Start-up secrets

All Weather Windows found out that when in Rome, do as the Romans do

Any entrepreneur can tell you that it takes passion, hard work, sacrifice and drive to grow a profitable company. But it’s often the insight they glean from unexpected challenges that can help the business thrive in the long term. Take expanding into new domestic markets, for example. One Alberta company learned that opening a branch office in a new region doesn’t quite mean carrying on business like they’d do at home.

“We didn’t really understand initially that the Canadian market has five distinct regions” recalls Gord Wiebe, Executive Chair of Edmonton-based All Weather Windows. Not just distinct geographic zones, but different climates. Their windows were engineered to withstand the harsh Prairie winter – and that turned out not to be such a hot selling point in places with milder and/or damper winter months. They realized they’d have to redesign their products for specific markets.

“That was a hard lesson to learn,” recalls Wiebe, adding they now do their homework more thoroughly. That includes the business as well as the environmental climate. “You need to understand the culture that you are going into, and think about how you’re going to take the best parts of what you do, not try to ‘force’ your product or product line. You have to adapt to the market.”

Misunderstanding at first that there are differences between markets clearly hasn’t affected the company’s long-term expansion success: Almost four decades after launching, All Weather Windows is one of Canada's largest privately owned manufacturers and distributors of windows and doors, with branch offices across the country, three plants, more than 1,000 dealers and as many employees. Its mantelshelf of awards includes more than half a dozen as a Canada’s Best Managed company.

Not bad for a company that didn’t have a business plan, or even all its supplier lines secured, when it opened it 1978. What Wiebe and his uncle, Harry Buhler, who started the company, did have was a pair of investors who funded them well right from the start. Being well-capitalized gave them the freedom not to worry about meeting payroll and to focus instead on driving the business ahead – expansion bumps and all.

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