Updating an institution
By Patrick Flannery
Managers who grew up in the business have a knack for making the office seem like home.
Managers who grew up in the business have a knack for making the office seem like home. In the case of Mike and John Bruno, president and plant manager of the venerable Everlast Aluminum, Alumitex Windows and Doors and Air-Tite Insulating Glass, the effect is doubly pronounced as both brothers grew up in and around the company’s original Etobicoke location on Kelfield Street.
|Between Alumitex, Everlast and Air-Tite, there are competencies for just about every kind of fenestration fabrication imaginable on the Brunos’ shop floor.
Even after two location moves and the addition of partner Nick Belpulsi and the Air-Tite division, Mike seems completely at home in his hockey-jersey-draped office, and out on the shop floor where some of the workers have been with the company as long as he can remember.
One company, three names
Frank Bruno, Mike and John’s father, started his career in fenestration at the tender age of 15 at the original Everlast plant in 1961. He bought into the company in 1976, and later picked up Alumitex, a vinyl window manufacturer in the Weston and Wilson area. Mike and John started lending a hand around the place when they were 10, cleaning weather stripping, making hinges and other simple jobs. Mike credits the work ethic instilled by his father in those early years for his later success.
Mike Bruno is now the president of the three-headed company: Alumitex, which manufactures vinyl windows and distributes Royal patio doors and TruTech entrance doors; Everlast, which manufactures aluminum window and storm windows, storm doors, porch enclosures and has recently started manufacturing a line of PVC storm doors; and Air-Tite, which manufactures insulating glass units. The company operates out of a 40,000-square-foot facility it moved into in 2008, but had to add another 2,000 square feet last year plus some shipping containers for storage.
Mike oversees the whole operation and spends most of his time on high-level product development and market planning. John runs Everlast and oversees inside sales and communications. Belpulsi, a 36-year veteran of the glass industry, runs Air-Tite more or less as an independent business. Fab Colletta is a key person for Alumitex. He is a PVC manufacturing specialist and takes care of the vinyl window production. Gord Volker is the operations manager who supports everything the other managers do, including due diligence, process documentation, product certification, process testing, equipment maintenance and everything in between. And Frank Bruno, 66, still owns the company and comes in for about five hours per day and acts as a sounding board for Mike. He has been in the window and door industry for 50 years now.
Mike is justifiably proud of the strides the company has taken on his watch. “Six years ago, when I took over, we were about 25 employees,” he remembers. “We are up to 85 now. When I came into the company I was 20 years old and we were doing about $2.1 million. When I took over full time six years ago we were around $3.1 million. Last year  we finished off at $12.5 million.” Bruno estimates production at around 250,000 IG units per year plus nearly 120,000 other aluminum and PVC products.
Building through innovation
Having grown sales of the company’s established products, Mike has moved into innovative product development, actually coming up with something he says no one has done before. “Two and a half years ago we sat down and said we needed to find something to give us a little more presence in the market,” he remembers. “We’d been doing an aluminum storm door I’ll say for 50 years because that is how long my dad has been in business. It hasn’t changed, hasn’t evolved other than going from a mill finish in gold and white to now browns, some beige and sandalwood.
|Fabricating aluminum storm doors has been Everlast’s bread and butter for over 50 years. Recently, the company has introduced a new twist with a PVC storm door unlike anything else on the market. Everlast is taking the new doors to market under its own name, and also private labelling the design.
So we sat down and we said ‘OK, how are we going to help this storm door evolve and become more acceptable to today’s consumer. So we looked at the steel door business, which, you know, 20 years ago was your basic white with a white crowning and all of a sudden it has evolved into colours, various colours. On the aluminum side, to do that is just too costly. There is a minimum charge on the paint because it is outsourced. It is harder to paint than steel or PVC; the prep time on it is a lot higher. A steel door is very simple because it is just one surface, whereas on the aluminum doors you have channels that are about half an inch thick. There are just very tight areas that you cannot get into. If you painted over it, it would just flake off. So we looked and we decided we wanted to introduce a new door that was cutting edge and would complement the steel door line. We wanted to put a retractable screen in it so we came up with this concept and worked with Royal Plastic to develop a PVC storm door. It is actually welded and mechanically fastened at the same time. We won’t say how that happens, but we have both systems.”
