Fit and finish

Patrick Flannery
August 14, 2012
By
In a martial arts fight, a single wrong step can open you up to a devastating attack from your opponent.
In a martial arts fight, a single wrong step can open you up to a devastating attack from your opponent. This is a principle Christopher Meiorin, president of Euro Vinyl and Muay Thai enthusiast, seems to have taken to heart while building his Woodbridge, Ont.-based window and door fabrication enterprise. Attention to detail and commitment to professionalism are everywhere you look both in the front office and the shop floor. Little is left to chance, from the marketing and branding effort through the order-taking and production process right down to the décor on the shop floor. Meiorin is a serious man, and when he says he wants to have the highest quality product in the business, competitors should take him very seriously indeed.

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Executing difficult projects well is more than just a job for Euro Vinyl’s staff. Owner Chris Meiorin’s passion for fine craftsmanship has permeated the whole company.
 
Euro Vinyl produces casement, awning, fixed, hung, slider and tilt-turn vinyl window systems as well as tilt-turn doors and, now, patio doors at its 20,000-square-foot facility just north of Toronto. It uses Rehau systems exclusively. The company employs 30 at peak times. Key machinery on the shop floor includes four-point welders at both the casement and slider/hung stations, a CNC seam weld cleaner and an automated saw centre. On the shop floor, everything is clean and well lit. Walking lanes are clearly marked and steel railings

protect the area where people work from the areas where material is being transported. Meiorin has hung banners with the Euro Vinyl logo and its slogan, “It starts inside,” around the shop to integrate the workspace with overall corporate culture and create a more attractive space for visiting clients. The tooling and fixtures for the welders and saw centre are stored lovingly in padded trays on moveable carts. “If I came back here and found one of these fixtures on the floor, someone would have a problem,” Meiorin growls. The front office and show room have recently been redecorated with a modern look.

Meiorin takes a lot of pride in his management team. Theo Neequaye joined the company as a glazier in 1995 and has risen through the company to become operations manager. He handles orders and accounts. Mario Canario was a 28-year veteran of Repla Windows and Doors before Meiorin lured him away in 2003 to become his production manager. Canario was a key piece to the puzzle when Meiorin’s partners activated their shotgun clause, because Meiorin was unwilling to buy the company with experienced production help on the floor. When Canario agreed to join the team, Meiorin felt confident that he could go ahead with the purchase.

The latest addition to the team is the new sales manager Laura Weil. Weil had been selling window and door systems in southern Ontario for 12 years and her name kept coming up every time Meiorin asked about good sales representatives, but he had never met her. Finally, they bumped into each other at the Win-door show and set up a meeting. That one-hour meeting turned into a six-hour strategy session and very soon after, Weil was working at Euro Vinyl. She has only been with the company for a year, but already had a huge impact on the corporate image and marketing approach. She has spearheaded the implementation of Euro Vinyl’s new Customer Relationship Management software system from Solve 360, implemented the online quoting software from WTS Paradigm and overhauled the company’s meetings with its dealer clients. On hiring Weil, Meiorin says, “It was a big commitment on my part because she said ‘Here is what I can do for you as a company but what I need from you as an owner is a commitment to the strategies.’ It wasn’t like we were hiring her and said, ‘OK, here is three weeks training, get out there and sell windows.’ There isn’t a day when I am not held up to my word.”

Taking the high road
Euro Vinyl’s market is high-end residential replacement in southern Ontario. Its channel is a network of window and door dealers, but Meiorin does not leave all the marketing efforts up to them. “We try to find that balance between marketing ourselves to the dealer but also providing that dealer with enough information for them to go into a customer’s home and effectively, professionally sell windows,” Meiorin says. To that end, Euro Vinyl works with a marketing agency called Raining Creative to generate slick print and digital communications.

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Meiorin says he is more fired up than ever to make Euro Vinyl grow. His new sales manager, Laura Weil, has brought a raft of new ideas to the organization and the whole company has a feeling of energy and confidence.

 
Meiorin chooses his dealers carefully and build strong relationships with them. Because he produces a high-end, value-added product, he looks for dealers that concentrate on selling into this kind of market. Meiorin does not want to be just another option in his dealer’s catalogue. “We are looking for the dealer that can go to market and really, truly sell value-added,” he says. “Working through Al’s Bargain Basement is not all that successful because it is very rare that they can upsell.” While Meiorin acknowledges that many of his dealers have lower-priced products they can fall back on when cost is driving the sale, he always wants Euro Vinyl to be the dealer’s first position.

Golf clubhouses have been a lucrative sideline for Euro Vinyl. Meiroin handles these sales personally, even though he doesn’t golf. He has leveraged a relationship with an architect into clubhouse projects all over Ontario and into the U.S. as far south as North Carolina. Euro Vinyl’s Rehau systems are uniquely suited to clubhouses. “They are basically made to look like really big houses,” Meiorin explains, “but they have to perform at a commercial level. So the idea is you have to supply a product that fits into a residential look and feel but can meet a commercial standard.” He says these projects are fun, but they have dropped off lately. Most new golf courses in the U.S. are built as part of a subdivision development. The developer builds a golf course and clubhouse at cost, and finances the project by selling the hundreds of residential lots around it. With the housing crash and subsequent recession in the U.S., new developments have dropped off so precipitously that Meiorin has not seen much of this work lately.  

