Progressive Windows in Fairview
Larry Kliewer calls Fairview home. It’s where his heart is.
The owner of a successful oil-field casing business, Kliewer watched for years as the town he loved lost many of its major employers. As he reached retirement age, he didn’t concede the town to what many said was inevitable decline. He set the fishing rods aside for a while and went into the window-making business.
Now five years later, Progressive Windows is a successful manufacturer, producing high-end windows and doors for the upper end of that market. Twelve to 15 employees work six days a week in an ever-expanding plant just outside of Fairview.
“Fairview is a town that over the years has had many manufacturing companies that employed quite a few people,” said Clay Buford, an OSU Applications Engineer working for The Alliance. “Two of the biggest manufacturers have left the town over the past few years, taking with them nearly 300 jobs. It’s a real disaster. Larry and his two brothers worked all their lives in a tough business. They were quite successful and wanted to leave something for Fairview. They looked around and saw the area was in great need of manufacturing jobs—jobs that would pay a living wage.”
Progressive manufactures European-style “tilt-and-turn” windows and doors: Turn the latch up and the window tilts in; turn the latch down and the window opens horizontally. It’s an ingenious design that attracts savvy contractors and home builders.
“They are not competing with Lowe’s to sell the common home window,” said Doug Taylor, a manufacturing extension agent with The Alliance. “Progressive’s windows are a lot more than that. They are the highest quality, which is reflected in the fact they are used in the most expensive homes in the country—even the world.” At least one Oscar-winning movie star agrees. Progressive recently completed a set of windows and doors for his new beach home in the British Virgin Islands.
In addition to the tilt-and-turn operation, there are several other elements that distinguish Progressive’s products. Each window and door is custom-designed and while others use recycled vinyl, Progressive uses the best uncontaminated vinyl. The sash and frame seams are fusion welded, which creates a permanent joint that will not separate. Up to nine locking points make them especially secure and there are separate chambers for drainage, which prevents condensation.
“Since everything we manufacture is custom-designed, we can make a window or door to fit any type of opening,” said Jeromy Haines, general manager. “That provides a home builder with an extra degree of flexibility.” Octagons and other geometric configurations ship out on a regular basis, as do non-symmetrical shapes of all dimensions. Progressive also manufactures traditional single-hung and double-hung windows, all with the same attention to detail as the tilt-and-turn products. To create a set of windows and doors takes about three weeks. Progressive produces about 300 units each week, running one shift daily. That tally grows each month as the demand increases.
“So far, our primary marketing efforts have been through word-of-mouth,” Haines said. “Once we sell the windows someplace, however, we end up with a lot of business in that location. People see them, contractors see the quality, and the word spreads. Right now, we have at least two shipments a week going to the College Station, Texas, area…We ship all over the country and world. It’s a far cry from when we started five years ago and our primary customers were local.”
The idea of manufacturing windows came to Kliewer’s brother one day when he was chatting with a foreign-exchange student then attending Fairview High School. The student’s father was a window maker back in Holland.
“His father was a real craftsman,” Larry Kliewer said. “The more we talked to him the more intrigued we became. Once you get a hold of something, you can’t always turn it loose.” The student soon returned to Europe, never seeing the successful company his conversation triggered.
“We started in a garage across town with one employee,” he said. “We bought the profile from a company and they sent people down to train us…We knew from the start that we didn’t want to just manufacture windows, we wanted to produce a special, unique product—the best of its kind.”
It’s not the kind of company you’d want to start from scratch, Buford said. “There’s a lot of expensive, customized equipment involved. You just couldn’t justify a traditional bank loan in this situation. But Larry, along with his brothers Jim and Jay, spent money out of their own pocket and profits from their oil-field business to get it off the ground. They believed in themselves and in the town of Fairview. There was never a doubt that they would build a successful business.”
The business expanded quickly and the company soon found a location for its new manufacturing plant. The factory sits on the site of the old Progressive School District campus. The school stood on property adjoining farm land owned by the Kliewer brothers. They had the first shot at buying the property when the district was annexed by Fairview. “It ended up being the perfect spot for our window factory. And Progressive was the perfect name for our company,” Kliewer said.
As the company expands, Taylor and Buford are there to help coordinate its growth. Taylor is sponsored locally by Pioneer Technology Center in Ponca City and Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa. Progressive recently expanded its plant to support the production of glass. The company used to buy its glass units. Then, through an incubator program sponsored by the Major County Economic Development Corporation, the company started its own glass fabrication. That eventually led to a new factory addition.
All of Progressive’s windows and doors are constructed with double-pane glass. In the middle is a variety of elements, ranging from gases like argon to stained glass for churches. One of the most popular items is a remote set of blinds, built right into the double-pane assembly.
Buford designed the plant layout to maximize efficiency. He’s also worked on short-term engineering projects, helping solve pesky technical bugs. Taylor has worked with Progressive on a variety of employee training programs. “The help we’ve received from The Alliance is invaluable,” Haines said. “They’ve been here every step of the way to ensure we grow and expand in a structured way.”
Progressive is in the initial stages of implementing Lean Manufacturing principles. “This will pay dividends as the company matures,” Taylor said. “They will be able to expand their production without sacrificing effectiveness. They will be able to maximize their manpower and equipment and stay ahead of the curve.”
That is good news to the community of Fairview. “If you factor in the oil-field business and the window business, the Kliewer brothers are one of the largest employers in Fairview. They didn’t have to build this company. They could have retired or done whatever they wanted to do. They’re just good ol’ hard-working country boys who wanted to make a difference.”
And they have.