Businesses that are built to last are constantly in a state of transition. Markets change and businesses must adapt with them. Tradewood Windows & Doors, a company with a small local profile had been through several transitions and emerged as one of the most interesting manufacturing stories in St. Catharines.
Most who do know of it, tucked away on Wright Street, think of them as a traditional window maker despite being anything but. Once upon a time they were, and that image, at least locally, is tough to shake, but when you’ve supplied what owners Richard Krysiak and David Tausenfrend would describe as a fully customized window and door solution for 46th Vice President Dick Cheney’s house, you are something very different entirely.
As second generation owners they have brought the business a far distance from the vinyl clad window company started by David’s master woodworker father who immigrated to Canada from Germany. In what may have been a signal of things to come for the business, he expected to make furniture here, but didn’t find a market for it, and so turned to the window business instead. The business was successful for many years and 99% of what they made was sold in Niagara until the recession of the early 2000’s dried up most of their marketplace. Having just built a new factory to service a customer base that could no longer support them, David and Richard were in a bind.
“We had done some architectural work in Niagara-on-the-Lake and decided that the way that part of the business was structured was very limiting. It was too challenging to control. If you asked 3 carpenters to build the same window you would get three slightly varying windows. That made it impossible to scale.” said Richard.
Ever determined, they set out to change that. They invested in automated equipment that could keep their product to strict tolerances and implemented modern manufacturing principles to what was a very traditional industry. Their product started to see success, especially south of the border. But with that success came visibility and other companies began to employ those same methods or find substitute products to offer. The resulting thinner margins had Dave and Richard again looking at the best way to grow their business. During that time they were approached by several clients about more exotic systems and products; things that to produce, would take a fundamental shift in their and their employees vision of their business. Their history had been as a product based company. They made a good product and the focus was on the control of that product. This new shift would mean a jump to a solutions based organization. After careful consideration, they made the leap.
“This was very disruptive for us.” Richard said, “For many of our customers their ultimate expression of themselves is their home. To seize the opportunity we had to be able to get very complex information from the office to the production floor that was unique and customized for every customer. It was a huge challenge that is never really finished. It’s something we have to be diligent about every day.”
Their new business model requires constant creativity and problem solving; a ‘constructive state of anxiety’.
“The positive thing about it is everything is made from start to finish here. The design work, the prototyping, the trial and error; we are the brain trust and there’s a great sense of pride and accomplishment when you’ve been part of the team that made something unique and spectacular from scratch.” said David, “To do that and be successful we need everyone to work hard at thinking in a creative and uninhibited way when a situation seems failed or lost. Transitioning to this new style of business has meant we’ve had to preach that and lead by example. We haven’t always been perfect but we’re working to be as good as we can be.”
With such complicated projects there have been times when it seemed they hit a wall. According to David and Richard there isn’t a single project they’ve done that didn’t have at least one head scratching moment. But the philosophy has been to engage everyone and to tap into the creative potential that they didn’t even know they had. Richard even changed his style for staff meetings. Instead of talking for most of it, the philosophy has been to leave space, sometimes even uncomfortable silence, to draw people out into the process and get them to share ideas.
That philosophy has helped Tradewood complete some impressive projects:
Despite the impressive resume, here Tradewood is often still thought of for what they used to do. Richard and David know that changing that image, especially when they have such a niche market, could take quite some time.
“But we have continually evolved our capabilities and focus to take advantage of opportunities in markets that seem to be ever changing.” Richard says, “As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated centuries ago, the only thing constant is change. Recognizing and adapting is why we are here today.”
It may be a little while yet, but if a company that created a one of a kind, seamless, motorized, sliding 4 panel glass door system that measured 72” wide by 144” high and did it for someone’s “cottage” is your idea of a window company then sure, they make windows.