Winchester - A Manufacturer Worth Investigating

Fixin' to Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin

I picked up a brilliant little phrase when I lived in the South that many subsequent years in Washington D.C. and New York have yet to erase. To me, it is so much more appropriate than any of its proper English counterparts. Though I never mastered the Southern drawl, I love the phrase, fixin' to %,  As in picking up the phone to hear, "Honey, have you left for the store? To which I reply, "No, I'm fixin' to. My New Yorker friends and family members still cringe when it comes rolling out, but it just works so much better than "I was just about to" or "I'm going to start that now".

Also atop the list of my favorite phrases (yes' there is a list and 'yes' it is ranked) is something my husband often says: "comfortable in his own skin". This is another casual phrase that just fits better than anything hyphenated and proper like self-assured or self-confident. Those descriptors bring connotations of ego and perhaps aggressiveness, at least to me, anyway. When I describe someone as "comfortable in his/her own skin" I'm picking up on a deep calm within that person. Or maybe it's a lack of tension between that person in reality and that person's front to the world. There's no trying to be something else or scrambling to impress others. That person is generally content with who he/she is, and it wouldn't even be on his/her radar to make apologies for it.

The reason I give you this lesson in random Christina Lewellen vocabulary is because I have finally met a window manufacturer I would describe as comfortable in its own skin. I visited recently Winchester Industries' maker of the Bristol brand of replacement windows and doors. Located in a small, former-mining town cut into a hillside in Western Pennsylvania, Winchester's facilities are nondescript but clean. Many of the company's employees have been around the entirety of its 25-year history and I hear that local residents scramble to get a foot in the door if a position opens up on the floor. This company makes energy efficiency its shtick, and I've been around long enough to know that every window manufacturer says that but not every window manufacturer is truly committed to it.

Winchester's co-owners' Bob Weis and George Yuhasz, are industry veterans who started a company to do things the right way, in their opinion, rather than the accepted way. The company has always made triple-paned units, even before consumers knew what they were, and today they're filled with a proprietary gas mixture. A Truseal customer, Winchester has always transitioned to the supplier's newest technologies. The window's vinyl profiles are reinforced with aluminum stiffeners, but you won't find executives apologizing for the hit its U-values take with the metal components, they are comfortable that it's an appropriate trade-off for the strength and long-lasting benefits that the metal brings. That's being comfortable in its own skin.

The executive team is stubbornly dedicated to its exclusive dealer network. Like any company, Winchester would love to grow into new territories, but it will only do so if the area is not occupied by a current Bristol window distributor. And a potential dealers‚ size won't bully the manufacturer either - even if you're bigger than Winchester's current retailer in a given area, you won't be able to steal that business away from your competition. Exclusive means exclusive to Winchester and the leadership is comfortable that it will have to turn its back on spikes in growth once in a while in order to maintain its smooth upward trend line over time. Winchester's Bristol windows are 100 percent residential replacement products, and the manufacturer requires that its dealers use in-house, trained installers to get the products in the holes. That's not self-assured or self-confident to me - that's being comfortable in its own skin.

What sealed the deal on my descriptive stamp for Winchester Industries is the people. The reason I had the opportunity to personally visit Winchester's site this spring is because I was in the Pittsburgh area for the grand re-opening of the former Kensington Windows facility under its new leadership of Serious Windows. Given the rural nature of the area (even my GPS was befuddled), Michael Sugrue, Winchester's vice president, personally drove me to the Serious Materials event. In plain English - he drove me to his competitor's grand opening party. So comfortable in his own skin he was that he actually expressed genuine pleasure to see former window executives and factory workers re-employed. He celebrated the re-opening of a competitor's plant because he's that comfortable with the products Winchester makes and the dealers with which it partners to sell them.

Given the current economic environment and the long road to recovery we surely face this year and next, I think it's time for window and door dealers and manufacturers to look in the mirror and figure out if they're comfortable - truly comfortable - in their own skin. Dealers, do you get that sense of deep calm from your manufacturers? Not that they should be doing cartwheels over the consumer confidence and the credit markets right now' but are they collected and steadfast in their vision, or scrambling to put a new face on to the world? Do you, as dealers, know who you are, which customer segment you're best equipped to serve and what products in your repertoire most closely fit with the vision you have for your own company?

If you have not yet reached the level of comfort where you're not making excuses for the economy, your products or the way the wind blows, perhaps now would be a good time to explore that whole getting-comfortable-in-your-own-skin thing. If you're not there yet, I hope you'll send me an email and tell me that you're fixin' to head down the path.

by Christina Lewellen,                               COLUMN : Talking to Dealers
Senior Editor, Window & Door Publication                           May 4, 2009

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