If you’ve lived in Calgary for more than a minute, chances are you’ve looked through a window or walked through a door manufactured by Supreme Windows. In operation since 1967, the company has furnished countless homes in the city and province with a variety of windows and doors, all fit for four unrelenting seasons. As Calgary has grown over the last half-century, flourishing in the booms and weathering the busts, so too has Supreme. Today, it sits at the top of its industry.
“We have seen record sales the last couple of years,” reveals Ann MacKenna, principal/owner at Supreme. “In fact, this year we are trending to demolish our sales record. Despite the economy, we’re hiring new people and growing. You don’t hear a lot of stories like that right now.”
The cherry on top of the sales success is the recognition Supreme has received within its industry. “Last year was a real banner year for the company,” MacKenna continues. “Not only was it our 50th anniversary, but we also won some major accolades.” These include the Star Metro Calgary Community Choice Best Windows and Doors Store and the Home Stars Best of 2018. “Home Stars was a really big one since reviews are based on customers only,” she adds. “Customers in Calgary rated us the best last year.”
The reason for all this good news? “We manufacture everything here in town,” MacKenna offers, “including the Sealed Unit [two or three pieces of glass hermetically sealed together]. We’re pretty much the only one in town manufacturing the entire window structure. Everything is fully integrated into one location.”
That location is in the city’s southeast, and includes Supreme’s manufacturing plant, head office, sales, administration and showroom. The 100,000-square-foot building was purpose-built in 2007 when Supreme needed more space. “Because we manufacture everything here, we can solve issues quickly,” she explains. “We’re not calling down to the U.S. or across the country because we need XYZ unit. Our vice president of production, Craig Grant, can deal with it immediately.”
The plant is fully automated, with specialized computer-controlled machines from Italy, Canada and Germany for everything from cutting glass to cleaning welded corners. MacKenna recalls making the decision to automate the new plant: “There was a lot of set up and we needed many technicians; I didn’t realize that would be the situation, and found it very frustrating for the first 60 days. But then everything started rolling.” The facility and equipment were built for overcapacity, and Supreme hasn’t had to expand the plant.
And despite the fact that the new facility opened in April of 2008, just as the market was moving into a downturn, it has been a boon. “It’s paid for itself many times over,” MacKenna reveals happily. “The payback has been incredible because we get quality products and consistency in our production. Automation is definitely the way to go.”
Another benefit of being local and fully integrated is that Supreme’s products don’t have far to travel. “They don’t get banged around in a truck for 2,000 kilometres,” says Gordon Sokolon, director of sales and marketing at Supreme. “We deliver our products in our own trucks so that when you order from Supreme you get the personal touch the whole way: contact with your salesperson, the product manufactured in a plant in Calgary by Calgarians, and then we don’t third-party ship it out; we ship it in our own trucks right to the community that ordered it from us.”
Sokolon, who joined Supreme three-and-a-half years ago, is part of the management team headed by president and CEO Martin Polychuk which MacKenna and co-owner/partners, brothers Dennis and Gerard Huber, rely upon to run the day-to-day operations of Supreme. “Martin and Gordon are a very central part of our business,” she confirms.
For her part, MacKenna has been with the company since 1994 and an owner since 1998. The Huber brothers both worked at Supreme with their father since childhood. Dennis became an owner in the 1980s while Gerard became an owner in 1998.
Founded in Edmonton as Economy Windows some 51 years ago, the company was renamed Supreme in 1971 when it moved to Calgary. It grew steadily from then on, expanding into ever-larger facilities and increasing production every year.
Supreme’s windows come in a variety of styles, with numerous options for dual- or triple-pane Sealed Units, size, shape, frame materials, glazing, grill, jambs, casings and brick moulds. All window frames and sashes are manufactured with vinyl extrusions. Supreme’s door business includes entry and garden doors, door slabs, doorlites and sliding patio doors, which also come in a variety of options.
The company’s market is primarily residential homes and multi-family (town homes and smaller apartment buildings) developments. While it manufactures more windows than doors (for obvious reasons), its door business has grown with the advent of newer homes boasting more than two doors to the outside.
“We have three pillars of business,” explains Sokolon. “First is our renovation division. This consists of the sales team which attends customers’ homes and measures out the product. We then custom-build the product at our plant.” The service, adds MacKenna, includes removal of old doors and windows and delivery and installation of new ones. This division comprises about 50 per cent of Supreme’s business, and it’s growing.
