Volume 11, Issue 2 - March 2010


Seeing It Through
From Educating Dealers to a Commitment to Quality, Seaway Navigates Through a Stormy 2009
by Tara Taffera

For a company to say they provide a quality product is a bit cliché. Of course, everyone says they provide a quality product, though the degree to which they do so is open to interpretation. But at Seaway Manufacturing in Erie, Pa., they seem to place quality and inspections as a top priority.

Seaway performs numerous quality inspections throughout the manufacturing process, from the moment a raw material arrives to the final product. First, the raw material is scrutinized, including running an extrusion through the line to ensure that it matches up with the current profiles and guarantees that there are no offsets in sash, frame, etc.

“One thing we are really keen on here is a commitment to quality,” says Jana Goodrich, Seaway’s president. “Any time a shipment comes in it is checked immediately—that’s the first quality check. At any point along the production line, in addition to quality checks, a window can be pulled and rejected for remake by any employee.”

Quality comes through in other areas as well, including the painstaking attention Seaway pays to its dealers.

Partnering with the Right Dealers
Seaway has been in business since 1959, making vinyl replacement windows, storm windows, sunrooms and entry doors. The company says its sales, over the last few years, average $15 to $20 million. Seaway distributes its products to Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Kentucky, Nebraska, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Michigan and Iowa. The company delivers products on its own trucks, and also ships using a dedicated common carrier.

Seaway, which serves the remodeling market primarily, sells through specialty home improvement dealers, and Goodrich says many of these dealers also offer other products such as roofing and siding.

Not many door and window manufacturers also offer sunrooms, and Goodrich says this does offer an additional boost to the business, as it allows the company to serve as a “one-stop” provider.

“Many of our dealers are buying at least windows, storm products and replacement doors from us,” says Goodrich. “A lot also sell Seaway sunrooms. Several of our customers offer all Seaway products.”

And many are dedicated to Seaway not just because of the products it provides but other services as well. For one, the company has formed a partnership with AWDI, a third-party window installation certification program.

“Seaway has underwritten the cost of this program for its dealers, and we are able to offer it to them for a discounted price,” says Goodrich. “AWDI certified installers add value in the sales process, inspire homeowner confidence and provide differentiation from the competition in a very positive way.

She adds that for dealers who choose to invest in the program, AWDI certification gives them an added point of differentiation.

The program must be working.

“We typically don’t have many service problems with our products,” says Goodrich.

She also attributes this to the attention to quality given in the manufacturing process.

“We work hard to make sure quality is maintained at the highest level,” she says. “I know that sounds trite, but it’s something we take a lot of pride in.”

Seaway also takes pride in choosing its dealers very carefully.

“Not everyone can be a Seaway dealer,” says Goodrich. “We try to choose those who are ethical and conscientious, who do good work the first time and back it up. A lot of our customers have won Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List Awards. That’s the type of customer we are looking for: the one who wants to purchase a premium replacement window and provide excellent installations/service to customers.”

She adds, “Because most of our customers are chosen carefully and we have strong relationships, they stand behind their work like we stand behind our products.”

Seaway also provides an extensive variety of marketing tools, advice, support and services and is committed to helping its dealers successfully promote their businesses.

Goodrich says the company works hard to make sure its dealers are aware of upcoming industry changes and impending legislation. For example, Seaway currently offers its dealers lead paint safety certification training (for more on this issue go to www.dwmmag.com and search for lead paint). The company is organizing the seminars and offering them to dealers. Seaway also offers other training such as sunroom installation and production strategies. Many of these sessions piggyback with one another so the dealer can receive a variety of education at one time.

“We try to make sure that all of our customers are aware of what’s going on in the industry and what they need to be prepared for. This is really an investment we make in our customers,” says Goodrich.

Goodrich has a background in marketing so she knows of its importance in making her customers successful. She worked in sales for companies such as Xerox and IBM before joining Seaway. She also served as a college professor in marketing and management.

So the company believes in helping its dealers plan their marketing strategies.

“Many people who become specialty improvement dealers start out as good craftsman, but fewer say, ‘I’m a really good businessperson, so I think I’ll start a home improvement business.’ So, Seaway tries to help its customers navigate areas that are unfamiliar to them and assist them in any way they can,” she says.

Goodrich adds that the support it provides its dealers is often cited by their customers as what sets them apart from the competition.

“People have told us they are just shocked by how well they are treated,” she says. “We really provide an extensive offering of marketing support.”

