At that moment, 19-year old Harry Sunner didn’t have anything nice to say to his father. He had just stepped off the plane with his family, transplanted from his friends and life in England. The plane rolled onto the tarmac and deposited the Sunners in Edmonton’s -34oC November weather. The teen, whose father thought Canada would offer a brighter future, was not impressed.
That was in the mid ’90s. Did Sunner ever warm up to his new country? “I love Edmonton. It was the right decision to immigrate to Canada, but I will never accept the cold,” he laughs.
Durabuilt Window Systems launched in Edmonton in 1988. In 1994, after going through a partnership with the previous owners, the Sunners became the sole owners of the company and promptly began the production of PVC windows, which were tooled by hand with 12 employees in a 10,000-square-foot shop.
“At the time there was not a lot of interest in PVC,” says Sunner. “Everything was wood and aluminum.” However, as the Sunners would prove time and time again, looking to the future, not the status quo, was the key to success. As the PVC market gained traction, the innovative company that knew very minimal about manufacturing – more so, were not fully equipped with the necessary tools to meet the growing demands – took on the great opportunities to allow their dreams to become realities simply with just their determination, vision and ambition.
By 1998, the company outgrew its location and evolved into Durabuilt Windows & Doors. The third facility (which included manufacturing of doors) boasted a whopping 26,000 square feet.
The growth never did slow down. A fourth move in 2002 brought the square footage to 60,000, and a second design gallery was opened on the south side of Edmonton. A fifth and final move took place in 2004, establishing a head office to oversee what would become several locations across Western Canada, and bringing the production space to 190,000 square feet to date.
All the while, Durabuilt kept focusing on innovation, pushing the envelope to produce stronger windows and doors with better performance. As leaders in the industry, Durabuilt continues to initiate new projects and launch new concepts – adding fashion/flair to products and engineering while educating and inspiring consumers in their progressive and interactive design gallery space.
In 2007, Durabuilt infiltrated the southern Alberta market, by opening a design gallery in Lethbridge. Another design gallery followed in Calgary in 2009, and in 2015, Durabuilt’s Alpha sliding windows series earned a Calgary SAM Industry Innovation Award.
In 2014, Sunner’s hard work and persevering commitment earned him a move from vice president to company president (his father’s former role), while Joe Sunner continued as CEO.
Today, Durabuilt employs more than 400 people and pushes the industry to capitalize on automation, robotics and tech-driven products while never forgetting the value of the people who make these systems run.
As Sunner points out, it’s not the windows and doors that makes Durabuilt successful; it’s the people behind them.
“Understanding the importance of relationships, we have proactively cultivated connections and networks with key industry stakeholders and forged relationships in the industry and the community. Our unique personal connection and daily involvement in the business puts us on the leading edge, in addition to being homegrown and privately owned,” he says. “Our core values, the principles that guide our internal performance and our relationship with the external world, are unwavering and unchanging.”
However, the road for Canadian manufacturers right now is not an easy one.
“The manufacturing industry in Canada has continually lost opportunities to other global players, but it is a vital component to the country’s wealth and success,” Sunner stresses. “I want to take things to another level – take leaps and bounds in tech, manufacturing and innovation, not just windows.”
As Sunner looks back on 30 years, he knows that at Durabuilt’s core, resilience is what started everything and what continues to be a major company driver.
“People think I inherited the company, or that I was an engineer and joined. That’s not true. My father and I had no manufacturing history and no background in the business. It was our vision, fortitude, hard work, along with a growth mindset; having to grow my abilities and leadership skills, and learning how to become a good steward for the team are the main ingredients to what got us here today.”
Sunner’s lifelong learning and leadership engagement is kept active by his participation in TEC Canada, an organization focused on growing strong and capable decision-makers. He has also recently joined MacKay Group, who develop the skills of high-performing, action-oriented CEOs.
“My father was a low-risk business entrepreneur, but at 19 I was more willing to take chances and had lofty goals,” Sunner continues. “High risk is dangerous, low risk doesn’t grow. Having the two of us in a partnership brought us to middle ground. His experience and my youthful exuberance were complementary. When we started we had to make it work; we had put everything into the company and were fully maxed out on lending. There was no exit but success. Failure was never an option.”
Sunner sees that resilience in every team member and fosters it across the company’s divisions.
“I feel it is the culture of transparency, respect and continuous development that raises us up, along with education and training. Training and development are a win-win as this ensures our team feels like they’re progressing and learning, while helping them to do their job even better.
“When employees feel that they are being heard, that they are part of the bigger picture, it motivates them. Fostering a culture of co-workers helping each other grow, empowering employees to own their growth and seeking feedback from others is vital.”
To the team, Sunner says: “The great entrepreneur is limited by their own ideas until they can find people who believe in them with great passion. YOU are the heart and soul, the breath of life that enables this business to be something more than an idea. YOU are the mechanism that makes the company what it is at today. For that, we are truly grateful.”
Durabuilt has rigorous safety standards from the office to the production floor.
“We are proud to be honoured with silver from the Canada’s Safest Employers Awards for the third consecutive year! This is one of the most prestigious awards in Canada, recognizing the manufacturing employers who have demonstrated their commitment to implement and practice higher safety standards,” Sunner smiles.
Durabuilt Windows & Doors cares passionately for its product, its ability to lead the way in innovation and technology, and its people. However, it always makes time to give back.
“We care about the community and encourage our employees to be active and visible through volunteerism and charitable activities,” Sunner explains. “The company’s humanitarian efforts can be felt throughout Western Canada and are often collaborative between corporate matching and staff donations.” Some of the non-profit initiatives Durabuilt supports include: CASA Foundation, Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, and many more.
Knowing the company did not achieve success on its own, Durabuilt celebrated 30 years with a two-day event that brought the team together with 400 industry leaders, company suppliers, customers, dignitaries and others who have helped the window and door manufacturer grow.
Today, despite never getting used to Edmonton’s weather, Sunner couldn’t be happier about coming to Canada and creating, with his father, family and team of employees, a company that would go on to give back tenfold in innovation, job creation, and to the community.
Humbly, he admits, “This is no small feat, but we have successfully remained on Canada’s Best Managed Companies list since 2012. We owe this honour to our winning team of industry talents.”
Looking forward, it’s all about growth – not just for Durabuilt, but for manufacturing in Canada.
“We will be taking the business to the next level,” Sunner concludes. “Vertical integration will be our focus, bringing products on board to help add value to our current client portfolio. In alignment with this, there will be organic leadership growth while recognizing and inspiring the talent in our team.”
Through it all, the company’s foundation of innovation, resilience, forward-thinking and customer focus will never change.