Kolbe Windows & Doors may well be in the markets of windows and doors, but it’s defined itself as more than a manufacturer by innovating and delivering what its customers want — including unique designs that are also of superior quality and custom craftmanship.
It’s a legacy the Wausau and Manawa-based company tackles from its tenured employees and a culture of delivering on ideas. President Jeff Delonay says that when they bring architects onsite to the company, they often hear how the operation “resembles Santa’s Workshop. They see so much custom ability and people dedicated to the work to bring people’s dreams to life,” he said. “It makes us step back and realize what we have, including a breadth of product to help them set their design apart.”
That’s because the Kolbe Manawa facility is set up to provide a variety of products, be it full wood, wood clad, full aluminum or even fiberglass. Those favoring wood don’t have to stick with pine or elder; they can choose black walnut, mahogany or cedar for a more contemporary home.
Delonay said the company considers itself to be innovative and strives to be ahead of the game. “It generally takes two to three years to bring a new window or door to the market although the technology portion of it has decreased,” he said. “Technology allows for the creation of a 3D physical model so people can hold their concept in their hands and understand their preferences.”
At the same time, the bigger segment of time is spent in verifying the need of the market because “We don’t want to be in the position of being a manufacturer, we want to be a market-based company making what the market wants,” Delonay said.
We don’t want to be in the position of being a manufacturer, we want to be a marketbased company making what the market wants.
—Jeff Delonay, president,
Kolbe Windows & Doors,
Wausau and Manawa
That market — served through hundreds of distributors and dealers across the United States, Canada and beyond — includes home owners, builders, architects and designers — anyone who considers himself or herself a visionary, Delonay said.
Equally visionary was the establishment of the company by two brothers, Herb and Ervin Kolbe, in 1946 when they repaired window frames and built sash on their family dairy farm.
In 1948, they purchased a building in Wausau, called the company Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork and brought on their first employee - their other brother, Walter. They added the prehung door market in the late 1960s as well as acquiring a cabinet shop.
In the early 1970s, the company introduced its first product line — wood double hungs, sliders, casements and awnings. Aluminum clad windows joined the mix in the early 1980s, with innovation leading to the company to add TerraSpan Lift & Slide Doors and folding doors in 2009 and its VistaLuxe collection for contemporary architectural designs in 2013.
The VistaLuxe collection offers large expanses of glass; TerraSpan offers an opportunity to, with the rolling up of an overhead door, the opportunity to bring the outdoors in. Both lines offer Kolbe the opportunity to cater to customers’ desires.
We see a backlog of potential projects for builders, contractor and architects and are enthusiastic for the first half of the year.
— Jeff Delonay, president,
Kolbe Windows & Doors,
Wausau and Manawa
“The modern-style home looks for a much larger view and the trend is to stretch the size of the unit (holding the windows) much farther,” Delonay said. “A lot of people are using large door products — sliding doors, folding door systems, to invite the outdoors in, and a lot of the styles are moving to a slimmer profile so the windows almost disappear and all you see is the landscape.”
While trends vary by region, the aluminum lines that are so popular are growing in popularity in the Midwest as aluminum products evolve to compensate well for weather conditions — technology adds thermal breaks — and those windows can be chosen with wood on the inside. From his perspective 37 years into the company, Delonay said that embracing technology has elevated many team members who take on more technical jobs. “In fact, technology can actually help them grow in a manufacturing facility,” he said.
Today, about 1,000 employees work at the two locations and were fortunate to keep work rolling throughout the height of COVID-19 as they were considered an essential business.
“When COVID first came on the scene last March, everything changed,” he said. “Even with all our facilities open, we did tighten our purse strings, but that was for a few months before the construction industry took off again. Construction may well be a savior to the U.S. economy as a whole. Throughout the remainder of 2020, business was strong even as we’ve seen challenges to getting supplies. We see a backlog of potential projects for builders, contractor and architects and are enthusiastic for the first half of the year.”
nthusiastic for the first half of the year.” Business tends to be in both windows and doors, even though business is “slanted toward windows,” Delonay said. “When you think of the most popular homes today, you have more square footage in doors. The square footage of glass is smaller than what’s in the doors.” Business is mixed as well. While the majority is in residential, the company also does commercial — everything from a multihousing project to a hotel to a university. The majority of the windows in SentryWorld are from Kolbe;. In the Twin Cities, Kolbe is working with several multihousing partners. “While the multifamily is an industry seeing some decline, geographically, that’s a very hot spot,” he said.
At the same time, some residential properties stay in the front of Delonay’s mind such as cottages or cabins built with an entire bathroom made from glass or slide doors with a pocket so they could see the views. A Montana home featured a piece of glass so large at 10- foot by 16-foot that they had to ship it straight from the manufacturer. “Some are as unique as the projects themselves,” he said. “We’ve worked on a house that sits almost on a ledge and is practically all glass. It’s amazing the ideas and concepts people come up with.”
While those window and door features often attract the spotlight, the 75-year-old company isn’t known to. In fact, he said that if you don’t drive by the facility in Wausau, you may not even know they’re there.
That’s why the company does work with Habitat for Humanity, Junior Achievement, American Heart Association, and donates to causes such as donating SpongeBob Squarepants and pirate ship-themed play structures to other causes to “get outside the walls,” he said. “The things we are doing in the community are just as important for the community as what happens inside the company.”