Manufacturing Operations
But, of course, good marketing and customer support means nothing without quality products. Plant manager Paul Gleichsner says that attention to detail in the plant, even it if means multiple checks and rechecks, is key.

The company has three buildings (a total of 130,000 square feet) in Erie to manufacture its products and owns more property on which it can build (and plans to do so in the near future).

The company’s main plant is set up with three window lines and a sunroom line, along with a retail facility, Seaway Window. Storm window and door production occurs in a separate building, and entry door production and their paint shop is housed in the third facility. The sunrooms use components from all of the product lines.

“So when we ramp up production, we’re not ramping up one line, we’re ramping up for all products,” says Gleichsner.

He serves as plant manager for all three buildings, supported by supervisory and managerial people on all the lines.

It’s no surprise that the number of employees and shifts run on a given day varies, due to the cyclical nature of the business. The plant typically operates five days a week and runs one or two shifts depending on demand. During the busiest times of year, there is a third shift and Saturday production as well.

The plant, which is set up in a U-shape, begins with bay and bow specialty window production. Next is the foam-filling area, as Seaway utilizes this method in its manufacturing processes. Following this is the extrusion storage area; the company obtains its extrusions from Chelsea Building Products, out of Pennsylvania, and Vision Extrusions, based in Canada, as different profiles are used for different product lines.

The company’s Encore line is its highest volume production, and this line utilizes both ProLine and Sturtz equipment as the vinyl lineals are turned into frames and sashes that move down parallel production lines.

Once these processes are complete, the components, such as insertion of tilt locks, pivot bars, etc., are added, and the window is then wet glazed. The glass, supplied primarily by PPG, is added to the window, which is then sent to an accumulation rack to join with the frames. A finisher performs a final quality check and wraps for shipping.

“During various points on the line, the operator checks to see if the product is compliant with all quality specifications,” says Gleichsner. “All in all we measure more than 20 different parameters and record the information in a log to track the production process.”

Next to the Encore line are Seaway’s Ovation and Accolade lines. Gleichsner says that production for these windows is similar to the Encore, and again the same rigorous quality checks are performed.

Gleichsner adds that the company also focuses on lean principles and one of its current focuses is eliminating scrap.

“We also worked with material handling to put up conveyors, so we don’t have to move materials to a buggy, etc. We want to get as quickly as possible from one station to another,” he says.

Even with the downturn in the construction industry, Seaway continues to invest in manufacturing equipment and technological advancements. For example, the company is in the process of implementing the Fenevision software system from Fenetech. Goodrich explains that the company took a great deal of time evaluating the different software suppliers before choosing Fenetech.

“We’ve been talking about it for several years and evaluating a variety of options,” she says. “We had different task groups evaluating possible solutions during that time. Consistently, we kept coming back to Fenevision.”

She says Seaway wanted to find a company that would fit in well with the door, window, sunroom and storm products it produces.

“We have confidence in their ability to help us implement the software in different product categories,” says Goodrich. “They work with companies that produce more than one product line, and their established customers are very happy.”

Energy-Efficient Products Helped Give Company a Boost
Seaway prides itself on offering high-performance, energy-efficient products, and Goodrich says this helped when .30/.30 hit more than a year ago.

“When the recovery act hit, we already had .30/.30 windows and immediately were able to provide customers with those qualifying windows,” she says.

The tax credit also provided Seaway with another opportunity to work closely with its dealers. The company presented several regional sessions to provide dealers with additional tools to capture the opportunities associated with the tax credits.

“We gave our dealers tools to help generate additional leads,” says Goodrich. “We worked quite a bit on education and tactics to help our dealers do well in 2009.”

Prior to the tax credits, the company had been planning for the more rigorous Energy Star® standards that were expected, which is why the company had more than one product line already qualified for .30/.30, according to Goodrich.

2009 was a trying year for many strong and long-standing companies in the home improvement industry.

“When we were anticipating what 2009 might bring we tried to anticipate a worst-case scenario,” says Goodrich. “We prepared for the worst and thankfully, that did not come to pass. We were fortunate to remain healthy and strong through 2009.”

She adds that there were a lot of contributing elements to make sure the worst case didn’t end up happening.

“We didn’t raise prices,” says Goodrich. “That [didn’t] happen by accident, because our costs continue to go up. We worked hard to control costs, while adding features and value in order to give the very best value to our customers.”


© Copyright 2010 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.