities with the Intercept spacer system.

That’s not to say that the SuperSpacer from Edgetech isn’t important to Vinyl, though; the company maintains a small line in the product for SuperSpacer.

“They do have bigger, fancier lines than this [our SuperSpacer line], but because it’s not the bulk of our product, this works for us,” Lewin adds.

Along with offering several spacer options, the company prides itself on its ability to make custom windows, and even offers four different types of grill bars.

“For a company that wants to make high-volume simple-production windows, this would drive them crazy,” Lewin says. “That’s really where one of our strengths is.”

He adds, though, that this does require particular attention from employees.

“There’s a lot of skill in this,” Lewin says.

Among its newest options, the company recently started offering a new type of screen as an option—the Touch Screen, which is easily removable due to its magnetic construction.

“It has what you might call a magnetic personality,” quips Lewin. “We’re not the world’s biggest company, but we try to have fun.”

He also notes that the housing market in Canada, which continues to boom, requires a good deal of customization.

“The Canadian consumer demands a lot of this differentiation,” he says.

He adds, “Everything is custom. You’re making them one set at a time. We do some things that most companies would be losing sleep about.”

Vinyl Window Designs utilizes a variety of types of machinery, but the majority comes from GED. Lewin notes, though, that purchasing machinery often has as much to do with relationships as it does with its capability.

“You have to keep in mind that the key aspect to the machine isn’t just the product on the floor,” he says. “It also depends on the maintenance.”

The company creates 750 windows within a shift, and runs one shift a day, five days a week. Lewin says the company made a conscious effort to only run one shift, as the main shift would always be the more effective one. But, he adds, space still limits the company at times.

“Capacity isn’t an issue,” he says. “Space really is the issue.”

“Smiling, Happy People”

While the company has limited itself to one shift, D’Uva and Spatafora have placed a good deal of importance on making sure the employees on that shift are happy.

“We have a full-time human relations department,” Lewin says. “There’s a serious attempt to make this a worker-friendly place.”

“We have smiling, happy people for the most part,” Lewin says. “Phil and Lino are very aware of the need to make this an employee-friendly place and they’ve been successful with that.”

On-Site Testing
While customization creates a good bit of time consumption for the company, so does testing products—so much so that in 2000, the company added its own inside testing lab to the facility.

“We felt we had so many new products coming on that it would save us money,” D’Uva says.

The testing lab is set up to test to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) procedures, and can test for air, water and stress levels. While the windows still have to be sent out after the company tests them for their official certifications, Vinyl Window Designs has found that pre-testing saves them in the long run.

“If you’re going to send something to a lab outside your company, you’ve got to be sure that it’s right,” Lewin says.

Challenges … and a Look to the Future
While the United States has seen a slowdown in residential construction, Canada has remained strong in this area. “We don’t have the housing crisis that the United States has,” Lewin says. “It’s just a different market.”

However, that doesn’t mean the U.S. economy doesn’t play a role in the business.

“Every year in the economy something happens to affect us,” D’Uva says. “This year, it’s the U.S. dollar.”

However, the company’s focus on renovation—which goes back to its roots—has kept it thriving.

“The replacement window business tends to be recession-proof,” D’Uva says.

That’s not to say that the company has it easy.

“There’s enough competition out there to keep you on your toes,” he adds.

As for the future, D’Uva thinks the industry at large could be in for some bleak times.

“I don’t expect there will be many new manufacturers on board,” D’Uva says. “I do expect some of us won’t be around.”

But, Vinyl Window Designs plans to be around—and even plans to grow.

“We’re looking to expand this facility and some of our others in 2008,” D’Uva adds. 

Penny Stacey is the assistant editor of DWM magazine. 


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