Volume 38, Issue 10, October 2003
In a little Missouri town about 260 miles southwest of St. Louis and 150 miles east of Tulsa, Okla., big things are happening. The town is Monett and one company there handling big business is EFCO Corp., a commercial window manufacturer celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In the glass and glazing industry, mention the name Monett, and most everyone thinks of EFCO; after all, there’s not too much else there. EFCO may have gotten its start catering to the residential window market, but today it is known industry-wide as a manufacturer and supplier of window products for commercial construction.
In its small hometown and throughout the United States, EFCO is serving the masses. The company has approximately 1,800 employees, two manufacturing plants and three service centers. The Monett plant operates in 600,000 square feet of space. The manufacturing plant in Barnville, S.C., is 220,000 square feet and the three service centers—Roanoke, Va., Chicago and Dallas—each occupy 50,000 square feet.
Founder Terry Fuldner retired from the company in 1999 and turned over the responsibilities of chairperson of the board, chief executive officer and president to his son, Chris. Together, they have seen the company grow to become a major player in its market.
While it’s interesting to look and learn from what a company is doing today and its plans for the future, understanding a company’s roots is just as important. While 1953 may claim the title of EFCO Corp.’s beginning, its history dates back a few years earlier. It was in 1951 that Terry Fuldner learned of a then new concept, aluminum windows, from his friend George Eberle.
“He told me there was a new, fancy deal out called an aluminum window, made from this bright, shiny wonder metal,” said Fuldner. The two went into business together as manufacturers’ reps, selling awning and jalousie windows. They each borrowed $2,500 and formed EFCO Product Co. in 1951, the “E” for Eberle and the “F” for Fuldner.
“We decided early on that we would call it EFCO,” said Fuldner, “because it sounded so much better than the other way around.”
Selling windows to several states in the Midwest, Fuldner said the next step for EFCO was to begin making and selling screens for those windows.
“The companies we were representing didn’t make screens for the windows,” Fuldner said. “So we decided, what the heck, they’re not all that difficult to make, we’ll make them.” He continued, “When we’d sell a truckload of windows, we’d say, ‘you’re going to need screens for those, and we’ll sell [them to you]’.”
So, in the basement of a laundry in St. Louis, Fuldner and Eberle began making screens and selling windows.
“I would be two weeks on the road and George would be two weeks in the shop making screens, and then he’d go on the road and I’d stay in the shop making screens,” said Fuldner. “We managed to pay ourselves about $300 a month, which was livable at the time.”
Moving In, Moving Out
As the company grew, the next step involved creating its own window line.
“We designed a line of jalousie windows called Holiday, which we trademarked and with which we were quite successful,” said Fulder. With that success, EFCO chose to incorporate.
“That was in 1953,” Fuldner said. “We moved to Grant Road in Crestwood, Mo., to a 5,000-square-foot building.”
With a business that was now “off and running,” as Fulder put it, in the residential window market, EFCO met its first bump. In those days unions would picket non-union companies, such as EFCO, which employed about 20 people at the time.
So, by 1957 the company figured there had to be better places than St. Louis to do business.
“We heard about a depressed labor area down in Southwest Missouri: Monett, Joplin, even Lebanon. We were not bankable at the time and really needed some help,” explained Fuldner. “[We knew] if we could get one of those towns to pull us in through the Small Business Association (SBA) and help us out with a small business loan, that [we] would be fine.”
After a few weeks of interviewing several towns, some interested, some not, the saving grace that would lead EFCO to where it is today showed up one morning on Terry Fuldner’s doorstep.
“At 7:30 in the morning, when I went to open up the shop, these six guys were there, and they said, ‘We’ve come to talk to you. We’d like to have you in Monett.’ Wow!” said Fuldner. “They took a look at our financials, and of course they had to divert their eyes a little bit when they offered to lend us some money, but they did, and we came down here and sealed the deal.”
That was in 1958.
Moving On, Moving Back
For any company change is inevitable. A change came for EFCO in 1960 when it began shifting its focus away from the residential market toward the commercial one. That was the year the company designed its first commercial window, the series 100.
