The Largest Dealer in North America? An Interview with Harrison Door Company
© 2000 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Summer 2000
Author: Tom Wadsworth
The Largest Dealer in North America?
An Interview with Harrison Door Company
By Tom Wadsworth
In 1977, Larry Harrison and his 18-year-old son, Don, opened up their door business in Henderson, Nevada, making and installing their own one-piece wood door for the Las Vegas market. Larry sold the product; Don installed it.
Like most door companies, their business struggled through its first few years, and by 1983, the business had grown to include seven full-time employees. But Larry died that year, leaving a big decision to his son, now 24 years old. Returning from the funeral, Don reflected on whether to keep Harrison Door alive.
“I realized that dad left me two things: opportunity and a great work ethic,” recalled Don. Seizing that opportunity, Don decided to keep it going.
It was a good decision. By 1988, only five years later, Harrison Door had fully expanded into the sectional door market and had grown tremendously. In 1989, when Clopay presented their first-ever Dealer of the Year award, Harrison Door was tabbed for the honor. Since then, Don’s business has been among Clopay’s top dealers every year.
But they’d only begun to grow. In 1994, Harrison Door’s annual sales reached $8 million. By the year 2000, their sales hit $16 million, running 62 service vehicles with 111 full-time employees.
Don and his wife, Cheryl, the firm’s accountant, have four children, all under 12. Since Don is only 40 years old and still in the youthful prime of his life, it seems that his incredible company still has a lot of room to grow.
If you’re thinking that Don must be a dominating, slick salesman, think again. To this writer, he seems to be an honest businessman who is genuinely sensitive to meeting people’s needs and who wants to do things right. While in Las Vegas for Expo 2000, I stopped by Harrison Door and probed for some of the secrets to Don’s success.
I think I hit the jackpot.
Others have said that you may have the largest garage door dealership in North America. Are you aware of any dealership that is larger?
I’m not aware of any independent door dealers that are larger, but there might be some out there.
You have a reputation for doing several things well. What are the top three?
I’d say our best attribute is taking care of the customer. We feel that the customer drives everything we do. We do our best to have a can-do attitude.
When a customer gives us a challenge, we make an effort to find all the ways we can do it, instead of focusing on the ways we can’t do it. We try to instill that attitude in all of our people.
If a customer calls up and is not happy, we apologize and fix the problem. We don’t ask questions. Some customers try to take advantage of our generosity, but we don’t waste time trying to identify those people. We just fix the problem.
If that’s number one, what’s number two?
Number two is our branding, or our marketing efforts. We developed a logo we’re proud of, and we developed a slogan, “The closer you look, the better we look.” We put our logo and slogan on every piece of information that goes out. We try to be consistent with that message, and we get the message out continually.
We run our newspaper ad at least every other week, and we spend a lot of money in Yellow Pages. We also run seasonal promotions on television and radio. Our jingle runs on each ad because we want people to remember our slogan.
What’s number three?
I’d say diversification. Our successful marketing has allowed us to diversify and get into garage door-related products like wrought iron gates, gate entry systems, dock equipment, central vacuum systems, awnings, garage organizers, and window coverings.
Our diversification has allowed us to succeed in a tough market. When one department is down, another is up. All these products feed each other. When we’re installing one product, we have an opportunity to sell other products to the customer.
Let’s talk about your number one strength. What are some noteworthy ways that you take care of your customers?
We try hard to be sure that the first person who answers the phone is someone who makes you feel good about our company. Some companies consider that as an entry-level position, but I feel it is one of the most important positions in the company. It drives me nuts when even big companies have receptionists who aren’t pleasant.
When a customer calls, we also try to have someone available, whether it’s for residential service, commercial sales, or whatever. We try to schedule things so that someone is here to answer telephone questions at all times.
Each customer service person in the office has a $250 limit to take care of any customer without getting prior approval from a manager. It actually doesn’t get used that much.
No customer goes without being 100% satisfied. We want to Wow the customer. We want them to say, “Wow, that was a great experience,” or “Wow, that was a great door.”
It takes good employees to do all that, doesn’t it?
We have great people; they’re the real reason for our success. And we try to hire the right people from the start. We want people who are naturally oriented to serve customers. I think that’s the biggest key. It’s hard to train customer service, because so much of it must come from within.
In your earlier years, what was an important step that helped your company grow to the next level?
Around 1993, we departmentalized into seven departments with seven key managers (residential installation, residential service, commercial installation, commercial service, gate entry systems & wrought iron, specialty products, and accounting). Instead of me worrying about everything, I delegated responsibility and began to trust our managers. I gave each of them a sense of ownership of their department. They know the department’s numbers, and they can keep score for themselves on how their business unit is doing. Our revenue grew 30% for several years in a row after that.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Putting all my eggs in one basket. I used to think that I needed to stay 100% loyal and buy product from only one manufacturer. I was very concerned about breaking that relationship and dealing with more than one manufacturer. But over time, it’s proved to be a smart move, and now I think our relationship with our primary supplier is maybe even stronger.
I think I’ve matured through that process. Now I know the rules about how to do business with more than one manufacturer. When I had just one supplier, I viewed us as friends, and I felt guilty about considering other suppliers. But I should have viewed our relationship as business partners.
After all, where should my loyalty lie? It should lie with my 110 employees, my customers, and my family, and not with any one supplier. I’m trying to run a good business, and I don’t need to feel guilty about broadening my product line. Our primary supplier understands that. I think we both now have a healthy respect for each other, and we have a great relationship.