D+AS MAGAZINE

FEATURES — From Campground to Glory: Garage Doors by Roy North

© 2005 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2005
Author: Carla Rautenberg
Pages 58-62


From Campground to Glory
Garage Doors by Roy North
Ft. Myers, Fla.

By Carla Rautenberg, DAS Special Correspondent

A trim carpenter takes a job installing garage doors, and 33 years later, his children are running a multi-million-dollar business and the number-one Raynor dealer in the world. Wow! How did that happen?

Any profitable business owes its success to a combination of factors. Quality products and service, hard work, location, and timing—all of these have played a role in the extraordinary success of Garage Doors by Roy North in Ft. Myers, Fla. But in this case, none would trump the values of integrity and family loyalty.

Doug Elliott, Raynor territory manager for Florida, says that Garage Doors by Roy North sold more Raynor doors in 2004 than any other dealer anywhere. He has no doubt they will occupy that position this year, too.

“They install over 140 Raynor doors every week, and they do it right the first time. Their reputation is just phenomenal,” says Elliott. Even so, he admits that demographics and hurricanes haven’t hurt.

A Storm of Growth
New residents continue to stream into the sunshine state—367,000 arrived in 2004, and 369,000 are expected in 2005, according to experts. Newcomers demand housing, and along with it, new garage doors.

Meanwhile, current residents are upgrading their garage doors to meet the wind-load requirements of the 2001 Florida Building Code. While Hurricane Charley of August 2004 caused barely a hiccup in migration to the state, it created huge backlogs in all construction-related businesses, garage doors definitely included.

It may be hard not to be successful in the garage door business in Florida. Still, not many dealers succeed on the level of Garage Doors by Roy North. And historically, all too many family businesses fail to survive the retirement or departure of their founders.

Today, Garage Doors by Roy North has 42 employees, of whom 20 are family members. What are the secrets of their continuing success? To find out requires a little trip down memory lane.

Living in a Campground
In 1969, the North family headed south in a Rambler station wagon, towing a pop-up trailer. Roy North, his wife, Marcena, and their five children happily exchanged the cold winters of Penn Yan, N.Y., for life in a campground near Ft. Myers, Fla.

Soon after arriving, Roy North took a job as an installer with a small garage door company. When the owner retired in 1972, “Marcena and I just bought him out and kept going.”

As the kids grew, the pop-up trailer got a little crowded for a family of seven. After a couple of years, they traded up to a 31-ft. travel trailer. But the family stayed in the same campground for six years.

Roy’s daughter Carol Duby can’t imagine a better way to grow up. “There were at least 30 kids at the bus stop every day. And in a campground, there was always a kid your age.”

Roy worked entirely alone until the third year, when Marcena came into the office, answering the phone, taking orders, and handling purchasing, scheduling, and the books. The kids often rode in the truck with their dad, learning the business with each stop along the way.

Passing on the Business
As the oldest child in the family, David North never doubted that he would spend his life selling and installing garage doors. He started working for his dad immediately after graduating from high school in 1976. His close friend Brent Butzin, long considered a “member of the family,” joined the company in 1977.

David’s siblings (Darrel, Darrin, Connie, and Carol) eventually joined the business, too. When Roy and Marcena retired in 1992, their five children and Brent Butzin took over the company as co-owners, with David as president.

“When I gave them the business, I left $100,000 in the bank account and said ‘Take over and go. If you run out of money, don’t call me,’” Roy reports with obvious delight.

A Family Affair
Now, the staff at Garage Doors by Roy North is packed with in-laws, nieces, nephews, and children of the current owners. How on earth do they all get along? Connie (North) Moore stresses the importance of compromise.

“If we do have an argument, we keep it separate. You just don’t take it personally. You’ve got a contractor or a homeowner that you’re trying to make happy, so you’ve got to come up with some reason to get along and work it out.”

David North puts it a little differently: “We all have our own job, and we all know our place and what we should be doing.”

According to the owners, non-family employees do not feel “out of the loop” in this admittedly North-centric universe. “I think we actually expect more out of the members of the family. We try to make it very equal,” says Carol. Brent agrees.

Connie mentions the importance of holding events such as company picnics and offering incentives for exceptional performance. For example, the firm recently rewarded an employee with a weekend getaway for himself and his wife at a hotel of their choice.

Location and Reputation
Garage Doors by Roy North has no glossy brochures about their company. Their showroom is functional but not fancy, and their new Web site (www.northdoors.com) sticks to the basics. But company treasurer Carol Duby reports that sales came close to doubling in the last five years, topping $5 million in 2004.

“The biggest thing is our location,” says Brent Butzin. “The south Florida area is a real hot spot, so there’s a whole lot of new construction going on. And last year, the storms contributed to a lot of our work also.”

While grateful for the increased business, David points out that hurricane-created demand can be a double-edged sword: “Yes, it has helped, but it’s not always a good thing when you have to be six to eight weeks out before you can help somebody. The contractors still expect you to meet their schedule.”

“We’re there when we say we’re going to be there, and we always return calls, even if it’s the end of the day,” says Connie. The on-time policy includes a two-hour window that homeowners in Florida seem to find rare. “People have commented on that,” notes David.

Manufacturer Support
In addition to being Raynor’s #1 distributor, Garage Doors by Roy North handles products from Amarr, US Door, Asta Door, Genie, and Clopay. Connie says manufacturers have provided helpful technical support for meeting increasingly stringent requirements for garage doors.

Some manufacturers have created kits to enable existing garage doors to withstand hurricane-force winds. David North has seen a noticeable increase in orders for reinforcement kits coming from homeowners with older non-code doors when a replacement door just isn’t in the budget.

Dealing with the Competition
In the Ft. Myers area, Garage Doors by Roy North enjoys the advantage of size as well as reputation. David doesn’t worry about competitors coming into the market and offering a cheaper door at a lower price.

“We really don’t seem to have to deal with that. We have a big contractor base already, and our price is what our price is … if they want to go cheaper, they can. There’s enough work to go around for everybody in town.”

Secrets of Success
Roy North raised his family in the business and taught them well. The boys rode with Roy in the truck, while Connie and Carol worked in the office with mom. Somewhere along the way, they all learned their dad’s business philosophy.

“I always told them,” says Roy, “don’t try to scam people and try to make a fast dollar. Just keep the price and the quality where they should be, and you’ll come out all right. We built this business by word of mouth.”

And for 33 years, the philosophy has worked. “A neighbor tells a neighbor (about us),” Carol adds. “On one street, we don’t just have one customer, we have five customers.”

So there you have the secrets of Garage Doors by Roy North’s success. Focus on the customer. Do quality work. Show up on time. Charge a fair price. Call people back. Work together as a family. And do these things every time.

Oh, and two more details wouldn’t hurt. Start your garage door company in south Florida, and bring in a hurricane now and then to generate some business.