“We had been looking to get out of the residential window business … and we had a lot of architectural experience selling steel windows to architects. It was a much more attractive phase of the business, and a whale of a lot less competition,” said Fuldner. “We designed a window that was a universal projected window … it needed architectural approval, and we devoted most of our time to developing specifications and promoting it to the architect … it was a slow matter of letting them know we were no longer in the residential business. That transition was mainly 1968.”
But prior to EFCO’s full commercial emergence, the company’s timeline is marked with the departure and entrance of two key players.
Eberle left the company and sold his stock to Fuldner in 1962.
“I bought him out for $40,000, which was a pretty good sum at the time; about what his stock was worth.”
Around that same time Chris Fuldner also became active with the company.
“I started working here in 1964 over summers through high school and college. I went to work here fulltime in 1974,” said Chris Fuldner, who explained his first full-time job was as a salesperson in Denver. A few years later, he returned to Monett and took over the engineering department.
|Terry Fuldner: Glass and Metal Hall of Fame Inductee
Terry Fuldner is held in high regards by many in the glass and glazing industry. His efforts were recognized industry-wide in 1997 when he was inducted into the Glass and Metal Hall of Fame.
"I've received some nice honors in the past [Fuldner was the 1984 Small Businessman of the Year award winner], but I can say with all sincerity there's nothing quite as moving as being honored by my peers," he said when he accepted his award. "It just doesn't get any better than this."
To learn more about the Glass and Metal Hall of Fame, contact Haley Steele at 540/720-5584.
Making the Moves
After half a century in business EFCO has also established itself well with many of its customers as being a responsive, dependable supplier. One customer it has been working with for 20 years is Easthampton, Mass.-based R&R Window Contractors Inc.
“They have grown a lot over the years,” said Roger Fuller, president of R&R. “They are probably one of the best commercial window manufacturers in the industry. They stand behind their products and will go to any length to do repairs. They are very responsive.”
Fuller said one characteristic that stands out about EFCO is the fact that it has different departments to aid in various aspects.
“Rather than dealing with a single source, you can call the department [you need] direct. And I don’t think all companies do that,” said Fuller. “One department can’t handle all of [customers’ different] needs.”
“They’re very personable,” added Daniel Sutton, of City Glass Co. in Omaha, Neb. His company has been an EFCO customer for 11 years. “They’re easy to get in touch with and always straight forward and upfront.”
Another characteristic of EFCO is its customer recognition efforts. Sutton’s company, for example, has been honored for several years as one of EFCO’s top 100 customers.
“They’re good about recognizing customers and making them feel important,” Sutton added.
Today, firmly established in its market, EFCO credits its continual focus on developing new products and innovating others for its success.
“There was an article in The Wall Street Journal about EFCO that likened us to guerrilla fighters in that when the competition becomes severe in one category we always have another to move in to,” said the elder Fuldner. “Not abandon [a category], but upgrade, so to speak. We’d keep upgrading, and if we were not the first in these categories, we were the second or third … we basically just keep going up until we find the ceiling.”
“We develop new products daily,” added C. Fuldner. “Either upgrading them from a structural standpoint for the higher loads [or] blast-resistance or the product’s thermal characteristics. The glass industry has progressed technologically tremendously over the last 20 years, and now it’s our turn to make the framework that holds [the glass] its equivalent in terms of energy performance.”
Keeping its products up to speed with industry changes and demands is at the forefront of EFCO’s work. One example of this has to do with impact-resistant products.
“Just about all of our products are impact-rated in some fashion for both large and small missile, Dade County and all other South Florida codes, and the codes that are being implemented in the other states that are starting to adopt them. So we have quite an extensive line for that,” said C. Fuldner. “We’ve also done some blast-resistant products. We’ve done blast-resistant jobs on the inner rings of the Pentagon, we’ve replaced a number of windows with blast-resistant products on a number of FBI buildings and other government buildings around the country.”
He continued, “We’ve also worked with some glass suppliers in producing [these products] and done some testing with the Army.”