Meiorin’s choice to operate in the high end of the market flows from his own personality. “It is really, truly where I feel most comfortable,” he says. “When I go out back and the guys are working on a large job and it incorporates a lot of subdivided lites that you know are finicky and look horrible if not done properly, I like that. I like seeing a really nice product and knowing that we made it. It is just a sense of pride. I know some might get a sense of pride strictly from the numbers, like today we reached a benchmark of 500 windows. But I like going back and saying ‘This is just beautiful. We are making some really, really nice product here.’”

Focused on relationships
In  the ring, tailoring the right strategy to defeat your opponent is often the key to victory. This is another principle Meiorin understands well and has applied to his business. Euro Vinyl has a number of specific, thought-out strategies for success that it deploys consistently across the organization. Most of these are centred around relationships – finding them, building them and protecting them as the company evolves.

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Meiorin’s commitment to high standards is visible in his well-organized, safety-first shop floor. No manoeuvring around piles of work-in-progress here. Walking lanes are clearly marked and protected with solid barriers.
 
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Meiorin is proud of his worker-retention record. Several people on his shop floor have over 20 years’ service with the company. Their acquired skill and experience is one reason why Euro Vinyl is able to hold its market position on quality.
 
Probably the most important of these is Euro Vinyl’s relationship with its dealer network. Meiorin has always placed a high priority on choosing the right dealer partners, visiting them frequently and getting them together regularly to educate them about Euro Vinyl and to collect their feedback. In the past, this took the form of an informal conference held every three or four years with just 15 or 20 key dealers. Under Weil’s influence, these sporadic meetings are being turned into an annual Dealer Day, bringing together a number of company resources to produce a larger, more organized event. Guest lists, invitations, registrations and updates are being handled through the company’s Constant Contact social media marketing software. The last event had 60 guests instead of 20. Weil and Raining Creative made attractive, effective communications material for the event. And one of Euro Vinyl’s other key partners, Rehau, the German polymer giant, played a key role by offering its academy in Burlington, Ont., to host the event. The Rehau academy is one of several around the world. They are state-of-the-art training and conference centres for Rehau’s partners in its various business sectors. Euro Vinyl’s long-standing relationship with Rehau gave it an opportunity to host its dealer event in a truly impressive setting. While the last Dealer Day in February was a larger and more elaborate event, Meiorin finds it a challenge to accommodate both the new dealers who need to be introduced to Euro Vinyl and his old friends who have been working with the company for 15 or 20 years. He admits he missed the intimacy of his older functions where dealers would sit in small groups and give him valuable feedback on the company and its products, and he plans to work to bring elements of that back to future Dealer Days.

Another critical strategic approach for Meiorin is his very tight relationship with key suppliers. The first and most important of these is Rehau. Euro Vinyl uses Rehau vinyl systems exclusively and touts the advanced manufacturing technology at Rehau’s Winnipeg extrusion plant as a key component of its success. For the rest of its window components, Euro Vinyl relies on Cardinal insulating glass and Truth hardware. Meiorin admits none of these are the lowest cost suppliers, but their commitment to quality mirrors his own. Weil has brought WTS Paradigm, a business management and manufacturing systems provider, into the fold. And all the major capital machinery on the Euro Vinyl floor is supplied by Urban.

Canario suggested using Urban machinery when he started with Euro Vinyl, and now Meiorin is completely convinced it is the best manufacturer of vinyl window fabrication machinery in the world.

When he gets talking about his Urban equipment, Meiorin is like a kid with a new toy. “I love the investment we made in tooling,” he says. “I’ll show you some of it and it is like an artifact. I photographed some of it as an art form. I was out back at the new saw centre and I just started goofing around with the camera.” When a man takes glamour shots of his equipment, you know he appreciates good workmanship.

Meiorin probably inherited that quality from his father, Peter Meiorin. Meiroin’s father ran the terrazzo and marble company his grandfather started in Toronto, Sandrin Precast. So Meiorin grew up around the construction trades. He was working for a builder called Great Gulf Homes in 1986 that built its own windows and needed someone to take its overflow work. So they approached Meiorin’s father. He helped Meiorin to set up shop with two partners. They called the company Euro Vinyl because they were making European-style tilt-turn vinyl windows, which were very new in the market at the time. Meiroin bought out his partners in 2003.

Renewed focus on growth
Meiorin says that at the age of 49 with his two daughters growing up he has found a new urgency to focus on the business and drive growth aggressively. He plans to work with his dealers to find ways to help them expand their reach into new markets. He recently read Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy by Isadore Sharp and found inspiration in the hotel owner’s ideas of how to build a world-beating brand. “A lot of his expansion came in down markets,” Meiorin says, “so when the other hotels were squeezing the numbers and laying off staff he was out expanding. He was out buying properties because he could get them for less. In order to do that, you have to have pockets. Now we don’t have bottomless pockets, but I work really hard and, well, I don’t drive a Ferrari for a reason. I really believe that when I buy a piece of equipment I like to write a cheque and say, ‘Thank you very much.’ So we are able to bring on the Lauras and implement some of these ideas and strategies at a time when a lot of other companies really have their heads in the sand. They are waiting for the economy to turn around.”

Discipline, respect for craftsmanship and a sharp eye for strong ideas – if these qualities have any value, Euro Vinyl looks to be on the right track.

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