Window maker exec on how her business weathers bad economy
I feel compelled to confess that I did not have very high expectations when I walked into the Rochester Area Builders meeting last night to cover the president of Marvin Windows talk about the economy.
However, I quickly upgraded my attitude as Susan Marvin began her engaging and interesting presentation.
Here's part of what I wrote for today's paper. Thanks to Mike Pruett of MLT for the pics.
People, community and commitment are the basic building blocks to create a foundation for a business to weather any economic storm and even grow during tough times.
Susan Marvin, president of the popular and successful Marvin Windows and Doors of Warroad, Minn, shared her 100-year-old, family-owned company's philosophy at the Rochester Area Builders annual meeting Tuesday night.
"We serve all of our stakeholders — our employees, our customers and the community," she told the attentive crowd of more than 200 at the Rochester International Events Center.
Marvin and her straightforward approach to business and opinions on the economy hit the national stage in the fall, when the New York Times wrote about her and the international window-making company based in a small Minnesota town of just 1,700 people.
The story generated an "incredible response" across the country and soon Marvin was appearing on CNN, Bloomberg Television and even President Obama discussing the window-making company during a speech.
"It is a story people were hungry to hear," she said.
While she describes a simple business approach, Marvin acknowledges that is not easy one.
"The last few years have been very tough. The economy went into recession and the home building industry went into a depression, one deeper than the Great Depression, with unemployment in our industry hitting 30 percent at one point," she said.
While her family's company was in a very strong position with money on hand and no debt when the worst of the home construction slump started in 2009, she and her siblings realized they had to make some changes.
"We realized immediately that we had to do everything differently," she said.
The Marvin family's first decision was a key one. The company would not cut any employees.
"While a layoff would have been easier, the community would have been devastated," she told the crowd. "We kept the people, but cut everything else — wages, bonuses, travel reimbursements, 401(k)s — everything that didn't contribute to the bottom line."
Marvin Windows employs about 4,300 people, 2,000 of whom work in the small northern Minnesota town of Warroad, where her grandfather founded a lumber yard in 1904.
The town and the company are intertwined. In fact, her father originally turned the family lumberyard to making windows during World War II to help create jobs for returning GIs.
"The strength of the company is the community. It is … an incredible relationship," Marvin said.
However, cutting expenses to the bone to keep from letting workers go was not easy.
"It was a team effort, though not everyone liked it. But they were willing to do that rather than see their neighbor lose their job," she said.
Keeping the workforce intact was not just good for Warroad. The Marvins see it as good business.
"Retention of talent is key. Experience matters," she said.