Insurance

PROFILE: UNIQUE WINDOW & DOOR: Hanging a business on happy customers Owner aims to improve home-improvement reputation

March 26, 2007

PROFILE

UNIQUE WINDOW & DOOR Hanging a business on happy customers Owner aims to improve home-improvement reputation

In an industry often lambasted for unethical practices, Unique Window & Door President Robert Dillon has tried to carve a niche in the local home-improvement market-combining aggressive marketing with a focus on customer and employee satisfaction.

It seems to be making strides on both counts.

Revenue has steadily increased over the 13 years Dillon has owned the company, and Unique is a four-time winner of the local Better Business Bureau's Torch Award, given annually to firms that demonstrate exemplary ethical standards.

The BBB awards and several industry honors for customer service and company performance are displayed prominently in the lobby of Unique's Park Fletcher offices and showroom. What most visitors don't see, however, are the training rooms and employee fitness facilities where Dillon, 52, puts into practice the business maxim, "happy employees make happy customers."

Employee recruitment, training and retention are things the easygoing Dillon takes seriously; by his own admission, he's always recruiting quality employees, whether from the home-improvement industry or elsewhere. One administrative employee was a bartender when Dillon recruited her; another was an entrepreneur looking to sell her business to Unique. Dillon elected not to buy it, but hired the owner.

For installation and service of its products, Unique relies solely on company employees, using no subcontractors. It's more expensive, Dillon said, but employing the field personnel allows Unique to have more control over quality.

In Unique's nearly 30,000-square-foot warehouse-alongside inventory for each of the company's six product lines-is a miniature "house," used for follow-up training of installers and service technicians. When problems arise in the field, supervisors can bring in an installer to determine the cause of the problem and fix it, Dillon explained.

Nearly every employee, from installers to administrative staff, participates in some sort of bonus program, and all are offered health insurance benefits, retirement plans and profit-sharing.

When Dillon purchased the Park Fletcher building nearly two years ago to accommodate Unique's expanding business, he used some of the extra space for a 5,000-squarefoot employee-only gym that includes a fullsized basketball court and weight and cardio equipment.

Dillon's efforts have been rewarded with a company that racked up $18 million in sales last year, up from nothing when Dillon bought Unique in 1994 from the company's Bloomington-based founders.

The path wasn't always smooth, however. Dillon recalls that within three years of purchasing Unique, he had built the business to $6 million in sales-but spent $6.3 million doing it.

Initially, Dillon focused on expanding Unique geographically, with locations in Bloomington, Columbus, Muncie and New Albany. Those proved to add more costs than they recouped in sales, Dillon said. Although Unique still installs and services its products statewide, it closed the outlying offices within a few years.

"My first business model was to become a regional company," Dillon said. "I realized I didn't have the talent or desire to do that. Plus, I don't like to travel much."

nies in home improvement, which you don't always see," said Charles Stacks, manager of sales and operations for Little Rock, Ark.-based Ron Sherman Advertising and Teleproductions, which has produced advertisements and promotional videos for Unique for about four years. "There are things that we do at [Dillon's] direction that ensure that the potential customer is not misled about anything, and that the customer is always given what they're promised."

Although Unique has expanded its product offerings, it hasn't strayed from offering what Dillon and his team consider the best products on the market for each business segment. At Unique, customers aren't given the option of choosing from, for instance, low-, middle- and high-end versions of the same window-Unique only sells what it believes is the best, Dillon said. That way, employees can believe in every product they sell, and customers are more likely to be happy with any product they buy, he said.

Unique carries windows and patio doors made by Ohio-based SoftLite LLC and is the only distributor SoftLite has for most of Indiana, said SoftLite owner Roy Anderson.

"[Dillon] always puts his customers first-that's why we deal with him," said Anderson. "Sometimes I think the customer is wrong, and he still takes care of them. He's a person of integrity."

Although Dillon wants to keep growing Unique, he doesn't plan to change the values he believes are at the core of his company's success.

"Good employees have to be proud of what they do," Dillon said. "I can be a temperamental guy to work for, but I'll never be unethical or unfair."
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