At age 13, Rick Wuest lived in a window factory. His father started the company in 1980 after soliciting manufacturers throughout the U.S. as national sales manager for a weatherstripping business. The 1979 energy crisis prompted manufacturers to develop more efficient windows, and their answer—the vinyl replacement window—inspired Wuest’s dad to invest everything.
“He didn’t have a background in home improvement,” says Wuest, who began his career in the family business sweeping floors. “He traveled the country visiting window factories as part of his job.”
Thompson Creek initially offered windows only to contractors who then sold them to consumers. In 1997, the company moved from its first building in Annapolis, Maryland, to a 20,000-square-foot facility in Stevensville. The new location and rapid growth provided a new perspective and, in 2001, Thompson Creek revamped its business strategy to sell windows directly to customers.
“Most of the people who are in home improvement are in essence brokers. They buy a product from one person, they mark it up and they sell it to another person,” Wuest explains. “We don’t follow that model because we are the manufacturer ourselves. We have cut out the middleman.”
The ability to design, manufacture and install its own product allows Thompson Creek to focus on quality more than price, Wuest says. He graduated from floor sweeper to window builder to window installer in the family business and, at one point, had to repair windows on-site when a component failed, so he understands the value of spending an extra few dollars on construction.
“We’re not really driven by cost constraints as much as people who are in the business of simply manufacturing windows and being able to sell them at a cheaper price to dealers,” he adds. “It’s less about how we can take things that are going to be appealing to a dealer, like price, and more about how we can create product features that are more appealing to our customer, the end user.”
Thompson Creek maintains a separate profit and loss statement for the manufacturing part of the business to measure its productivity. Even though Wuest has performed nearly every duty in the company, he had to learn more about financial reporting and analysis, insurance and regulations once he became president, and he continues to seek out assets that sharpen his business acumen.
“My understanding of all the jobs along the way make me a good resource to the managers that I hire, in helping them develop strategies and improve processes,” Wuest says. “But when you talk about the skills it takes to run a business, that doesn’t prepare you at all. The biggest challenge is learning how to transition from the person who can do the jobs well, to running an organization.”
The company has established adept business systems, such as customer relationship management software, to handle job leads and streamline operations; however, the systems do not work unless everyone—from the field marketing staff to the employees who manage leads—can grasp how to use the technology, cooperate with one another and apply their comprehension daily, Wuest explains.
“The key to the system is training and repetition, and that means training inside the building, not training on our customers—or practicing on our customers,” he explains. “We spend hours every day working on individual training, three-on-one training and other drills to make sure we know how to best create a customer experience that leads to better conversions for our customers.”
Last year Thompson Creek opened a new 117,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Upper Marlboro because its previous 80,000-square-foot building in Landover reached capacity. The larger space has allowed the company to complement its service offerings and expand into roofing, which adds a revenue stream from existing clients who already patronize the business.
“We’re looking to step on the gas right now and continue to grow,” says Wuest, who does not live in the new factory despite its roomier quarters. “Our biggest opportunity is to expand both inside our marketplace—taking more market share—and to expand our reach geographically.” | QR