And, as the increased need for safety and security in the architectural community continues to heighten, the company expects the need for blast-resistant glazing to increase as well.
“It’s going to continue to grow,” said C. Fuldner. “Right now the government seems to be more focused on the issue than anyone else—they have a lot of buildings to protect—but I think private companies will also become very focused on this type of product.” He continued, “There’s more to it than just the windows. It’s going to affect the design of the building and how it’s situated … how far away it is from a street and barriers between the building and a potential truck bomb. There’s only so much you can do; if a bomb is too close [to a building] and it blows a whole side away, the windows don’t matter much. But, if the explosive is far enough away, at least we’re not going to have shards of glass flying though the building, and that’s a step in the right direction.”
In an effort to stay involved with the ever-changing needs of the industry, EFCO has involved itself with such organizations as AAMA. In fact, Chris Fuldner was recently elected AAMA’s president. Serving in this capacity gives EFCO the opportunity to keep itself up-to-date and involved with industry standards, a measure of great importance to the company.
“That’s where the expertise of the industry lies. It’s a chance to shape the direction of the industry and its standards,” said C. Fuldner. “I think the reputable companies are trying to increase the levels of performance, the level of quality and trying to bring the best practices and best products into the market. If we don’t do a good job of that, I think the government or some other body will step in.”
Like all companies, EFCO is faced with challenges and obstacles. As a small, family owned business, a major challenge it faces involves major competitors being larger businesses.
“They have a little more access to capital than we do,” said C. Fuldner. “So far we’ve managed to build our business by reinvesting our profits back into the company. But the bigger [we are] in size, the more difficult that can be … to duplicate a plant like this is a considerable amount of money. It makes it somewhat of a challenge to keep up.”
Another challenge that EFCO is not alone in facing has to do with labor shortages and building a quality workforce.
“We have a desperate time trying to find labor. Particularly in Monett, the labor pool is rather small,” said C. Fuldner. “Too many people come in, look out in the factory, see there’s some physical labor involved and decide that’s not for them. They might last a day or two and then they are gone.”
He continued, “I think manufacturing in general is having a hard time enticing people to come [on board] …”
However, an influx of Hispanic workers, originally going to Monett to work in the chicken processing industry, have come on board at EFCO (about 400 are now employed there).
“They have been a godsend. They work very well and they work hard,” said C. Fuldner.
The Next Move
As for the future, EFCO has plans for that as well, which involve creating a stronger presence in the Western United States.
“Our plan is to open another manufacturing facility on the west side of the Rockies. The West Coast is probably our weakest area in the United States,” said C. Fuldner. “It’s very difficult to compete from Missouri over the mountains to California and other states in the West. We feel that to truly be effective, we need to build another facility there.”
In addition, EFCO has plans to open more service centers so that it has ten to 12 throughout the country.
EFCO is a company that has achieved much, from its beginning in the residential window market to establishing itself as a viable player in the commercial construction market. Much of the credit for the company’s success is due to Terry Fuldner, who has, in fact, been honored on more than one occasion for his efforts.
In 1984 he was nominated for the Missouri Small Businessman of the Year award, which he won. Moving on to the regional competition, he won that as well.
“Then that put me in for an invitation for the national, which was to be held in Washington, D.C.,” he said. He also won that. “The award was presented to me by President Reagan on May 9, 1984, at 11:03 a.m.”
Likewise, in 1997 Fuldner was inducted into the Glass and Metal Hall of Fame, sponsored by USGlass magazine. (See related sidebar above.)
And as EFCO moves forward, planning for the next 50 years, the principles by which Fuldner established the company will likely remain its cornerstone.
“The foremost principle by which he operates is to endeavor as best we can to tell people what we’re going to do, and then do what we say,” said his son. “There are always challenges to that, but at least we’ll be up front with people if we’re having troubles, and hopefully, 99 percent of the time we’re doing what we said we were going to do. I think that particular thing will drive us through the next 50 years.”
Ellen Giard Chilcoat is the editor of USGlass magazine.
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