Peter Brnger
Jonathan Kannair Peter Brnger

When Peter Brnger sat down to develop a business plan for his company early in 2004, he decided to focus in part on continuing education for his core contractor customers.

Marvin Windows and Doors Showcase by Millwork Masters, with showrooms in Keene and Nashua, N.H., has since built a program worthy of this year's ProSales Excellence Award for Marketing. By blending education with networking, Brnger and Millwork Masters have built a system that fosters customer loyalty, knowledge, and best business practices.

"We feel that if our core customers are better educated and more proficient, then we are not only increasing their loyalty to us, but also making them better stewards for both our industry and the environment," says Brnger (pronounced BURN-jer), president and owner of the $10 million operation.

About 85% of Millwork Masters' business is directly with contractors. But the company takes a wider view of its core customer base. That group is called the "ABCs:" architects, builders, and consumers. As the showroom builds strong relationships with area architects, they in turn can specify Millwork Masters products to builders in plans. Likewise, by building a strong alliance with a consumer or end user, they can dictate to the builder where they want their product to come from: Millwork Masters, of course.

Since the program was initiated in spring 2004, roughly 117 builders, associates, and contractors have enrolled. There are monthly presentations at each Millwork Masters location, but not on the same date, so if a contractor misses a "Field Assembly" presentation at the Keene location, for instance, he can catch it at the Nashua location the next month. About 50 classes have been given since 2004.

These aren't cookie cutter seminars about new windows and doors. Millwork Masters is trying to take education a step further, according to Brnger, by providing its customers with tools to improve their businesses.

"We try to tailor the programs to the needs of our customers," Brnger says. For example, when the attendees are independent contractors, Millwork Masters might give a presentation on profit and loss statements. In such cases, Brnger delivers many of the presentations himself, but Millwork Masters also has been known to bring in certified public accountants. "Many of our customers are good builders, but some of them are lousy businessmen," Brnger says.

Other topics might feature a discussion on product liability or green building techniques. Specific window and door topics range from how Marvin achieves an Energy Star rating, to making a window waterproof and preventing and repairing rot, to safety in the workplace. "We try to be diverse," Brnger says.

Even the name of the program, Masters of Marvin, is a combination of the company's name and its primary vendor, Marvin, with an emphasis on "masters" alluding to the education element.

The company also takes its customers' time into account. In addition to the monthly sessions, Millwork Masters sponsors and supports off-site educational opportunities for its builders, covering travel, meal, and lodging costs to regional events such as Build Boston and the Journal of Light Construction show in Providence, R.I.

If you're still too busy, Millwork Masters practically provides home schooling; the showroom will hit the road with a box lunch, bringing its program to jobsites. It also tailors its program marketing, such as whether to communicate via direct mail or e-mail, to the pro customers' personal preferences.

The result is happy customers. "We use a lot of Marvin products, and [Millwork Masters] keeps us to date on the products and how to install the products," says John Robinson, owner of Wood & Clay Inc. "They do an excellent job." The Gilford, N.H.-based builder specializes in single-family luxury homes in the state's central lakes region, and routinely sends several of its project coordinators to Millwork Masters programs.

Likewise, Skiffington Homes of Moultonboro, N.H., sends project supervisors and carpentry foremen to seminars at the showroom. "Peter does a fabulous job in not only selling the product, but supporting the product and providing education about the product," says Joe Skiffington, president of Skiffington Homes.

But an education isn't the only benefit. Millwork Masters has put into place a reward and diploma program to give contractors an extra incentive.

By attending each event, the contractor or builder employee earns a CEU, or continuing education unit. After five CEUs, the contractor receives an MMW degree and is recognized as a Master of Marvin contractor. Ten CEUs earns a second degree, and the contractor becomes a certified Master of Marvin. Contractors can promote themselves as masters of the product lines to their customers, once they've obtained the degrees.

ABCS OF MILLWORK MASTERS: The New Hampshire business nurtures its relationships with architects, builders, and consumers through education, teaching them about products it carries and listening to its customers' needs.
Jonathan Kannair ABCS OF MILLWORK MASTERS: The New Hampshire business nurtures its relationships with architects, builders, and consumers through education, teaching them about products it carries and listening to its customers' needs.

Additional rewards include a $25 dinner gift certificate and eligibility to enroll in the Masters of Marvin rebate program for attending just one seminar. The rewards get bigger as the contractor continues to remain in school. With four CEUs, the contractor can receive $200 value to the bed and breakfast of their choice or a $200 Marvin sample or display credit.

At five CEUs, the contractor can have the project of its choice featured in an advertisement that Millwork Masters will design and place as "Builder of the Month" in a local newspaper, also of the contractor's choice. The contractor can also opt for custom-imprinted Marvin or Integrity product catalogs featuring their company's information. And once a contractor reaches 10 CEUs, his reward options include an all-expenses-paid trip to the Marvin factory in Warroad, Minn., a Marvin window display of the contractor's choice, or 100 copies of a customized brochure.

"The program re-affirms the partnership you have with your customers," Brnger says. "It's a reflection of you to the contractor."