TWINSBURG, Ohio — As teenagers, brothers Aaron and Harley Magden learned about the home improvement business by filing paperwork and writing up estimates at Regency Windows, their father’s Cleveland-based business.
When Regency Windows was sold and then shuttered, the brothers teamed up to start their own windows, siding and doors business. The new venture, Window Nation, started in Baltimore in 2006 and now serves Northeastern Ohio, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, northern Virginia and all of Maryland.
Harley Magden, 39, oversees marketing and finance as Window Nation’s president. Aaron Magden, 35, is vice president of sales. The $40 million company has 50 employees and is the 11th largest window company in the country, according to the Magdens.
Have you purchased replacement windows? Describe the experience in the comments. The brothers grew up in Solon, earned degrees at John Carroll University and currently live in Baltimore, although they consider Cleveland as home. Let’s get to know them – and learn about the window repair business – in this Q&A profile.
I understand this is a family business. How did it get started?
Aaron: Our grandfather started in the home remodeling business in the 1960s. Regency Windows was started by our father, Mike Magden. In 2004, Dad retired and sold Regency Windows to a venture capitalist. My brother and I decided to go our own way. We really love the home improvement industry; it was in our blood. So we took our talents to Baltimore in 2006. That’s when Window Nation originated.
Harley: Aaron and I picked the Baltimore/ Washington, D.C. area for several reasons. We had a non-compete (agreement not to compete with Regency Windows), yet wanted to stay within driving distance of Cleveland. The Baltimore-Washington, D.C., is one of the largest markets in the country.
What brought you back to Cleveland?
Harley: The company our father sold ended up going bankrupt. We opened a showroom in Twinsburg in 2008. A lot of the people who worked for Regency Windows now work for us. We pride ourselves that the windows are made locally in Streetsboro.
How have windows changed through the years?
Aaron: It started off with wood, double-hung, single-pane windows that operate with a rope and a pulley.
As you get into the late 1960s and early 1970s, they came out with vinyl windows. People said, the wood’s beautiful, but we’re painting them, we’re staining them, we gotta maintain them. So geez, what if we came up with a product that was maintenance-free? And, it would be two panes of glass hermetically sealed together (for better insulation). Now the windows tilted in for cleaning. It was the best thing since sliced bread.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, they started adding coatings to the glass to make it more efficient in blocking the sun’s rays in summer and letting the warmth in during winter. At this time, vinyl windows were made with argon gas between the panes of glass for insulation.
Why test for lead paint before a window replacement job?
Aaron: In houses built prior to 1940, there’s a high chance there is lead in the paint.
Yeah, you can paint over it, but when we’re taking out the window, we’re scratching through different layers. That lead becomes airborne dust that is very damaging to your health.
We have to perform a lead test on every window. If a job has lead paint, we do containment. We cover up all of your furniture and put plastic up as if we were doing sanding.
How much do new windows cost?
Harley: The average price of a new window ranges from $400 to $1,000 per window, depending on the labor involved to install it, the window’s size and its options.
About 60% of our customers get all the windows in their houses replaced all at once. We actually track that.
(The 2015 Cost Vs Value Report estimated that, in Cleveland, the cost of replacing 10 double-hung windows with insulated vinyl replacement windows would run between $10,000 and $13,000.)
Aaron: Obviously, efficiency. If they have drafts, heavy condensation or ice buildup in the windows in the wintertime, they know it’s time to replace the windows. Houses built in the 1970s and 1980s often have dual-pane windows with metal spaces between the panes. Water and ice can build up between the panes, which leads to mold.
Having maintenance-free windows is another big thing; you don’t have to paint vinyl. Some people are getting older and they can’t wash the windows anymore. They want them to tilt in.
Newer windows have coatings that filter out UV rays. It’s pointless to get new furniture when it’s going to get faded (from sunlight); this protects the furniture in the house.
Harley: Many houses built in the 1980s and 1990s were built with builder-grade windows made of thin vinyl or inexpensive wood and clear glass with no coatings. Because when a homeowner is building a house, what do they want to focus on? The kitchen, the bath. Who cares about windows? Most of our work is replacing old vinyl windows that have already failed in newer homes.
Another big thing is seal failure, which makes the interior glass surface look foggy and cloudy, and you can’t wash it. This condition is caused by moisture getting in between the panes.
If all of the windows in an average three-bedroom home were replaced, what would be the savings in energy costs?
Aaron: It depends on how bad the old windows were, how well insulated the house is, and how warm the homeowners like the temperature of the house. We don’t guarantee anything, but homeowners should see heating bills come down by 15% to 25% in houses built from the 1920s to 1950s. Newer homes will see comparable savings. That is the number-one reason why reason people replace their windows.
