Volume 37, Issue 3, March 2002
Southeastern Aluminum Celebrates Its Fiftieth Anniversary
by Penny Beverage
It was the mid-1980s and the economy was thriving under the leadership of president Ronald Reagan. People were achieving the American dream throughout the nation, unemployment was down and purchases were up. That’s when John Wright and Bill Jackson of Jacksonville, Fla., decided they wanted to purchase a company. At first, they were uncertain what type of company—the former had spent a number of years in the food industry and the latter had worked for a glass-bottling company—but they knew they wanted to also achieve the American dream and run their own business.
John Wright worked in the food industry for several years before purchasing Southeastern Aluminum with Bill Jackson in 1985.
“We wanted to leave corporate American and go out on our own,” Wright said. “We said ‘let’s look together and if we’re lucky we’ll find something for one of us, and if we’re really lucky we’ll find something for both of us.’”
They began their search and stumbled onto Southeastern Aluminum (SEA), a shower door manufacturer that had been around since 1952. The owner, Bob Dahl, had bought the company from its original owners and founders, Charlie Parks and Al Summers in 1980. By 1985, Dahl was ready to sell.
So, the two jumped into the shower door business and have since revolutionized some of its products—particularly with its latest launch, the patent-pending signature-pivot shower door. (The door was to be unveiled at the NGA Show in Houston. See next month’s issue for a review of the show.) This year, the company celebrates its fiftieth anniversary—having begun in the screen business and now offering an extensive eight lines of shower doors.
SEA planned to unveil its latest product, the patent-pending Signature Pivot shower door, shown here, at the NGA Show in Houston.The self-centering shower door is made with 3/8-inch glass and requires minimum glass fabrication. It can be installed using a header system, a wall-mounted bracket or it can run to the ceiling.
Employees of Southeastern Aluminum—from the owners, to the management team to those working on the production line—all have one thing in common: quality is of the utmost importance to them.
That is reflected in both their attitudes and the company’s mission statement: Our reputation is based on integrity and a dedication to excellence. Through innovation and team effort, we are committed to providing superior service, products and quality …
Ann Nickola, materials manager, is one of the company’s newest additions. Having worked for a variety of other companies, she joined SEA seven months ago and says Southeastern Aluminum was her first choice of employers when she recently moved to Jacksonville. “Why did I pick Southeastern Aluminum? There’s a high level of integrity within the company, and that’s something very important to me,” she said. “[The owners] really pay attention to maintaining a good company that will be here forever.”
Co-owner Jackson agreed. “We believe in integrity, honesty and ethics and we want to provide superior quality and we want to know our customers,” he said.
“We both feel our future is in the quality of our products,” he said. “Quality’s got to be built into the product, not inspected in the end product,” said Wright.
In an effort to improve this quality continually and meet the never-ending challenge of keeping products up-to-date and in line with the customers' needs, the company has formed a product advisory council that meets annually to discuss how to improve Southeastern’s product lines. It is composed of Wright and Jackson, Jeff Dowd, western sales manager, and several of the company’s customers from around the nation.
“We set the board up probably five years ago. The main idea is to make our products more user-friendly,” Jackson said.
“It’s the only way we can expand this relationship—by communicating back and forth with our customers,” agreed Wright.
John Wright Jr. manages the company’s 110,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and the quest for quality continues right down the production line. “Every single employee is to inspect the metal he is using to create a product and every single employee has the ability to reject metals with imperfections,” he said. “The owners have instilled the importance of quality in all of us.”
Wright Jr. finds that employees pick up this sense of quality very quickly—and for the ones that have been there for as long as 20 years, it’s a way of life. “It’s easy with the people that have been here a long time,” he said. “They’ve got to be the ones that decide if [the material] is good or bad.”
Bill Jackson worked in the glass-bottling industry before joining John Wright in the purchase of SEA in 1985.
Since Jackson and Wright purchased the company, they’ve doubled the size of the plant with the purchase of a second manufacturing facility, raising the company from 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space to 110,000; expanded with the opening of a 17,000-square-foot distribution facility in Indianapolis; raised the number of trucks for shipping from two to six; and have gone from 35 employees to 138.
The two continually plan for the company’s future—creating a strategic plan each year for the company’s growth. In the words of the younger Wright, “They brought corporate America with them from their previous jobs, but without the bad parts.”
Wright said the plan helps the company to meet its goals financially and quality-wise throughout the year. “Each salaried person has a list of goals for every year and if they meet their goals, the company meets its goals,” he said.
When asked whether further expansion is planned, Jackson said it definitely could be in the future.
Wright agreed, “We have no special plans, but that’s something we’re always looking at.”
Penny Beverage is the managing editor of USGlass.
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