Elkhart window maker looking to grow

State Wide is focusing on how to double its size during the next five years. 

Posted on June 28, 2014 at 9:02 p.m.

Like most people, Hollie Fearnow-Vicens likes Fridays, but not just because it’s the end of the work week.

Her employer of 16 years, Elkhart-based State Wide Windows, runs production nine hours a day, Monday through Thursday, and just four hours on Friday, so employees, 60 percent of whom are female, can have Friday afternoons to run errands or schedule their children’s doctor’s appointments, or perhaps just have a few hours for themselves in the hectic work week.

"I think it beneifts a lot of us because you’re off on Friday afternoons as moms or as wives,“ said Fearnow-Vicens. ”You get time to get your stuff done before your kids get home, before your husband gets home. I love it.“

Another thing she likes is how State Wide’s production schedule corresponds to weather-related school delays or closures in the winter, something not all Elkhart manufacturers follow.

The company also focuses heavily on workplace safety. Machinery is often equipped with guards that protect workers, beyond what is typically required by federal safety regulations. Before June 16, when an employee suffered a minor injury on the job, they had gone two years without a workplace injury. The national average for metal window and door manufacturers was 6.3 reportable workplace injuries in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics were available from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

State Wide still is riding an 826-day streak without an injury that has caused an employee to miss work.

Company officials hope the family-friendly philosophy, along with the focus on workplace safety, will be key factors in their plans to double in size over the next five years. To accomplish that goal, the company 18 months ago recruited vice president and general manager Jim Johnson away from Elkhart-basd airhorn maker Hadley Products. 

The company isn’t new, having been founded in 1941 as State Wide Aluminum, but it views itself as somewhat of an upstart as it sets its sights on the recreational vehicle industry. Historically, the company has mostly made windows for the truck cap and horse trailer markets.

But earlier this year, it initiated a name change to State Wide Window to heighten awareness of its primary product.

Last fall, national sales manager, Dan Wright, landed their first RV account, making frameless windows for Coachmen’s Class A buses. Wright said RV makers are increasingly looking for frameless windows, something State Wide has been making for truck caps and horse trailers since 1996.

They realize it will be tough to grab market share from much larger competitors Lippert Components Inc., located directly across the street on C.R. 6, and Clear Window. Wright thinks their smaller size will be an asset.

”When we’re talking to the customers, it’s Jim and Dan, rather than some corporate entity that it’s maybe hard to get them in the room to talk to,“ Wright said. ”If they say ’Hey we need to talk to you,’ Jim and I are in the car and we’re there. They know they’re talking to the decision makers.”

Johnson agreed.

“I believe there’s always room for quality, cost and delivery with a good business partner that delivers those three things with integrity,” Johnson said. “That’s what State Wide Aluminum was known for. We’re very customer-centric. We’re trying to make the transition from a supplier to a solutions provider, so we’re going into companies with ideas of what can we do different. What’s innovative? What can we change?”

State Wide now employs about 150 people in two buildings containing about 150,000 square feet. They have 11 production lines that build 38 different products, producing nearly 9,000 doors and windows per week. The dominant products are the cap windows and horse trailers windows, but they’re also making windows for conversion vans, along with some specialty products, such as windows for pop-up duck blinds and aftermarket Jeep hardtops. They still sell some aluminum for a small number of older clients but it’s something they’re trying to move away from.“

“We recognize we could outgrow this facility,” Johnson said. “We’re currently evaluating our options, whether we want to build anew or look at some other lease opportunities ... maybe building one large complex so we can house everything. We think there’s economies in having everything in one large building.”

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