VT Industries is changing how home renovation projects are done for doors and countertops—all through automation and innovation.
It’s not very common for a company to have the original employees still clocking in, especially if the organization has been in business for 60 years. But this kind of longevity and commitment to the brand isn’t a surprise at VT Industries. This counter and door manufacturer has been assisting home renovation efforts in the Midwest since 1956.
Just ask Doug Clausen, President and third-generation leadership for the family-owned company.
“My administrative assistant just told me this morning that she will be retiring this year, after 58 years with the company,” he shared the day we had our conversation. “Our family and ownership take care of our people. They are proud to work with VT Industries.”
While big corporations steer the U.S. economy, family-owned organizations often keep the heart of business beating. VT Industries is no different. And from a business standpoint, not being a publicly-traded company allows it many luxuries bigger organizations do not have—a longer-term approach to investments, and the ability to make decisions not just based on money.
Even during the economic downturn of the late 2000s, being a family-owned business granted VT Industries capacity to make investments, improvements, and acquisitions during a time when most other companies in other markets had to make hard decisions to avoid shuttering for good. This stability during tough times is another one of the many reasons you find employees like Clausen’s long-serving assistant at the company.
“I’ve worked for large corporations and smaller, family-owned businesses in my career,” shared Craig Francisco, the Senior Vice President of the Countertop Division at VT Industries. “Smaller organizations can act faster than large enterprises, make smart decisions and know they are the right ones.”
Although assumptions that family-owned businesses are behind on the times, old-fashioned, or not technologically advanced permeate the marketplace, VT Industries fights the cliché with innovation and automation.
“To provide solutions and products for our customers' needs, we have to be innovators in the field,” Clausen said. “It’s why we continue to be a leader in this space.”
VT Industries may have started down the home renovation path 60 years ago, but the company has been utilizing modern technology for at least half of its history. The company has been doing machine setup for 25 years and has every plant operating in this manner. Manufacturing floors have been paperless for about 15 years when the paperless trend was just starting to gain steam.
For its customers, VT Industries’ innovations in product lines are the most rewarding. The company has added a whole new dimension to countertops with VT Dimensions by offering more proprietary edge profiles than standard post-formed laminate products. State-of-the-art waterjet cutting machinery assures precision craftsmanship that is second to none with quartz or granite countertops.
VT takes an innovative approach to architectural wood doors for home renovation and construction as well. You’ll find no stock products inventoried in a warehouse. Rather, every door is manufactured to the exacting specifications of the order, assuring a premium look that matches the rest of the design. VT also pioneered the edge-before-face construction method, eliminating seams and adding more durability to the finished product.
The use of these technologies, both on the manufacturing floor and in the back end of the office, wouldn’t be possible without a strong IT team. Unlike many other players in the industry, VT Industries employs a large staff in its IT department.
“It’s unheard of in this industry to have this big of a team,” Fransisco said. “But technology is a part of every discussion we have and is always on the table as a solution to our customers’ needs.”
Both leaders acknowledged VT Industries has come a long way and has made a lot of progress. However, there are always more projects waiting to be rolled out, such as updating all seven of the company’s plants to a CNC (computer numeric controller) machine setup.
A constant part of VT Industries’ strategy for the past 35 years has been automation. It’s also what Clausen believes is the key to the company’s success.
“It’s a worldwide economy, and we have competitors all over the globe. To remain a leader, we have to utilize automation,” he said.
From electromechanical handling dedicated to shifting heavy work to machines capable of verifying products before they are shipped out, VT Industries’ automation efforts eliminate health hazards and errors.
Just like the IT department, VT Industries has a strong in-house automation team comprised of a 12-person crew that builds, installs, and manages the automated machinery.
“We have a great sales team, but our biggest selling tool is our plant—its capabilities are impressive,” said Francisco.
In the last 15 years, all of VT Industries’ innovations have been introduced under Six Sigma lean strategies. This approach to manufacturing, which allows a disciplined, data-driven approach for eliminating defects, allows the company to design its products more accurately, predict areas of need, and create practical solutions to solve any issues that arise.
