GDU! The Industry’s First Trade School Opens

© 2003 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2003
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 34-36

The Industry’s First Trade School Opens

On July 25, 2003, door industry veterans Dan Apple, Jim Kelly, and Gary Lombard announced Garage Door University in Richmond, Va., the industry’s first trade school.

The school’s three founders are all former presidents of IDEA (Institute for Door Dealer Education and Accreditation) with long histories in the door and access systems industry. The three are also well-known trainers at IDEA and IDA (International Door Association) workshops and seminars. All three planned to leave their present jobs by the end of September to devote full time to the university.

“I think we all heard the industry calling,” says Lombard. “We’ve learned that there's only so much you can do with a volunteer effort. This is something that will take full-time work by more than one person.”

Variety of Training

Fall classes began in September at Garage Door University’s facility in Richmond. The curriculum consists of classroom instruction, hands-on training in the school’s technical lab, and Web-based training that eliminates the need to travel.

Seeking students from dealers and manufacturers, the university will provide courses in a broad range of subjects, including installation, sales and marketing, customer service, finance, etc. Twelve courses are planned to debut this fall.

GDU plans to offer courses with “full audio and visual capability and the latest in instructional technology.” Class sizes are limited to 12 students.

A Career Path

Besides training current employees, the school hopes to become a training and feeder system for bringing new talent into the industry. “This will give installers a career path they never had before,” says Lombard, who spent 20 years as a service technician.

Besides a career path, Lombard also sees potential financial benefits. “The more you know, the more you should make,” he says. “A good education should increase the earning potential for installers.”

IDEA Collaboration?

Barbara Kelkhoff, current IDEA president, says GDU explained their program in August to the IDEA board. She says the two groups will be exploring “specific ways that IDEA and GDU might work as allies.”

“They may be able to do things that IDEA doesn't yet have the resources to do,” she says. Kelkhoff added that IDEA has looked into interactive Web-based training and might learn from GDU’s E-learning experiences.

The Founding Fathers

The school’s three founders bring an abundance of experience in the door and access systems business and in industry organizations. All three have conducted numerous industry seminars and received distinguished service awards from IDA.

Kelly, with 33 years in the industry, has held management positions at a dealership and with five manufacturers: Kinnear, Overhead Door, Cookson, Atlas, and Clopay. Lombard brings 32 years of experience as a door systems technician, trainer, manager, and dealership owner. Apple has racked up 25 years as a door dealer, growing one of the country’s largest and most progressive dealerships.

The Apple Core

Some of GDU’s training foundation springs from training efforts at Apple Door Systems in Virginia. Several years ago, Dan Apple started his own training program at Apple Door. It quickly grew from three or four classes to more than 100 classes per year.

“I thought that if it worked for Apple Door on a small scale, it would work on a regional or national basis also,” he says.

Reaching Out

GDU will be using former Apple Door facilities in Richmond. Over the long term, GDU hopes to set up remote classes at other door dealerships around the nation.

“We're also looking for adjunct professors and others to be involved,” adds Apple. “They will be paid to teach in their area of expertise. There's a wealth of talent that isn't being used throughout our industry.”

Leaving It All Behind

By the end of September, all three planned to devote full time to the university. Lombard was the first to make the transition. He left his job as General Manager at Ankmar Door in Colorado and moved to Virginia in August.

Kelly leaves a position as Operations Manager at Karavan Door in Fayetteville, Ga. Equipped with a degree in education, an M.B.A., and experience with five door manufacturers, Kelly sees his new venture as a logical next step for his door career. Nonetheless, it’s still a leap of faith.

“I don't have a parachute on, I'll tell you that,” he laughs. “I'm in it for the long haul. This will be what I will do until I'm six feet under or until I can't do it any more.”

Online: How It Works

Part of Kelly’s vision for GDU is presenting online training for classes that do not require hands-on experiences. Students and instructors will "meet" at specific times on the Internet in virtual GDU classrooms.

After registering for a class, students go to a specific Internet address, and log on with a password. Students hear the instructor, see presentations on-screen, and can even ask questions. Kelly says such training eliminates the time and expense of travel.

Job Placement

When students complete their training, they may be listed in GDU's Employer Search Database. Potential employers will have access to this database to help them find qualified, trained individuals for employment.

Students may pay their own tuition or may be sponsored by their employer. Sponsored students will require their company's permission before they can be admitted into the database.

“It’s a Business”

“This is a for-profit venture,” explains Apple. “It's a business. I've always subscribed to the idea that anything worth having is usually not free.”

“It's been said, ‘If we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always got.’ Well, we're trying to change what we've always done and offer the industry something better.”

Application forms, course descriptions, fees are online at

To respond to this story, send an E-mail to or send a fax to the editor at 815-285-2543.

Founder Profile: Jim Kelly
B.A. in Education, Boston College, 1970
M.B.A., Brenau University, 1994
Branch Manager, Baltimore and Dallas, Kinnear Door, 1970-1981
Sales and Training management, Atlas Door, 1981-1983
Sales and Training management (rolling doors), Overhead Door, 1983-1993
Sales management, Cookson, 1993-1999
Director of Sales, Atlas Door Division, Clopay, 1999-2002
Operations Manager, Karavan Doors, 2002-2003
Director, IDEA Board, 1996-2000
Past President of ARDI, 1990-1991, 1993; and IDEA, 1998-2000
Recipient of IDA’s Distinguished Service Award, 1997

Founder Profile: Dan Apple
Petty Officer 2nd Class, U.S. Navy, 1973-1978
B.A. in Business Management, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1982
Apple Door Systems, 1978-present, President and CEO
Directed Apple Door's growth from $300,000 to over $8,000,000 in annual sales
Director, DODA Board, 1993-1995; IDA Board, 1995-1998
Founding President, IDEA, 1996-1998
Recipient of IDA’s Jerry R. Reynolds Volunteer Leadership Award, 2003

Founder Profile: Gary Lombard
Installer, Overhead Door Company of Denver, 1971-1976
Technician/Co-owner, Colorado Garage Door Service, 1976-2000
Sales, American Garage Door, Denver, 2000-2002
Director of Training/General Manager, Ankmar Door, 2002-2003
Director, DODA Board, 1991-1996; IDEA Board, 1996-2002
President, IDEA, 2000-2002
Recipient of IDA’s Jerry R. Reynolds Volunteer Leadership Award, 2002

Built in 1911, the main GDU building is devoted to classroom space. A building next door is the school’s technical lab for hands-on installation training.