Ahead of the wave
By Patrick Flannery
Staying ahead of a market is a bit like surfing. All the mass and power
is behind you, rushing forward, and your success depends on your ability
to find just the right position.
Staying ahead of a market is a bit like surfing. All the mass and power is behind you, rushing forward, and your success depends on your ability to find just the right position. Jay and Jiten Madha seem relaxed and in control as they steer their board, known as Tiltco Fenestration, just ahead of the crest of change in the industry. The amazing thing is, they have been staying out
ahead in this manner for more than 30 years now.
|Jay and Jiten Madha have been fabricating, installing and exporting window and door systems for their entire lives, the last 30 of those as owners of their own company. The brothers say their considerable experience is one of the keys to Tiltco’s ongoing success. Go to www.glasscanadamag.com for a video plant tour of Tiltco Fenestration.|
The Madhas grew up in the industry. Their father had a window fabrication business in the U.K., and Jay and Jiten went into business for themselves in the 1970s on the aluminum (uPVC) side. In the mid-’80s, they attended an Interbuild show in Canada as part of a British trade delegation and saw that PVC window technology was in a very primitive state in this market compared to what was going on in Europe. “It was interesting because when we came to the show, we met a guy from Quebec,” Jay remembers. “He was actually gluing vinyl. And I said, ‘What are you using for reinforcement?’ Wood. And they were sliding windows and they were selling like hot cakes. I think they called them Pearson Windows.” The Madhas encountered a lot of naysayers when they floated the idea of bringing European vinyl technology to the Canadian fenestration market. Extruded vinyl windows would be too expensive for this market, they were told, because people do not stay in their houses as long as they do in the U.K. “Plastic was a brat,” Jay remembers. The Madhas’ response was to focus on higher end housing that usually is the homeowner’s last home. In any event, the dire predictions of PVC’s failure in Canada turned out to be about as wrong as wrong can be.
Location: Newmarket, Ont.
Sq. Footage: 40,000 square feet
Owners: Jay and Jiten Madha
Products: Custom fenestration of all kinds focusing on high-end vinyl
Tiltco is one of the oldest suppliers of European-style tilt-turn windows in North America. Owned by brothers Jay and Jiten Mahdra, the company ships everywhere in Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean. Tiltco concentrated on luxury, high-end solutions, sourcing specialized parts and materials globally.
Having jumped ahead by bringing customizable PVC windows to the Canadian market, Tiltco differentiated itself again by offering European tilt-turn technology before anyone else on the continent. “Tilt and turn was still a bit different and it was a European design, so we wanted to bring that to the market,” Jiten remembers. “We were looking at the other window systems that were out there and we thought we need to bring something different and make a change in some way. We thought there had to be a market for this so we threw it out there and people liked the difference.”
Structural integrity was one of the big questions about PVC in the beginning, so Tiltco had all their products tested to the strictest standards they could find, a practice the company maintains today. Derek Lukala, Senior Technical Sales, says Tiltco’s understanding of codes and standards has helped drive sales. “You have certain companies out there that are good at certain products, like a company that just does sliding doors and they specialize at that specific system. We provide a single source for all fenestration needs and we can integrate all those systems together so we can provide a complete, cohesive package for the whole project. I think that is what makes us successful: the engineering, testing and product development that is behind the scenes.”
Tiltco started in Canada in 1988 in a 10,000-square-foot shop in Uxbridge, Ont. Initially, most of its business was done across the border in the U.S., taking advantage of the favourable exchange rates to make money at competitive product prices. When Uxbridge declined the Madhas’ application to expand (the building would have threatened fish habitat in a nearby stream), they moved to a 15,000-square-foot facility in Newmarket. Tiltco outgrew that, then another plant around the corner and by 2007 was ready for a much larger, purpose-built home. Tiltco now resides in a 35,000-square-foot plant with a showroom and office space on the second floor. The styling is quite modern and European, reflecting their products’ aesthetics.
|Automated welding and corner cleaning keep Tiltco’s quality consistent. With a little ingenuity, workers can use the machinery to process even outsized jobs like these.|
Tiltco manufactures custom fenestration elements of all kinds, but its meat and potatoes is tilt-turn vinyl windows. Employing about 30 people, the company ships its products all over North America. Production takes place in Tiltco’s 35,000-square-foot plant in Newmarket, Ont. Tiltco has sales offices in Florida, Texas, Seattle and the Caribbean. Sales are typically direct to the architect or contractor, with the property owner often involved.
