Mark Devaney unlocks the secrets behind Ceco Door Products' success as the largest manufacturer of commercial steel doors.
Ceco Door Products says, “The world is at our door.” The fact is, Ceco doors are literally around the world. From the Arabian Towers in Dubai to the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas; and from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., to the California State Prison in Sacramento, you’ll find Ceco Commercial Steel Doors. Ceco manufactures the industry’s broadest array of high-quality, commercial-steel door and frame designs. Although commercial-steel doors typically don’t attract much attention, you’ll notice them throughout commercial, institutional and public buildings, where their specialized designs target a wide variety of use factors. Obviously, the structural strength of steel lends durability to these products, making them popular in schools and other high-impact environments. However, serving as barriers to fire, toxic smoke and draft is another forte of steel doors, which are tested and labeled for various duty ratings by agencies such as Underwriters Laboratories. Ceco doors are also made with cores of insulating foam for temperature control and energy conservation in exterior openings. If armed attack, robbery or vandalism is a threat, the company produces bullet-resistant doors. Where aesthetics are important, Ceco’s new Madera wood-grained steel door can be stained to match the color and warmth of wood, yet offers the security of steel.
“Ceco is the name most specifiers associate with quality in commercial-steel doors,” says Bob O’Brien, vice president of marketing and product development for the firm. “We challenge ourselves to meet or exceed all national and international standards. In fact, our steel door manufacturing facilities were the first in North America to become certified for ISO 9001, the international quality assurance model.”
In and Out the Door Market
According to O’Brien, Ceco and its industry competitors face three major challenges: complexity, speed to market and distribution. Although doors might at first seem to be a fairly basic commodity, the issue of complexity quickly surfaces when all product variations are considered. First, doors come in left-hand and right-hand, like gloves. These may swing either in or out. Further, doors come in a variety of standard sizes. Add to these variations the number of different glass “lite” (window) treatments available. All of these variations are produced in the different structural and core configurations mentioned earlier. What this means is that the number of product options literally is infinite. And this doesn’t even take into consideration that doors and frames must be specially adapted in manufacturing for door hardware produced by other manufacturers: hinges, locks, closing devices, mail slots, kick plates and more. According to O’Brien, one of the major engineering challenges in commercial door manufacturing lies not with the door, but rather with the selection and placement of door hardware. “Door hardware is specified by our customers, but each specification decision means a different set of engineering requirements,” says O’Brien. “A phenomenal amount of door engineering know-how and complexity go into hardware adaptations such as lock bores, hinge cutouts and internal reinforcements for hardware like automatic closers or panic bars.”
Further fueling complexity, architects continually demand more and more uniqueness in door products to satisfy their creative needs and changing tastes. “Ceco understands that it has to continually improve its systems to correctly and efficiently produce an ever-expanding offering of unique and specially engineered products,” says O’Brien.
For example, gray prime-painted products may have been the norm 15, 10, even five years ago, but today architects are demanding more doors and frames pre-finished in colors they specify.
As in many industries, speed to market is critical. However, in the commercial door arena, O’Brien has observed dramatic reductions in the delivery time expectations of customers. “Fifteen years ago, an acceptable delivery period was 16 weeks. Now it’s down to three weeks from date of order, regardless of complexity,” says O’Brien. “Part of the reason is that the time from groundbreaking to a building’s grand opening has become extremely compressed. Also, many projects require door frames just to get started because they function as structural components.”
For Ceco, this means automation and information technology systems in order to compress and accelerate every step in the process, from distributor order entry to production scheduling to manufacturing to shipping. Lastly, a strong distribution network is vital for Ceco to access its domestic and international markets. Doors, frames and hardware clearly are companion products, yet they are traditionally produced by separate manufacturers and typically don’t converge until reaching the distributor. The distributor provides a major value-added service in the distribution chain by uniting lock, hinges, exit device, door and frame as a package. Traditionally, the distributor bids these components as an integrated system to end users. Distributors further add value in the system by inventorying products, consulting technically with architects and contractors, and undertaking the credit risk.
Lately, a form of consolidation has swept through the commercial door industry. Conglomerates have acquired many formerly independent door and hardware manufacturers. By marketing lines of doors and hardware as a package under these corporate alliances, the conglomerates gain competitive leverage but also threaten the distributors’ traditional role. Ceco and its distributors remain committed to maintaining their successful independence. The next few years will show whether or not consolidated door/hardware producers can mount a challenge to Ceco’s leadership position in the industry.
“This industry is in the adolescent stages of electronics and technology,” says O’Brien, pointing out that until the 1990s, yellow pads and pencils were the tools of the trade. At last, the Internet and other high-tech initiatives are making an impact, and Ceco is at the forefront. The company uses electronic order-entry systems and electronic order tracking on the shop floor. However, for its information technology vision to work, distributors must be connected. As the first attempt to bring information technology to distributors, the firm developed a distributor business system called CeCOMMAND, a complete integrated detailing, estimating, ordering and full accounting package for its customers.
“Ceco is actively establishing electronic connections with customers and distributors,” says O’Brien. “We are also pursuing e-contacts to architects and business owners through the Ceco Web site. This contains a vast amount of product specification information and data that an architect can review and download for his use in projects. E-commerce and the Internet are completely changing the way we look at business and will force all entities to rethink their future strategies.”