Volume 47, Issue 4 - April 2012


On the Frontier

Commercial Window Company Strikes Gold in a Down Economy
by Penny Stacey

Diversity is key in today’s market, but there are few companies that serve both high-end residential markets and commercial markets with ease. Phoenix-based Western Window Systems, however, has found a common ground in both markets—and has grown from a local manufacturer and installer to a national-based manufacturer with a network of dealers and distributors.

The company got its start in 1959 when it began to produce insulating glass for the commercial market in need of higher-performing glass for refrigeration and insulation units. “As the technology surrounding dual-pane glass began to improve and the residential market began to have a greater demand for energy-efficient products, Western made a natural transition into manufacturing doors and windows,” says Jason Funk, president.

Eventually, brand recognition grew among local architects and builders.

“We were pioneers in developing moving walls of glass and were one of the first companies to begin producing multi-slide door systems for custom homes,” adds Scott Leech, vice president. “For years, Western sold and installed custom doors and windows into the most beautiful homes in Arizona. As our reputation and company continued to grow, many architects and builders from states throughout the Southwest began to contact Western about supplying our products for their homes and commercial properties.”

Eventually, the company ceased installation and focused on manufacturing instead. A network of distributors and installers developed in turn. “This shift allowed our company to focus on what we do best … ” says marketing director Scott Gates.
“The resulting dealer network that developed now includes partnerships with some of the best window and door distributors in the United States.”

This shift has allowed the company to expand, and it now sells its products across the United States and in Canada and Mexico. “Because of our expansion and so many great dealer partners, Western grew by 40 percent last year and our current pace indicates that we should grow by that much again this year,” says Funk.

Product Offerings
Western Window Systems aims to be a “one-stop shop,” according to company officials.

“There are very few door and window products available that we do not manufacture,” says Leech. “We have an extensive product line that includes everything from small sliding and casement windows to large bi-fold, multi-slide and pivot doors.”

The company specializes, however, specifically in door and window systems “that help create an indoor/outdoor living environment,” says Funk.

“As one of the first companies to manufacture multi-slide door systems, we saw firsthand how passionately individuals responded to these products,” he adds. “As our sales exploded we began to discover an inherent desire in most every consumer to open their homes or commercial properties in such a way that they seamlessly connect their dwelling spaces to the beauty of their surroundings. People want to live better … They want to live in a way that they can truly enjoy the weather, entertain their guests and expand their livable spaces.”

This line has gained prominence as well. “We have expanded our indoor/outdoor product lines (as well as the customers we are marketing to) and they now include multiple bi-folding and multi-slide door systems that open entire walls to the splendor of the outdoors,” says Gates. “These products and their popularity are growing rapidly and Western is at the forefront of meeting that demand.”

Today, Western serves both the commercial market and the high-end luxury home market. “The transition into the commercial market was driven again by a marketplace demand for indoor/outdoor living,” says Leech. “As restaurants, resorts, education facilities, etc., developed a strong need to open entire walls with massive door and window systems, their architects and designers were drawn to Western’s capabilities. As builders and developers in that industry became familiar with Western’s quality and attention to detail, we evolved from not just providing our specialty products but actually being specified and used for standard sliding glass doors, windows, hinged doors, etc.”

This has led to several large resort projects both on the new construction and renovation side, according to Gates.

“People want to live better … They want to live in a way that they can truly enjoy the weather, entertain their guests, and expand their livable spaces.”
—Jason Funk,
Western Window Systems

“Western now has strong relationships with restaurants and hotels nationwide,” he says. “On the residential side, we are still the product of choice for the luxury contemporary homeowner, and we are privileged to work with some of the most creative architects in the country.”

Serving various markets is not without challenges, though. “It is not easy to be a company with the flexibility to handle both market segments,” says Leech. “The expertise and attention to detail it takes to work on the highest level of custom homes is different than the expertise and engineering focus it takes to work on multi-story resort projects. Western has worked hard to hire experts with the experience and pedigree from both commercial and residential backgrounds.”

In the end, this challenge has actually helped the company. “These additions to our team have not only helped us enter new market segments, they have helped improve our products, our procedures and our capabilities,” adds Gates. “The end result is a sales and engineering team that is uniquely positioned with the right experience, products, price and focus to handle most any construction project you have in development.”

Having made a large transition over the years among markets, the company continually looks for further expansion and new clientele to serve. “We identify our market as anyone that values quality door and window systems and wants to work with a company that makes meeting their needs a top priority,” says Funk.