VT Industries employs experts in every facility to help the brand adhere to Six Sigma and lean manufacturing principles.
“Continuous improvement is incredibly important to us,” said Clausen. “Our goal is always to be better tomorrow than we are today.”
Clausen and Francisco shared an instance when this approach set them weeks ahead of schedule in the opening of a new counter production line. Utilizing Six Sigma strategies, VT Industries installed, optimized, and dialed in equipment on the line.
Before, technicians would often have to fiddle with newly-installed equipment for a month before it was working efficiently and accurately. But by the time the company got eight cells in, high-quality products were produced almost instantaneously.
“When the new line in Iowa went live, employee morale jumped,” Francisco said. “Everyone was a part of it. And now, a year later, our plants are running better than ever, employees are engaged, and they are glad for the investments that were made.”
The innovations in VT Industries’ manufacturing plants combined with Six Sigma lean practices set the company up for a safe, comfortable work environment for its employees.
“Safety is not just our number one priority for all of the people who work here and with whom we work. Safety improves our business, which in turn helps us improve quality,” shared Fransisco.
Automation over the last 15 years has replaced some of the difficult physical labor with machine handling. Safety meetings are conducted monthly, where VT Industries’ standards are compared to world-class safety requirements.
Each plant has a safety manager who holds safety team meetings weekly to drive initiatives at the plant level.
“There’s been a lot of progress from our old ways of doing business to the new way,” said Clausen. “Safety is incredibly important to us, and we mean what we say about safety. The rates we have now, we couldn’t imagine the numbers being this good five or ten years ago.”
The company’s safety record, among many other positive points, drive a lot of interest in the industry for joining the team. Both men commented that they'd seen an increase in the last decade, mostly driven by employee reviews of their place of work.
“We’re known as a premier employer, but we don’t market ourselves as such. The feel and the culture of VT Industries permeates out from our employees,” said Fransisco.
When you combine all of these components of VT Industries’ business, it’s clear why other organizations want to be a part of them. As a leader in the industry, several parties approach the company when they want to make a change in their own business.
The home renovation company has acquired several companies throughout its years in business, often taking in firms that fill a new niche.
Francisco shared that the leadership team is made up of patient investors when it comes to choosing the right opportunities. But at the end of the day, the decision comes down to one thing: the customer.
“This can be a challenging industry. Technology is changing, and it’s critical to keep innovation up, to offer a new mix of products for our customers. Everything we do is about creating the best value for our customers.”
A home renovation takes a long time, not because of the actual work, but because there is a lot of time spent waiting for price quotes and for products to come in. VT Industries has a solution to many of the problems home renovation doers raise.
VT Compass is the company’s way of eliminating errors throughout the communication chain with customers. When a customer wants a quote on a countertop or door, there is often a lot of paperwork to go through first. With VT Compass, customers can choose options online,and enter measurements to get pricing in minutes.
It’s just another way VT Industries has automated a process to make processes easier for its home renovation customers and employees alike.
Taking the time to listen and appreciate someone else’s point of view isn’t a complicated formula for success. But all too often, it’s overlooked in today’s get-it-done-yesterday world. Not so at VT Industries.
VT’s commitment to keeping things in proper perspective is the reason why so many employees have found a long-term home working for the company. Examples of this people-first approach include a leading-edge employee safety program, as well as active support for the communities in which VT conducts business.
When you treat others with respect, it is reciprocated and multiplied. That’s why it’s no surprise to see the level of dedication VT employees show to their customers as well. At every stage of the process, and at every touch point, you can count on a smiling face eager to help.
Fine workmanship is defined by the skill of the craftsman blended with the excellence of the tools. VT was founded on outstanding craftsmanship. And today we rely on the latest technologies to complement our trade.
We constantly search the world for advancements to upgrade our products and techniques. As a United States company, we have an unwavering passion for bringing the brightest new technologies to the domestic marketplace for made-in-America pride in workmanship.
From precision water-jet technology to the finely honed skills of our people, there is one goal: to delight our customers with the new, the beautiful, and the amazing.
VT Industries HQ
1000 Industrial Park
P.O. Box 490
Holstein, IA 51025