In an industry where acquisitions and the corporate facelifts that usually accompany them are becoming more and more frequent, it's not uncommon to hear that the true assets behind pro dealer or manufacturer M&A deals are in the relationships that have been built over the years. Acquiring companies often keep on board the key decision makers and business-driven personnel that made the acquisition irresistible from the outset. As time passes and the quest for economies of scale closes in, however, the reality often becomes less altruistic. Still, the opportunity to leverage existing partnerships and build upon their success is not untenable. In the case of Raleigh, N.C.–based Stock Building Supply and Greensboro, N.C.–based Endura Products, two industry powerhouses found—through acquisition—both product innovation and a collaborative training and sales process that continue to endure.
In 1994, Stock acquired a T.R. Hobson door-hanging facility in Ackworth, Ga., that was in the midst of developing one of the industry's first all-composite adjustable doorsills in conjunction with Cummings, Ga.–based inventor/manufacturer Charlie Headrick. Headrick's sill was a hit with builders, who found that the composite held up better to jobsite wear and tear than traditional oak sills, and other area door component manufacturers raced to develop similar products to compete with it. “Even though we were an industry leader, we had not been innovating for some time,” says Endura Door Components national sales manager John Eagleton of the race to match Headrick's composite sill. “So we set down the path of developing a like product with our Z-series sill, but Charlie had some pretty strong patents on it, and it was almost going to come down to a bar-fight over us copying the sill.”
To overcome the challenge—and also avoid the fisticuffs—Endura made an offer to purchase Headrick Mfg. and the sill patent, which was ultimately accepted in 1998.From there, the story might have ended, with Stock managing the Ackworth facility and Endura in control of the early composite sill patents. Instead, both Endura and Stock reinvested in the relationships originally brokered between Hobson and Headrick, embracing a symbiotic partnership that includes new product development, pro dealer sales force training, and collaborative marketing strategies. “Through [Headrick's] relationship with Hobson and later Stock, we gained a lot of input from not only the shop people but also the salespeople and their customers—the builders—on what they really needed in a composite sill product,” Eagleton says. “That set us down the path [realizing] if we are not innovating and coming up with new ideas, we're going to be dead.”
With the composite sill as a foundation, Stock and Endura—along with other door component manufacturers—developed Stock's Portrait door brand, launched in 1999 as the dealer's first company-wide proprietary door system, which now includes both steel and fiberglass doors with continuous head and sill construction in 6-foot-8-inch and 8-foot heights. While the companies believed in the overall excellence of the Portrait brand and product, convincing Stock sales reps to devote some selling time to Portrait alongside market-proven, high-brand-recognition doors loomed as a decisive challenge. “We knew there would be some strong resistance in making the change. And we continue to sell other products, so we're dancing around on one foot a little bit,” explains Portrait brand manager Dick Selleck. “Our approach was a strong educational program for our people where we knew we would experience the most resistance. We overcame it with initial hour-long lunch meetings at each one of our locations that was going to take on this product to let them air their concerns.”
To answer those concerns, Selleck immediately engaged the assistance of Endura and other Portrait component providers in creating a “Door College” training and marketing program for the Stock sales force. The four-hour program includes Portrait product demonstrations, sales techniques, jobsite applications, and a history of the partnerships behind the creation of the Portrait brand. “We also bring in a lot of jobsite photos to show the issues and examples of the failures in the field and our solution to those failures,” says Eagleton. “One of the ideas I try to get across is that all of the components are key components, because the performance of the system relies on assembly.”
For instance, Eagleton points to Stock's crew of door hangers at the Ackworth facility as vital in adapting the Ultimate Astragal—one of Endura's latest lines of door components—into the Portrait brand. “It really goes back to years ago when we did the Headrick acquisition and realized that if we are not constantly innovating products and bringing new ideas to our customers we are just like any other vendor out there, and it comes down to ‘What's your price?'” Eagleton says.“[The Ultimate Astragal] was totally different from what Stock had been using. We brought the product to the Ackworth door hangers, and based on their feedback we tweaked it and incorporated it into the Portrait door system and it has been very successful.”
In fact, open lines of communication across the corporate spectrum, including sales, management, and plant workers, have been key factors in the thriving relationship between Stock and Endura. “You always want to be attuned to your larger customers, but it really helps when that customer is one that is going to be proactive, and I think [Stock] is amongst the more progressive companies out there in a rapidly changing marketplace,” says Endura president Bruce Procton. “I can't walk in there with everything we do and say, ‘Here's a great idea why don't you take it on,' but we've got the ears of people at all levels of the organization, and that is extremely helpful.”
Although the acquisitions of Headrick Mfg. and T.R. Hobson by Endura and Stock are closing in on a decade old, the companies are firm in their commitment to foster the collaborative spirit begun in the early '90s with the creation of the composite sill. This year, Stock and Endura continued to cultivate their partnership during the International Builders' Show in January by cross-referencing builder visitors and leads to each other's booths. Additionally, Endura has been working with Stock door hanging facilities for testing prototype products and ensuring door systems meet code requirements in all of the markets that Stock operates in.
According to Selleck, Stock's relationship with Endura still runs counter to the vendor/dealer status quo. “Many times it is incumbent upon us as the dealer to ask of the vendor what they can do,” Selleck says. “Typically we find Endura coming to us saying, ‘We've got an idea for you—what do you think?' We are always looking to have a better product in the marketplace, and enjoy a great relationship with companies who are best in class, and we've never had to look beyond Endura.”