Mike showed off the new vinyl doors at Win-door in November 2011. They can be delivered in custom colours with pre-hung aluminum frames for easy installation. They have been tested to the highest standards for energy efficiency and resisting moisture ingress and passed with flying colours. Mike thinks they will be just the ticket for door installers looking to meet the new energy efficiency standards that are set to become part of building codes across the country.
The Brunos like to stay in control of their process and input costs throughout the production cycle. “The way we are set up, we are pretty much independent of any other source,” Mike explains.
“Anything we need in the manufacturing process, we do in house, other than extrusion. That would include our paint line, our glass line, our architectural bending, that is all done in-house. We have a facility that is very, very unique. You will have vinyl window companies, you will have aluminum window companies that do various products (not the complete line we make) then you will have your standard IG companies. ”
Another process innovation is not just making managers accountable for product shipments, but actually involving them in the process. “Our foremen and our production managers are our service department,” Mike says. “It is very unusual, but our final product is put on the truck by our management team. Whenever a product is being shipped out of here, it is the management team that is shipping out the product. The reason why is, if there is an issue, the truck loading will be stopped and the problem will be fixed because, at the end of the day, they are the ones responsible.”
This method takes away the tension between service and production by centralizing the whole responsibility in one area. A shipper might overlook a mistake in the product order in his rush to get the truck away in time, and a quality controller might delay a shipment because getting it right is more important to him than getting it out the door. By making one person responsible for both areas, Mike feels he gets an optimized solution to most problems. “A production manager will think, ‘I want to get it done quick, but I need to make sure there is not a bump because I do not want to be going to Montreal or Ottawa or Edmonton or Thunder Bay for a service call,’” Mike says.
New ways to market
The three companies’ products go to market through a network of dealers in southern Ontario, including window and door retailers and “truck-and-ladder guys.” Since he took over in 2005, Mike has diversified that into some low-rise and mid-rise developers and is setting up some vinyl manufacturers to private label the Everlast vinyl storm doors. He has made some deals with national distributors, as well. These moves have taken the company to Thunder Bay, Ont., North Bay, Ont., Ottawa and Montreal. Mike is staying away from the big box stores because he feels there are too many competitors trying to get that business.
Mike’s strategy is to be a one-stop shop for all fenestration products. He feels this is a strong position because, with the high costs of gas and labour in his local market, retailers and installers cannot afford to go from place to place shopping for all the components they need. By focusing on offering the best service to the client base he has, and continuously coming up with new products for them to buy, he can grow his business in the medium term without having to market himself farther afield. “We really have not increased our customer base,” he explains. “Our customer base has increased the amount they purchase from us, so our customer that used to just buy an aluminum storm door will now buy an aluminum storm door, a vinyl window, a patio door, an IG unit and an architectural shaped window because it is one place to order from, one place to pick up from and one place to make payables to. We have helped them reduce the cost of their operations.” He says he has made his fourfold increase in sales without putting a single salesperson on the road.
The experience and dedication of Mike’s staff allows him to stay back from production and think about larger moves for the company with the help of his father. It is an enviable position for the head of a medium-sized fabricator, where the daily emergencies can quickly overwhelm if you do not have competent people on the floor. It looks as though Everlast’s solid foundation has given Mike, John and the rest of the team a chance to do great things in the future.
|AT A GLANCE | Everlast, Alumitex and Air-Tite
Location: Toronto, Ont.
No. of Staff: 85
Manufacturing floor: 40,000 square feet
Part of a group of companies that includes Alumitex Windows and Doors and Air-Tite Insulating Glass, Everlast is owned by Frank Bruno and run by his sons, Mike and John. The group produces aluminum storm doors, windows, porch enclosures and sunrooms as well as vinyl windows and vinyl storm doors. Alumitex distributes Royal patio doors and TruTech entrance doors, as well.