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Putting the “enter” in enterprise

Putting the “enter” in enterprise

MIke-Otis-by-liftMike Otis has a knack for finding windows — and doors — of opportunity.

In 1996 Otis was contemplating an early retirement after selling his successful 15-year-old commercial glass business. Yet when the buyer failed to pay him, Otis was forced to file for bankruptcy; instead of taking it easy, he found himself scrambling to make a living.
Otis took a full-time sales job while he and his wife, Linda, simultaneously launched a part-time remodeling business, Double O Supply & Craftsmen Inc., from the basement of their home in Byron Center, Michigan. At the time, Otis viewed the company as a lifestyle business. “I thought it was something that our kids could get involved in and learn a trade as well as a work ethic,” he explains.

In 2000 Otis quit his day gig to devote more time to Double O, which soon morphed from a remodeling company into a supplier of windows and doors for the construction industry. In 2007 the company was still below $1 million in annual revenue, when Otis decided to focus on strategic growth, and recruited Ken Elliott, a friend and CFO from a large trucking firm, to join him as vice president.

“Just when we decided to grow the company, the economy crashed,” Otis says. “So we created a new plan: ‘Let’s Survive.’ The idea was to hunker down, keep overhead low and create systems and processes so that when the economy improved, we would be in a good place to grab hold of it.”

And they did. By 2012 the company was generating more than $2 million in annual revenue, and in 2013 a large low-income housing project, along with several other large projects, skyrocketed revenue to $5.3 million. Although revenue fell to $4 million in 2014, this year Otis expects to exceed $6 million in revenue and add six or seven new jobs, which would bump up full-timers to 32.

“Last year I wanted to step back and make sure the organization was structured so we could continue to scale,” he says. “I didn’t want our growth in 2013 to be a one-time blip.” Among changes, Otis promoted an employee to head operations, freeing him to concentrate on business development.

Double O differentiates itself by providing not only materials but also installation services for both commercial and residential construction projects — a contrast to residential competitors who typically provide one or the other. In fact, Double O was the only bidder on one job that required storefront, curtain wall, vinyl windows and aluminum windows. “To my knowledge, we’re the only company that covers all those areas,” Otis says. “In the window and door world, most companies specialize much tighter than that.”

The company also stands out for its employee-centric culture. Otis believes in putting employees first, even before customers: “Our No. 1 mission is to be a quality employer and provide an environment where people can use their skills and talents to grow in their careers and as individuals.”

What’s more, Otis wants employees to enjoy what they do. With that in mind, Double O strives to build positions around people rather than mold a person into a job. “We find out what employees like about their jobs — and what they don’t like,” Otis explains. “Then we try as much as possible to re-organize their work so they can focus on what they really love.”

To both accommodate its recent growth and prepare for future scaling, Otis recently moved Double O’s headquarters out of his home’s basement into a 35,000-square-foot building in Grand Rapids. The facility, a 120-year-old warehouse, was in need of considerable TLC when Otis purchased it last fall. “If we’re going to invest in a building, I want to make it count for something,” Otis says. “We can be part of revitalizing the neighborhood.”

Since the company doesn’t need all the square footage, it’s leasing nearly half of the building to Bethany Christian Services. Otis hopes to get involved with some of Bethany’s job training programs for youth — and be a potential employer for graduates. “Whatever we do as a company,” says Otis, “we want to leave the world a better place.”