Of all the businesses that will be founded in 2014, we can confidently predict that only a fraction will still be around in 2054. And if we look 40 years in the other direction, back to the spring of 1974, we'll find that only a relative handful of businesses begun then are still with us now. One of those companies is ABE Doors and Windows. This June, we celebrate our 40th anniversary serving the consumers of the Lehigh Valley. It seems timely to pause and consider what's helped get us here.
The company was started by a student just finishing his Business Administration degree at Bloomsburg University. Jim Lett, president of ABE Doors and Windows, says he wanted to open a business of his own - and the business found him. "I called home one day," he said. "My dad was selling building materials. He said one of the customers he represented, the Gordon Cellar Door company, needed someone to install their doors in the Lehigh Valley."
"It was just a casual conversation, but that's how it began. I wrote Gordon a letter and they wrote back to get me started. I worked out of my bedroom and my parents' garage - I had a lot of help from them."
With brothers helping with installations and his mom answering the phone while he was out on jobs, Jim replaced old wooden basement doors with modern steel versions. To free time for sales and estimating, he brought on his first full-time employee, Richard Miller, who's still a top salesman at ABE today.
Jim branched out into other products. The Frantz garage door company needed coverage in the Valley. Jim flew to their headquarters in Sterling, IL for a crash course in the product, working with their field installation crews. He met the district manager of Perma-Door through his brother Bob's involvment in Boy Scouts, and signed on with them just as steel entry doors were replacing wooden doors for residential applications. "People always say you need a good business plan," Jim says. "My business plan was hard work, good luck and taking care of the customer after the sale."
Year by year, with his wife Janet playing a vital role in the business, ABE kept expanding. The product line added patio doors, storm doors, commercial/industrial garage doors and garage door repairs. The emphasis for four decades remained basic: handle quality products, delivering quality installation and service.
In particular, ABE has emphasized customer care. "If there's a problem, we want to take care of it immediately," Jim said. Today ABE continues to put service in the forefront, maintaining up-to-date factory training certifications among its skilled staff. "We hear from consumers who say the people who installed their doors and windows won't answer their calls or are just our of business. The difference is, they know we'll be here," said Shannon Seng, office manager. Mark Rapchak, general manager, said, "A big thing in service is employee longevity. Average tenure here is almost 17 years, which helps us realize Jim's vision of pleasing customers no matter what."
A new generation of ABE personnel is moving the company into the future, among them Business/HR Manager Jim Lett II, son of the founder. "How we do going forward comes down to putting the customer first. If we're going to meet or exceed their expectations, we'll need to offer quality products - but we can't do it without really excellent workers."