Everything’s Changing …
The 53-year-old company certainly has endured some changes over the years. “Much of the change to the door, window and glazing industry has evolved around advances in technology and the continued push toward better energy efficiency and sustainability,” says Leech. “As environmental concerns have grown as well as sophisticated consumers demanding the best quality possible, window and door companies have had to focus on always being better.”

Company officials try to foresee the changes that are ahead, though. “We work hard to be ahead of emerging customer trends or industry changes, and thus position ourselves to be ready to meet the demands of our customers before they even know they want the change,” says Gates. “There is a Thomas Edison quote that lines the walls of our facility (and defines the heart of Western employees) that says, ‘There is a way to do it better. Find it.’”

In down times, such as the current economic downturn, this philosophy has been positive for the company. “This culture of innovation and improvement has served us well in times of economic recession (like the one of the last few years),” says Funk. “In lieu of saving money at all costs, our company actually significantly increased our investments in technology, equipment, staffing and new product development in the middle of a down economy. This investment improved our products and positioned us strongly for growth. At a time when most companies are shrinking or closing, Western is rapidly expanding.”

Economic Endurance
Western Window Systems, like the rest of the construction industry, has endured several economic downtimes, including the downfall of recent years, the 2001 recession that followed 9/11, and others. “ … That always hurts sales and decreases production. We’ve worked hard to become quick adaptors, and the current recession is a strong example of how economic downturns can be catalysts for change,” says Funk. “As our sales temporarily decreased (they are back growing at about 40 percent now), we learned how to minimize our production costs and move to a lean manufacturing model.”

The company has taken a variety of steps to endure these recessions. “We cut back on operating expenses and increased profitability, which in turn allowed us to increase investment and grow sales,” Gates says. “We’ve prided ourselves on getting ‘lean and mean’ and creating a culture of creativity that sees our company doing things drastically different than everyone else. While challenges hurt at the time, we see them as opportunities to lean on our ability to innovate and do it better in the future.”

“We feel that the economy as a whole is starting to improve. However, the reality is we most likely will never again see the construction boom we saw five to six years ago,” says Leech. “Unfortunately, many in the industry made acquisitions and hiring decisions based on the volume of work that was present at that time and simply are finding the road to recovery too difficult to bear. We think that is the major reason we read about so many layoffs and plant closures. The new, smaller market simply cannot justify the number of window and door companies that existed before. With that smaller demand and smaller populous of customers, the manufacturers that will survive are the ones that are best able to connect with their customers.”

“It’s the creative, outside-the-box thinking that will help some door and window companies thrive in lieu of merely surviving,” adds Gates. “Strategically positioning and marketing our products to new customers as well as creatively differentiating ourselves from our competition has been part of our formula for success at Western. Everyone in the industry is going to have to continue to get better at what we do. We have to follow consumer trends and position our products and companies in line with them. Customers won’t just find us, we have to work hard to find them.”

Penny Stacey is the editor of USGlass magazine. Email her at pstacey@glass.com, follow her on Twitter @USGlass, read her blog at http://penny.usglassmag.com and like USGlass Magazine on Facebook to receive the latest updates.

What Makes a Manufacturing Marvel?
Western Window Systems in Phoenix was profiled recently on Fox Business Channel as being a “manufacturing marvel.” The series consist of two-minute profiles that spotlight American manufacturers, their products, as well as the companies’ processes and customers.

The company attributes the fact that it was featured to a landmark year in 2011—and more.

“2011 was a landmark year for Western,” says company president Jason Funk. “It saw a variety of changes for us, including a new logo, new branding and a fresh emphasis on marketing and better communication with our customers.”

How was 2011 different from previous years, though? “Western has always been known for quality and customization, but last year we got much better at helping tell that story to our existing and potential customers,” continues Funk. “These changes, along with the new look and feel of our website, brochures, advertisements, etc., energized our sales force and dealer network and we experienced outstanding growth. I think that growth and new energy was part of what caught the attention of the ‘Manufacturing Marvels’ production team.”

The program visited the Western Window Systems facility with a camera crew to film the segment. “As their cameraman visited our facility and they began to craft our story, some of the things that make Western great—custom products, massive sizes, smooth operation, state-of-the-art factory, happy/motivated employees, positive culture, etc.—really began to shine through,” says marketing director Scott Gates.

The program became a source of pride for not only company management but employees as well. “It was very exciting for our employees when the video aired nationally on Fox Business Network,” says Funk. “It was a great way for our team, especially our guys in the shop, to show their families a small glimpse of what they are a part of at Western.”


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