Invest In Your People and They Will Invest In You
LEI Home Enhancements sells windows, siding, gutters and doors for homes throughout the US, but primarily in the Midwest. Although founded only a few years ago, LEI’s growth has been spectacular, made all the more impressive by its unique methods…
Promotion is largely done through old-fashioned door-to-door marketing, and franchises are only available to company employees. LEI has also taken the time to build up a considerable presence in the charitable sector.
The company name, explains co-owner and President Marc Longworth, used to stand for Longworth Enterprises Incorporated. As of April of this year, that has been changed to Lasting Energy Innovations, he explains.
Longworth founded the firm in 2009 with Robert Keller, who is the other co-owner and chief executive officer.
LEI is headquartered in West Chester, Ohio, with locations in cities across North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, Indianapolis, Colorado, Georgia, Wisconsin and Virginia. In 2017, LEI plans to open new locations in North Carolina and Virginia, as well as Baltimore, Maryland. The Madison office will be expanded to accommodate the nearby Wisconsin city of Milwaukee.
Some ninety percent of LEI’s work is with windows, and virtually all of the products the company sells are for residential clients.
Longworth and Keller used to work in a consulting firm for home improvement companies. After some unanticipated developments in the sector, Longworth and Keller decided to strike out on their own and LEI was born.
The early days were “definitely a challenge, for sure. We knew how to generate sales, which is the hardest part. The only thing we didn’t have experience in was the back-end stuff – the operations, the installations. That’s when we teamed up with Alside to do all the installations for us,” explains Longworth.
Alside is a manufacturer based in Akron, Ohio that specializes in exterior building products, including vinyl replacement windows. Alside is LEI’s main product supplier.
“We have a great relationship with Alside. We actually have a private label window they manufacture exclusively for us. They do all of our installations. So it’s manufactured by Alside and installed by Alside. The beautiful thing about Alside doing our install, it keeps our overhead really low,” explains Longworth.
Besides producing quality products and handling installation, Alside was chosen because the company is “an innovator in the vinyl industry,” with great marketing and service, he adds.
LEI was a success from the beginning and, “did $1.2 million, which was respectable for our first year in business. We’ve continued to grow since then,” says Longworth.
Indeed, last year, the firm earned nearly $25 million in, according to Qualified Remodeler magazine. The company placed forty-ninth on the magazine’s list of the top five hundred largest remodelers in the US. Included in the magazine’s August 2016 issue, the list ranked remodelers according to 2015 revenue.
For 2016, “we’re going to hit a little south of $30 million. Right now the projections are $29.6 to $29.8 million,” says Longworth.
He attributes the company’s explosive rise in franchises and overall personnel numbers to hard work, great staff and some more intangible factors.
Co-founder Keller is also an ordained minister and very involved with charity work. At the beginning of LEI’s operations, Keller suggested the firm help an orphanage in India that had connections with a Cincinnati church and a wealthy Ohio sponsor but was losing key funding. Keller had been to the orphanage and was impressed by the staff, the kids and the operation. LEI initially donated one dollar to the orphanage for every window sold, a sum matched by sales staff. The partnership grew from there. Thanks in large part to LEI, the orphanage recently opened its own school.
LEI has also built churches in Honduras and runs a charity called If Only One. Keller, in fact, wanted to take part in the interview, but recently suffered “two herniated discs in Honduras, building a church,” and is under treatment, reports Longworth.
LEI believes there is a direct connection, LEI’s growth did kick-off against the backdrop of its initial charity outreach. With this in mind, it is no surprise that Longworth says LEI’s corporate culture is built on “honesty, integrity, work ethic and customer service.”
Entrepreneurship and a willingness to learn are also important elements. “We develop people; we don’t hire developed people. If you come into my corporation and say, ‘Hey I sold windows for fifteen years, I want to work for you,’ I won’t hire you, because you have bad habits. But if you worked at Burger King for the past fifteen years and you’re tired of smelling like hamburgers and want something different, I’ll teach you. We have an excellent training program,” says Longworth.
The company prefers to promote internally, rather than hiring outside executives who might require considerable on-the-job training by existing staff. Ground-floor employees start as marketing representatives and undergo a training program. Once qualified, they can advance to become an assistant marketing manager. From there, the next step is certified field manager then assistant director of operations. A full director, which is the position that comes next if the employee is qualified and keen, is in charge of directing operations in a given city. Only once the top is reached is there the possibility of becoming a franchisee.
“You have to come up through our system to receive a franchise. They’re not on the market for sale … One of the things we believe in: you can’t train somebody to do something you don’t know how to do yourself. That’s why we only recruit from within. That’s something we stand for and really attribute a lot of our growth to,” says Longworth.
The company currently has forty-eight corporate employees and seven franchises. LEI does not plan to introduce any new products or services in the near-future. “We’re a company that believes in focusing on doing what we do best. We don’t want to be a company that today, we do roofs; tomorrow we do basements. Our focus is the windows and siding,” says Longworth.
The company is looking to boost the siding segment of its business. “We did put together a siding training program for all our different locations. We’re going to try to increase sales by fifteen percent in the siding market next year. That should be around $4.5 to $6 million in extra revenue,” he says.
The focus will remain on residential work. While government or industrial jobs might be tempting, “the problem is, it’s so competitive; the profit margins are just not there,” says Longworth.
Expansion plans do not include setting up locations outside US borders. This is largely due to the fact LEI is closely tied to its Ohio-based manufacturer. “Our manufacturer does not currently have any locations in Canada or Mexico,” he explains.
While LEI has a website, promotion is almost entirely done through door-to-door solicitation. Representatives talk up potential customers at the doorstep and hand out company literature.
“We go directly to the client. When you put a billboard up, it cost you $100,000, and there’s really no way to forecast how many times the phone’s going to ring. Where, the way we do it, everything is attached to a sale. We want to be order makers, not order takers. We go out there and get the business. We hustle,” he says.
“Are we growing too fast? Well, that’s a very good question. Our customer service is still the best in the industry, but we can’t touch every customer the way we used to. We still do a phenomenal job, but when you’re at $1.2 million, it’s a lot easier for the owner to go out, see every customer, shake every hand, hug the kids, give people a $50 gift card. We still take pride in our customer service, so we have built an entire division based solely on this,” notes Longworth.
That said, the LEI president also feels strongly that the firm has maintained its core values during its speedy rise, and it is a rise that Longworth does not want to see end. Looking to the future, he again refers to LEI’s inclusion in the top fifty in Qualified Remodeler magazine.
“If you could see us in 2009, me and Rob sat down together and said, ‘If we could just make the top one hundred, that would be amazing.’ Being at $30 million in 2016 would land us number thirty-six or thirty-seven. But our goal, in 2020, is to be at $100 million. We’re going to get there. We have great individuals. We open in four or five new cities next year. Each city is $3 million in revenue. By 2020, we’ll be at $100 million,” states Longworth.