D&WC: Your company had an interesting start. Tell us about it.
Dix Jarman, CEO: In early 1970, while living in Las Vegas and working as a pharmaceutical sales representative, Ron Swapp and his wife decided they wanted to buy custom shutters for their windows. Ron researched the product and decided that because of the lack of qualified companies, he would order shutter components from a company in California and build shutters himself. After building, finishing and installing custom shutters in his home, soon many of his neighbors, family and friends wanted shutters as well. So, Ron began building shutters for family and friends in his garage.
Ron later was transferred by his company to Phoenix, AZ. Recognizing a great demand for shutters, he soon opened a small shop to build shutters as a side project while he continued his career selling pharmaceuticals. After a short time, Ron decided that the shutter business was his future and he quit his pharmaceutical job to begin making shutters fulltime.
In 1979 Ron incorporated under the name Sunburst Shutters and Design Studio. In 1982 he changed the name to Sunburst Shutters to focus on the company’s core business and began marketing and selling custom shutters in the Phoenix area. He hired shop personnel and Sunburst Shutters grew steadily for many years.
In 1987, Ron hired me right after I graduated from college. That same year Ron and I opened a branch of Sunburst Shutters in Las Vegas, NV, with me managing the new division.
Las Vegas turned out to be a great market for selling shutters. With revenues accumulating, Sunburst Shutters soon opened branches in Dallas, TX, followed by Houston, TX; Orlando and Tampa, FL.
D&WC: How does the Polywood shutter fit into this?
Jarman: Ron and I began searching for ways to improve our product. We believed there must be a material better suited than wood for the fabrication of custom shutters. With the help of companies in Europe and the adaptation of existing materials, Ron and I developed a material far superior to wood. We named our new product Polywood.
Polywood is an engineered wood substitute. Stronger than wood, Polywood won’t warp, chip, crack or peel. It is fireproof, waterproof and termite proof. Polywood provided Ron and I with the edge we needed to distance ourselves from competitors in the shutter industry.
It’s important to know that there are many companies that call any non-wood shutter “Polywood.” But Polywood is a registered trademark of Sunburst Shutters. Other companies may be selling a poly-type shutter, but unless they’re buying it from Sunburst Shutters or one of our approved dealers, it is not Polywood and they should not use the trademarked name.
The advantage of Polywood to Sunburst Shutters was simple. Polywood was a better material, and required significantly less labor. Although the material itself cost twice as much as wood, the labor savings are so significant that the final product cost is actually less than wood.
Launching the new Polywood product line in January 1993, Ron and I were optimistic that Polywood would represent at least half of our shutter sales. In 1993, Sunburst Shutters sold more than $6 million in Polywood Shutters nationwide. Two years later, Polywood Shutters represented more than 80 percent of all of Sunburst Shutters’ sales. In 1998, more than $50 million in Polywood Shutters were sold in the United States, Canada, Australia and Saudi Arabia.
Sunburst Shutters manufactures through its sister company Polywood Fabrication in Wausau, WI, and two other smaller sites. Polywood Fabrication has a state-of-the-art manufacturing and finishing facilities totaling 95,000 square feet. This is where 85 percent of all Polywood shutters are manufactured.
Between Sunburst Shutters and Polywood Fabrication, we have more than 500 employees. We have conservatively estimated the amount of shutters we’ve sold to be well over 20 million square feet.
D&WC: What are some of the key factors involved in your growth and success?
Jarman: Polywood has been the main factor of our success. The product is superior to every other shutter. It installs better, lasts longer and looks great.
The other factor is an unwavering plan to hire the best people who are professional, trustworthy and completely customer service oriented. And it has paid off for us.
Jarman: Sunburst’s niche is quality: a premium shutter that looks beautiful forever and lasts forever. And our demographic is the customers who want that in their homes.
Sunburst’s strengths are in its product, capabilities, flexibility, and commitment to excellence.
Product: Sunburst Shutters will always offer the best shutter products on the market. We have built our reputation on quality products and our dealers know they can trust us to provide the best. We offer four brands of Polywood and two brands of basswood shutters.
Capabilities: We can produce any shape or size shutter. We can handle custom projects. We have online ordering systems and training programs to help our dealers succeed.
Flexibility: Unique from all other manufacturers, Sunburst has a program that offers maximum flexibility for the way dealers do business. We can provide product only, or product with sales, measuring and installation services. We offer flexibility in product and framing. We also offer marketing assistance, even the ability to develop custom marketing tools for our dealers.
Commitment to excellence: Every aspect of the Sunburst Shutters program is centered on excellence. From our product to our people, Sunburst Shutters will provide the premier environment for the success of our dealers.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the country do you service?
Jarman: Our customers are more discerning dealers who demand quality for their customers. They do not buy cheap shutters. Instead, they want a product that will look good in their customers’ homes and strengthen their reputations. Anyone can sell a cheap shutter based on price. But only sophisticated dealers who offer the best quality sell Polywood shutters.
Their customers—the homeowners—are also interested in real quality and durability much more than the lowest price and shallow promises of quality.
Sunburst Shutters is nationwide. Through all our channels of selling, we have over 200 sales people that meet with consumers on a daily basis. Sunburst has 38 stores, 22 shop-at-home consultants and about 50 dealers. Sunburst Shutters’ Polywood shutters and other shutter products also are available through select Home Depot, Expo Design Center and Lowe’s locations nationwide.
D&WC: How has your segment of the industry changed since you first began?
Jarman: Polywood’s success opened the door for a number of wanna-be’s in the market. There have been many inferior products created that have tried to compete with Polywood but cannot because of the high quality of Polywood.
There has been a major price war going on over the past few years, which Sunburst has not participated in, nor will we. When you have a low- to mid-range quality shutter, you have only price as your selling point. When you have a premium shutter like Polywood, you can demand a higher price. That philosophy has been constant with Sunburst since we entered the industry more than 30 years ago: make the best product available on the market.
D&WC: What advice would you give to other window coverings professionals?
Barnes: Stay out of the pricing game. We’ve seen so many companies compete on price alone and go out of business because of it. Buy quality products and you’ll be worth a higher price and won’t have to play the pricing game. And, most importantly, you’ll make more profit.
Also, buy from a manufacturer that has a variety of products and brands, a flexible program for the way you do business, and can offer you assistance in every aspect of your business.
3999 Ponderosa Way
Las Vegas, NV 89118
faz: (702) 870-6070