The company’s focus is high-end products for luxury residential applications. Eschewing mass-produced, cookie-cutter designs, Jay and Jiten leverage their years of experience in the industry into a willingness to take on any challenge. Designing new sash and spacer systems from scratch to fit a particular application is not a problem. Massive curved glass walls for an architect’s posh residence in Florida is not a problem. Derek Lukala, Tiltco’s senior technical sales representative, gives some examples: “Sliding doors that are 20 feet wide and 10 feet high with two panels. Bi-folding door systems that are above 10 feet tall and do not require mid-rails. A curved wall you can put in your home and have a huge expanse of glass. Windows in a showroom on King East in Toronto that are 26 feet wide – a single frame window. We do these kinds of things because we have the ability to tweak a product and manufacture it in such a way that we have the confidence to put it in and know it is going to last.” Tiltco will use whatever material is specified for the job, including PVC, steel, wood and aluminum-clad wood.
Lukala says the company needs a direct approach because of the specialized nature of the products and the custom service he offers. “It is really difficult to offer this kind of product to a distribution network because of the amount of education needed,” he says. “And there is the whole process of going from design to manufacturing, so it just works a lot more quickly and efficiently when customers work with us directly.”
|Tiltco’s 35,000-square-foot plant features some very sleek architectural glazing with operable boardroom and showroom windows. It was custom built in 2007 for the manufacturer. |
Part of growing Tiltco’s business involves leveraging its innovative designs into new areas. Lukala has seen a good reaction on the west coast and in the American northwest to its multiple sliding door system – perfect for pretty views over the Pacific. “Washington and Oregon states have pretty stringent energy codes and we offer a product that will meet those energy codes right off the bat. We have the testing completed already. So we were able to find great success in those areas because we have a very efficient production line that is small. We do not need 100 people to run it, but we are still able to turn out large numbers of units. We can keep up with demand whether it be on a house scale or a 20-storey building scale.” Tiltco has done the testing and certification on its products for just about every part of North America, from Alaska to the Caribbean, including impact testing for hurricane-prone areas.
Tiltco has invested in some modern technology for its production processes, including a purpose-built CNC drilling and cutting machine and large, automatic four-point welders. Automation may seem out of place in a custom shop where a flexible process is more important than speed, but Tiltco uses the machinery to achieve higher-quality parts and more accurate fits. Then, for larger jobs, it can use the repeatability of the machinery to generate multiple identical versions.
Applying automation to custom window and door fabrication, introducing PVC and tilt-turn technology, wowing the design industry with new concepts – Tiltco’s success has been built on a foundation of ongoing innovation. “We are constantly looking at ways to better ourselves, to offer better service to our clients,” Jay says. “For instance, right now, with our new systems, we realize that energy factors are getting better and better, so we are trying to jump the one or two steps that everyone else is doing and jump six steps ahead. So while everybody else is catching up for the next four or five years, we are ahead of them.”
“It is sort of a German mentality,” he goes on, “and I won’t say European because to me it is more of a German mentality. It is to innovate and innovate and sometimes you can overdo it. In North America we certainly do not overdo it, but they can. For us it is about constantly innovating through our design and through technology.”
The next innovation for Tiltco is a new type of PVC profile that is tested to American Architectural Manufacturers Association standards to have the same structural strength as galvanized steel. The extrusions come from Europe (Jay will not say where).
Because of its strength, Tiltco can eliminate steel reinforcements from its larger profiles, improving their weight and thermal performance. The extrusions retain the same welding and machining characteristics as regular PVC, and come with full multi-cavity thermal breaks. If the testing turns out as expected, Jay thinks he will be able to use the same extrusion spec in any installation from the Arctic to the tropics because the thermal performance is so good.
Time will tell if Tiltco’s new product initiative turns out the way the Madhas hope. But if past performance predicts future performance, it seems a safe bet that it will.