“We’ve seen the biggest jump in renovations,” she continues. “We’ve been established for such a long time and have a great reputation that new and repeat customers keep coming to us. They’re choosing to stay in their homes and chosen neighbourhoods and renovate, rather than move.”
“The renovation division is really hot,” Sokolon agrees. “We’ve offered some new innovative products that they have to pick from, we have a great reputation with the public, and the leads that we track are record breaking over the last number of years. Put all that together and we’re going to get more than our fair share of the pie.”
Supreme’s renovation business also partners with the Better Business Bureau – which rates Supreme as an A+ – as a speaker for its series on how to hire a good contractor. “We’re involved with that to help Calgarians identify quality contractors,” says Sokolon.
The second business division, comprising about 30 per cent of Supreme’s business, is the new home construction division. These customers include new home builders and contractors in Calgary and the surrounding areas. The third division is Supreme’s dealer network, which provides about 20 per cent of the business. “These are dealers in rural Alberta,” explains Sokolon. “For example, Home Hardware. Customers in rural Alberta can order a locally-made product and we will ship the product to the dealer.”
“We pretty well cover most of the province of Alberta,” MacKenna apprises. She highlights Supreme’s customer-care policies, including its warranties: “We have an industry-leading warranty. Our 50-year history of providing quality products gives people the confidence to know that if something does happen, we’ll be here to take care of it.”
Supreme’s warranty is a complete two-year warranty and up to 20 years product replacement warranty. “But we’re not cut and dry on warranty issues,” she qualifies. “Let’s say a customer calls us 15 years later about a broken latch. We’ve always told the service coordinator that we have to give back, do a little bit extra. So go drop off the handle – it goes a long way. There’s warranties on paper and there’s what we actually do.”
MacKenna has the same attitude when it comes to Supreme’s 75 employees, 43 of whom work in the plant. “You have to treat people fairly and be good to them,” she opines. “If you look after them and treat them well, people stay.” She credits Grant for the longevity of many plant employees.
Indeed, Supreme has many long-term employees in both the plant and office. MacKenna views them as a major asset. “For the manufacturing and production lines, the consistency of having the same people in place – we’ve got people 35, 30, 25 years – makes a big difference because they know the product inside and out. They can look at it and realize that something isn’t going together properly and pick out quality issues.”
She makes a point to know her employees’ names, to chat with them and help them out when needed. “We look after them,” she says, “and it goes a long way.”
In return, Supreme’s employees work hard. They also spread the word. “There are many examples of people who have brought their spouse over, and then maybe their child, and their brothers and sisters,” says Sokolon. “We have two salesmen who are father and son, and many people in the plant who are related.”
“We’re in the business of manufacturing windows and doors but at the end of the day, I view it as a family business, even though we’re not all related,” says MacKenna. “We have to make the right decisions for 75 families – so we can continue to employ people, hire new people and innovate with new products.”
She views her responsibilities as extending beyond Supreme too, to the local community. A cause near to MacKenna’s heart is the Rotary Club of Calgary South Stay-in-School scholarship fund, of which Supreme has been the lead sponsor since inception 18 years ago. The fund provides financial support to four Grade 6 students (two boys and two girls from Sherwood and Falconridge schools) chosen each year, who have limited family financial resources, to attend post-secondary institutions.
“They’re mentored all the way through the program by Rotarians,” smiles MacKenna. “And when I see kids who have gone through the program and graduated, there are so many hugs and accolades and they’re tickled pink because they never thought they’d have an opportunity to go to university. It’s such a great feeling to be able to give back to the community in that way.”
As the lead sponsor, Supreme takes part in a golf tournament every year in support of the fund. “We typically raise about $140,000 that day and all the money goes to the program,” MacKenna says.
For Supreme, the future is full of possibility and growth. “Our strategic vision for the future is to grow and expand our network in rural Alberta and then into B.C., Saskatchewan and potentially the U.S.,” Sokolon reveals. “We also see growing the renovation division by hiring more staff. And then it’s just a matter of adjustments to the number of shifts in the plant to accommodate more new home builders. All three pillars of business can be expanded on.”
Local, quality-focused, service-oriented and community-minded, Supreme provides far more to Calgary than first-rate windows and doors. No wonder it’s doing so well.