Pro Window & Door asks customers to view windows as an appliance. Appliances these days are all about energy efficiency, and that’s where the Little Rock maker of vinyl windows and patio doors puts its focus: producing the most energy-efficient products possible.
Begun in 1978 by Bob and Mary Stewart, Pro Window & Door’s 55 employees take window components — glass, vinyl parts, hardware — and assemble them into windows and doors, producing just under 40,000 windows a year at its 143,000-SF facility at 6500 Forbing Road in southwest Little Rock.
Pro Window was founded to take advantage of government financial incentives promoting residential energy efficiency and aimed at homeowners. “That was the first product we made, an add-on storm window designed specifically to make your home more energy efficient,” said Jim Draper, the company’s president. “The product has changed and developed over the years, but the focus has always been that.”
Pro Window began by manufacturing simple aluminum-frame storm windows with single-pane clear glass. Such a window “didn’t do much to stop the sun or the cold, but it stopped the draft from the old wooden windows,” Draper said.
As technology evolved, manufacturers of those window components began improving the energy efficiency of their products, and Pro Window began improving the energy efficiency of its offerings.
From those first add-on storm windows, the company moved to making aluminum insulated windows with dual-paned windows. Eventually, it replaced clear glass with glass with a low-emissivity, or “low-e,” coating, a coating that keeps heat from escaping.
Now, for some of its window lines, Pro Window injects inert gases like argon into triple-paned windows and blows insulation into the window framing to produce the most energy-efficient windows possible.
“It’s been challenging from a manufacturing standpoint to continue to find ways to change product and materials and applications and methods in order to produce a window at a price point that consumers can afford and can justify payback but that also produces ever-increasing energy efficiency,” Draper said. “We’ve found a way to do that, but it’s not been easy.”
In 2004, Pro Window & Door joined the American Window Alliance, a network of regional manufacturers who produce and market the same product — vinyl windows and patio doors — under the same brand name: Alliance Window Systems. The AWA network offers its customers the strength of a national network with local support.
The company, which remains family-owned and operated, sells its products almost exclusively to builders, contractors, lumberyards and distributors in Arkansas working on residential remodeling projects. “Those consumers are much more concerned with energy efficiency than the average builder who’s not necessarily the end user of the home,” Draper said.
“Virtually every window we build is Energy Star-rated,” Draper said. “We’re an Energy Star partner. It’s just a big part of what we do.”
Energy Star is a voluntary program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that promotes energy efficiency among businesses and individuals. Energy Star partners agree to:
• Measure, track and benchmark energy performance;
• Develop and implement a plan to improve energy performance; and
• Educate staff and the public about the partnership and achievements with Energy Star.
Pro Window & Door is a custom manufacturing facility. “We build nothing to stock,” Draper said. “We build nothing to go on lumberyard shelves. We build nothing in hopes someone buys it later.” Every window and door it makes is custom ordered for a particular project.
In addition, he noted, the company builds only to a 10-day lead time, meaning it never has more than 10 days’ worth of business in-house. That makes for a lean manufacturing process, Draper said.
And that lean manufacturing process meant that the recession that followed the housing bust “wasn’t as scary as it could have been.”
Pro Window didn’t begin to see a significant slowdown until 2010 and into 2011. But Draper is proud that the company “didn’t lay off a single employee. We let standard attrition help us where it could. We did meet with our employees. We’re very transparent with them. We discussed the situation.”
The company implemented wage freezes across the board, he said, but promised employees that once those freezes were no longer necessary, the first to see raises again would be the manufacturing personnel. By mid-2013, Draper said, “we started to see an increase in quotes. That’s kind of where it starts for us. When we see the quote business pick up, we know real business is somewhere behind that.”
“Our core team, by far the vast majority of our employees, stayed with us through all of it,” he said, and the company has rebounded and grown beyond prerecession levels.
The company is also proud that a number of its workers have been with Pro Window & Door for 20, 25 and 30 years. In fact, its first full-time employee still works at the company. After 37 years in business, Pro Window is starting to see some of its first workers retire.
During the recession, the company expanded its product offerings and services so it would no longer be so dependent on a “single, narrow niche product,” Draper said. Pro Window & Door added a wholesale glass distribution division, a residential door shop and a building materials division, offering siding materials from James Hardie, LP SmartSide and CertainTeed.
As for the glass, Pro Window buys 4,000-pound cases of glass and mirrors that it resells in much smaller quantities to local glass shops. “We might have 500 mirrors on our inventory floor today,” Draper said. “The local glass shop can’t carry that. He needs three today, and next week he’ll need five more, so we offer that service.”
Demand Likely to Continue
After Pro Window has assembled its windows from the vinyl components, glass and hardware that it has sourced, it submits the finished products for testing that evaluates both thermal and structural efficiency. The Energy Star program has to approve the testing methods, and the company is audited twice yearly at random to ensure that it used the exact strength and grade of components that were tested.
Draper doesn’t expect interest in energy efficiency to wane. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the discussion over climate change gets pushed out to consumers, makes all of us a little more aware of what’s going on,” he said. “‘How can we be more energy efficient? What can I do?’
“We don’t sell any windows today that don’t have low-e glass on them. We just don’t offer it. Five years ago, that was less than 50 percent of our product mix. Ten years ago, we had to beg people to buy it. They would just tell you, ‘I don’t want to pay for that. I don’t care. I just need a window.’”
Now, however, “Homeowners more and more see windows as a potential energy saver. We actually ask people to view their windows as an appliance. Every window uses energy. It lets a certain amount of heat in or out of a home, cold in or out of a home. And if you can minimize that or make it work in your favor, you can mitigate some expenses.”