Fenestra takes flight - Report from the buying co-op's expanded conference event

The purchasing co-op explores new directions at annual gathering.
Patrick Flannery
March 05, 2018
Touring Energi gave Fenestra members an inside look at the technology that goes into their window products.
Touring Energi gave Fenestra members an inside look at the technology that goes into their window products.
The Fenestra purchasing co-op has come a long way from its beginnings as a small group of fabricators – convened initially by Kevin Pelley of Kohltech and George Warren of Centennial Windows – getting together in 2010 to select a group of preferred suppliers.
Brian Hermiston, Fenestra’s general manager, remembers when the whole group could fit around one table for the annual dinner. On Feb. 6, the Fenestra welcomed its member companies and 19 supplier partner companies to two days of networking, education and fun at the Westin hotel near Toronto airport in Mississauga, Ont.

The event represented a significant expansion of Fenestra’s original mission to provide a stable of approved suppliers to a select group of industry buyers. No longer just about negotiating joint purchasing deals and delivering a rebate program, the group is now seeking to boost member benefits even farther with a well-organized education and networking program tying together suppliers and window and door companies from across the country. The two-night, two-day event – dubbed Fenestra Advantage – was the first of its kind for the group and on all accounts was a ringing success.

Attendees started the conference with a cocktail meet-and-greet in one of the Westin’s private rooms. The strength of the Fenestra concept was immediately evident there. Where else can you meet manufacturers from Victoria, B.C., Moncton, N.B., Montreal, Kitchener, Ont., and Whitehorse all in the course of two hours in one room?

“I’m hoping to network with our suppliers and get a better grip on who I’m dealing with on email and put a face to the name,” said Terry Benjamin, production manager for Van Isle Windows in Victoria. It was the first trip to a Fenestra event for Benjamin and sales manager, Chris Lamothe, and their objectives echoed a common theme heard everwhere: relationships.

“We’re looking for exposure to new companies and different ideas and products,” said Cynthia Wood of Maritime Door and Window in Moncton. It was also her first time at a Fenestra event, and by the end of the two days, it was clear she’d been successful. “It was really great,” Wood exclaimed. “I think this is one of the best events I’ve been to. Will definitely want to do it again.”

It certainly wasn’t the first Fenestra event for Energi’s director of product development and technical service, Jean Marois. But what was new was the tour of Energi’s Woodbridge, Ont., extrusion plant coming up the next day. “I think it’s a must for everyone,” Marois explained. “It’s a chance for everyone from Fenestra to see our plant, our activities, our installation and how we can evolve the market with innovation and quality and process. I think everyone in our facility will get an exchange to find out what they are expecting from us and what we can do for them. Everyone here is partners with us and so this is a collaboration to find out how we can work together.”

Dana Strassburger of Strassburger Windows and Doors in Kitchener was another member who finds as much value in the Fenestra relationships as anything else. “Fenestra has given us great relationships not only with the suppliers but with the network of members as well. Events like this where we can get together and share best practices and learn things are great, but they also let us feel like we are all on the same page.” Strassburger was looking forward to the speed-dating-style Trade Congress scheduled for the last day. “It sounds unique and it should give us the opportunity to meet absolutely every vendor.”

Day Two started with an after-breakfast bus ride to Energi Fenestration Solutions’ huge facility and national headquarters in Woodbridge. Members toured the massive plant with 69 extrusion lines each pushing out up to 600 pounds of vinyl per hour. Operations managers showed the groups the vision systems picking up the tiniest imperfections on the extrusions and marking them for removal.  

After the plant tour, the group reassembled in Energi’s conference room for an afternoon of educational talks – another first for Fenestra. Energi staff explained how the company applies Lean manufacturing principles and continuous improvement to its processes. Marc Guevremont, a performance coach for a number of high-end sports teams, got members to complete a personality test and reviewed the results, telling everyone how to best manage employees showing the various personality types. One management style most definitely does not suit all. Finally, Phil Otto of Revolve, a Halifax marketing firm, talked branding and strategies for reaching Millennials in the digital age. He had lots of good advice for those who might wish to avoid a race to the price basement in their markets. After a break at the hotel the next stop was the more traditional part of a Fenestra event, the dinner. Buses braved the Gardiner expressway to take members to the sumptuous Stratus restaurant at the top of the TD towers for a delicious meal and a great view of the city at night. The evening ended later rather than sooner for some at the hotel bar.

The next day’s Trade Congress was really the innovative part of the event that leveraged the strength of Fenestra’s member/supplier bonds to create a truly unique opportunity for all. The group gathered in a ballroom that had been sectioned off with curtains into separate cubicles. Members took their seats at tables in the cubicles. Suppliers took their seats across from the members. At the sound of a bell, the suppliers had 15 minutes to talk to the members. Then the bell went off and the suppliers moved to the next table.

It’s a speed-dating concept that has been applied in other places by other industries for some time, but is probably a first for the Canadian window and door sector. When most organizations try these events, they struggle with mismatches in the quality and numbers of suppliers and buyers. But Fenestra has largely pre-selected for companies who want what the people in the room have to sell. The event got rave reviews from both sides. Garret Wall of Centura Windows was enjoying the Trade Congress for sure. “I think the speed dating is great,” he enthused. “Gives you a great chance to meet everybody in one day and get a whole update on the industry in a real quick time frame. Had some fantastic conversations, learning about some new products and new services and reconnecting.” The atmosphere was only improved by Hermiston and J.F. Kogovsek, national sales and marketing manager, walking around delivering very large rebate cheques.

In an industry where new ideas can be hard to find, Fenestra is stretching out of its comfort zone. This group will be one to watch for the foreseeable future.

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