Volume 35, Number 6, June 2000

Phoenix Water Sports

A shower door business thrives in this hot, hot, hot climate

by Floyd Allen


wpeE.jpg (42580 bytes)“We had a somewhat auspicious start, to say the very least,” said Fred “Spike” Knadler, president of Phoenix-based Arizona Shower Doors (ASD). Knadler became involved in the company as a silent partner in 1984, putting up $100,000 of his own money. But, within six months the money was gone, and so was his partner.

In the past 15 years, however, the company has bounced back and is now doing well. One of the major reasons for its success is what Knadler calls “shop economies.”

“We have found, and I’m sure that it is true with any business, that in order to stay truly competitive with our pricing we have had to keep a real handle on our overhead. As we strive to do this, we tend to be able to hold the line on our pricing, a fact our customers are most thankful for,” he said.




Meeting Marketing Demands

There are, of course, other areas of concern that need attention. Like staying on the cutting edge of what the market wants.

“We are finding that more and more people are looking for ‘heavy glass’ doors, and we are always looking for trends like that,” said Pete Knadler, Spike’s son and one of ASD’s vice presidents.

The “heavy glass” door is accomplished with the use of heavy hinges in frameless doors. This type of door accomplishes several goals that ASD’s customers appreciate: easy to clean doors and a reduction in the usual metal frames that was typical in shower door designs of the past.

“We have found that most of our customers are as concerned with decorative appeal as they are concerned about the functional aspects, so we try to make sure we have the latest styles available to them,” said Pete.

“Functionality can become an issue, however, once the doors are installed,” said Paul Knadler, another son and vice president. “For awhile a popular concept was the ‘sea shell’ shower stall, which actually had no door at all. While they are very attractive, people soon found that while no water could get out, lots of cold air could get in. I can’t believe how many people have requested that doors now be installed to cut down what we call the ‘draft effect.’”

“I was speaking to a lady not too long ago who said she had an overhead shower door, much like the door you have in your garage. She never actually told me what she thought of it, but she did mention that that is the shower she uses to bathe her dog in,” Spike said with a grin. Knadler added that the company has had no other requests for overhead operating shower doors.

Another industry trend which seems to be influenced by geography is metal finishes. While much of the country is attracted to a hard metal finish frame, silver or gold, the southwest is becoming infatuated with a softer finish, which has an antique coloring known as “Heritage Brass.” Other finishes currently popular are brushed nickel and satin finish in chrome.

“I’m not sure what influences a choice of finish, but our studies show that it is very much regional,” said Spike.


The Labor Pool

wpeF.jpg (23987 bytes)
An ASD employee works on fabricating one of the company’s
many shower door products.

“I think that another real challenge we face deals with the labor pool,” said Paul. “For the most part we have been pretty lucky in this area, but it still is a major concern. I mean, getting bodies is hard enough, but getting individuals who are competent and take pride in their work is that much more difficult. The key, of course, is not constantly looking for new employees, but keeping the ones you have.”

How do you accomplish that?

“Well, we try to make them a part of the family, so to speak,” said Spike.

“We pay competitive wages, and, more importantly, we try to make sure they know how much we appreciate them. You can’t expect someone to take pride in his or her work if compliments are never received. Our employees represent ASD as much as we do, and we want to make sure they feel a loyalty to us because of our loyalty to them,” he added.


Satisfied Customers

The key to any business, of course, is satisfying the customer. With ASD the key seems to be in the excellent service it provides.

“I have had several people tell me that we give such good service, with so few problems, that they wouldn’t go anywhere else,” Paul said. “That makes me feel good, because that exemplifies what we strive to do.”

Pete agreed, saying “I have occasionally met with some of our competitors, and invariably one of them tells me how they have tried to break into our customer base and can’t because our clients are so satisfied with both our service and product. The product could possibly be equaled elsewhere, so our service must be what keeps them around.”

If this high quality of service has a drawback it would be that it creates “controlled growth.” This fact does not concern ASD, however, for the growth they do realize is ample to keep them thriving.

As we enter both a new century and a new millennium, Arizona Shower Doors prepares for the future by realizing that there will probably be many changes in the industry, but not much change in the company’s business philosophy.

“We are prepared to continue doing those things which have made us successful in the past: pay attention to keeping costs down; provide our customers with an incomparable level of service; and stay on the ‘cutting edge’ of the industry. After all, if our current principles are not broken, there is no sense in fixing it,” said Spike.


Installer Influence

Spike Knadler’s words could very well be the catch phrase of the next century. After all, nothing succeeds like success, and ASD certainly enjoys its share of that. One of those groups who add to that success, and shares in it, are ASD dealers like Markus Linke of Mid-City Glass. An installer of shower doors, Linke takes the product provided by ASD and makes it a reality in the homes of his clients.

“What we’re finding,” said Linke, “is that due to the upswing in the economy a great number of people are remodeling their homes. A major change wrought in their bathroom is taking out the tub and putting in a completely customized shower.”

This often takes the form of converting a corner into a shower, necessitating a combination of door and glass. In such instances, the only thing that is “standard” would be the hinges and anchors. As a result, everything must be fabricated. Typically, the client wants a “frameless” appearance, and will choose glass that ranges in appearance from being colored and etched to even sandblasted.

“When you are dealing with a project of this magnitude, there are three concerns that you must be sure you attend to,” Linke said. “First, you must make sure that you totally verify what the customer wants—what they want to achieve. After that has been accomplished, you next need to explain to the client what you can do. For example, you may not be able to use glass where they want it. At this point, you have to make their wants and your capabilities compatible. This would also include making sure they realize that if they are hoping to utilize a particularly heavy piece of glass that the hardware they need is not more overwhelming than they have imagined. Once you have the plan developed, you can take the measurements, order the materials, and install the project.”

Reality tells us that not every project goes as planned, of course. In those instances that problems do arise, Linke suggests that you make the client a part of the solution as soon as possible.

“When you keep people continually informed they are much more understanding when there is a problem,” said Linke. “I think it is important when you encounter a problem that you apprise the client not only of what the situation is, but how you intend to rectify it. What you must be careful of, however, is working with contractors that you don’t know. I recently had a situation where the bottom sill was not straight, and the door was binding with the tiles. We were able to correct the problem, but it cost the client more time and money than they really wanted to devote to the project.”

As is so often the case, communication is the key to success when providing quality product and service in regard to shower doors. Be sure to explain each product’s strengths and limitations and any restrictions the project may offer. To do so will ensure your success, as it has that of Arizona Shower Doors and Mid-City Glass.

Floyd Allen is a freelance writer whose works have been published in various magazines. He resides in Phoenix.


Copyright 2000 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.