Pivotal Times: Mitigating Risk While Managing Change
If Justin Vroegop, sales manager at Chilliwack-based Westeck Windows & Doors, was worried that Covid-19 would hurt sales, he needn’t have been.
“Over the last year we’ve hit sales intake numbers that we’ve never hit in 20 years of company business,” says Vroegop, adding that “we’ve done it with a smaller team than we’ve ever had.”
Like other companies, the premium window and door manufacturer has had to navigate changing customer demands, supply chain uncertainty, and a robust labour market.
Building Materials in High Demand
“Everything is made to order,” explains Vroegop of Westeck’s business model. “We don’t do a lot of spec homes or multi-family homes. It’s more the custom home market where they see the value of spending extra on fenestration products (windows and doors).”
During the pandemic, a combination of spare time and deferred travel budgets have prompted many to move forward with renovations or new builds. Vroegop notes that even soaring lumber prices haven’t been enough to sour ambitions.
“People have kind of had the mindset that they’re building their dream home and they’ve continued to push forward,” he says.
Addressing Supply Chain Complications
Tenuous supply chains have forced many companies to place additional emphasis on procurement and inventory management; Westeck is no different. The purchasing team, which used to consist of the former GM and one additional individual, has been expanded.
“It’s getting harder to source the different products and to reach out and see where we can pull different components from,” says Vroegop. “This last year we’ve brought in a purchasing manager and really built up the team. I think we’ve got five employees that currently take part and that’s really helped us through the supply and demand issues that have occurred during the pandemic.”
Even with the additional focus, Westeck hasn’t been completely immune to complications. An inability to procure their regular handles prompted a slight design change, while a delay in receiving screens threw a wrench into their plans on another occasion. What couldn’t be solved by procurement was addressed with good customer service and contingency arrangements.
“There are window packages that we ship out to site without screens,” explains Vroegop. “We’re not going to hold everything in house just to wait for the screens, so we end up running to the site after the fact, dropping the screens off and doing other things like that. You try to work it around in order to keep the customer schedule on pace.”
Hiring Sales Managers
Until recently the Westeck sales team had dwindled from a high of 32 to a low of 22. With strong demand for their product, the company has begun to beef the ranks of the sales team back up. They’ve added three project consultants to their Vancouver branch, two in Washington State, one in Kelowna, and one in Victoria.
Vroegop notes that the jobs market is currently ripe with strong candidates.
“There’s obviously a lot of talent in the market right now,” he says. “A lot of people are leaving their jobs, they’re looking for something that’s more accommodating.”
Vroegop believes that Westeck enjoys a relatively high profile and stable reputation, which is helpful for recruiting. Regardless, he notes that it’s no easy task to complete a strong hire.
“I think a lot of people are up for a conversation,” he notes. “Getting them signed on to work for your company is a different story and keeping them here is another ballgame entirely.”
According to Vroegop, opportunity has overtaken compensation as the primary motivator of sales talent.
“With candidates it’s not so much ‘I’m gonna move next door for a dollar’,” he says. “It’s more a matter of making people feel like they’re a part of a team, giving them goals, and a chance to grow in the company. They want to know where they can be in 1-5 years and whether there’s a cap on their commission. You can tell that people are more interested in their own lives and goals. They want to know ‘where can I go with this company?’”
Educated Consumers and Rising Costs
Another trend that Vroegop notes is the increasing education level of consumers.
“They’re doing a lot of research on the internet before they ever come in,” he says. “They’re asking a lot of the right questions and they’re willing to pay that little bit extra to get that quality now. Our competition list has gotten a bit smaller.”
Nonetheless, those financing the builds are looking to stay within budget, which has become more difficult with rising supply prices, partly attributable to increasingly stringent building codes.
“A lot of consumers don’t realize that with these advanced codes we’ve got to thicken the walls, we’ve got to add triple pane to your windows, and things like that,” explains Vroegop. “Costs are going up, so builders are really finding themselves caught in the middle right now.”
Despite these challenges, Vroegop and Westeck remain optimistic for the future. According to the sales manager, the changes only serve to emphasize the importance of forward vision. “You’re always trying to lead the market,” he says, “and stay ahead of what’s going to happen next year.”