When did you first realize your passion for the home improvement business?
Harley: I went to school full-time at John Carroll University – double majoring in finance and marketing –while working at Regency Windows 30 hours a week. I started writing up job folders and doing filing in the office. After five to six years, I was able to apply what I was learning in school to the business.
Aaron: When I was 17, my dad let me start going to clients’ homes and providing estimates, and that’s when I fell in love with meeting with homeowners and helping them out. It really just clicked.
We take the same philosophy that our dad always did, that family touch. We know every employee. We travel to all the branches all the time. We’re not these arm chair quarterbacks sipping pina coladas in Florida. We’re working all the time.
By many measures, Washington’s residential real estate market is one of the strongest in the nation. But in one of the weakest markets in decades, that’s not likely to bring much comfort — especially if you need to buy or sell a home.
Looking ahead to 2012, there’s even more uncertainty as lawmakers and federal regulators consider the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and other policy changes that will affect financing, taxes and interest rates.
That’s why today we’re starting an occasional feature called Market Insight, where we will interview people who have a unique perspective on the real estate market and who can tell us where we are and where we are headed.
This feature is one of several fresh voices I plan to introduce to The Washington Post Real Estate section. Since taking over as Real Estate editor in September, I’ve focused on making the section more local and more relevant to homeowners, local residents, prospective homebuyers and the real estate community.
We’ve started a new Twitter account, so please follow us at @PostRealEstate. We will have more exciting features to share in print and online in the coming months. Stay tuned.
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Despite the gloomy real estate market, Glen Burnie, Md.-based Window Nation has seen its business grow by at least 20 percent this year and expects to continue steady growth and hiring next year.
Why isn’t it seeing a downturn? Call it the “recession investment,” but improvements such as new windows are seen by many homeowners as an expense that can also pay off by lowering utility bills in the long run. The federal government offered a $1,500 tax credit to homeowners who installed energy-saving windows in 2010. Although that tax credit has expired, other federal tax credits are still available for homeowners for $200 for replacing windows and up to $500 for replacing doors and windows.
I asked co-owners and brothers Harley and Aaron Magden about their business and the outlook for 2012.
You say your revenue was up 70 percent last year. How is that possible in our weak economy? Why are people buying windows?
Harley Magden: Obviously, last year with the big federal tax credit certainly helped to drive our business up. It’s been changed to a much smaller $200 to $500 tax credit this year. [www.energystar.gov]
We’ve talked to a lot of our suppliers and we know 90 percent of companies are down this year. There’s a lot of uncertainty.
Ninety percent of our business is windows. When people can’t sell their houses because they’re underwater [on their mortgage] or for whatever reason, they tend to stay in those houses and fix them up. If you’re $100,000 or 20 or 30 percent underwater, you’re not moving for a while. You’re thinking, “What can I do for my home to make it easier for me to live here?” There are very few things you can do to maintain the value of your home.
What’s the average amount of money that customers spend with you to install new windows in their home?
Aaron Magden: The average sale is about $6,500.
We hear a lot about the green movement, but are you seeing any growth in that ? Is it just the upper end of the market?
Harley Magden: A lot more people in the white-collar areas, such as Northern Virginia, Bethesda, care about that than in Baltimore or Cleveland. Some people say, “Yeah, it’s important, but I don’t want to pay more for it.”
Who are your customers and what is your strategy for growth?
Aaron Magden: Thirty percent of our business is referrals. We encourage customers to do online reviews. I monitor everything. Every time Window Nation comes up in an online review, I get a Google alert. We monitor a lot of customer advocate groups like Yelp and Angie’s List and Insider Pages. When people are shopping, they go to the Internet. When you type in “windows,” there [are] reviews and blogs. We’re always in there.
If a customer gives us a negative review, I call them. Some people, they’re never going to be happy. But when people are looking for windows and they see these blogs, they realize for the most part we have a 98.8 percent customer satisfaction rate.
Harley Magden: For 2012, we look at it differently than other companies. This is multibillion-dollar business and — regardless of how bad things are — there’s still going to be billions spent. If the overall market doesn’t increase, we have to just gain market share. That’s our strategy.
You also advertise with the Washington Capitals. Why that audience?
Harley Magden: We just started to feel that it’s a good market for us, especially as they were doing so well last season. The people who go to Caps games are our customers; the median household income skews higher. The demographics are strong toward people who have replaced windows. We looked at football. We turned down a Ravens deal recently. The popularity with the Caps is huge. When people go online [on our site], one of the things we have is a contest to win tickets “on the glass” at the Caps game. We ask a series of questions, like, “Are you interested in replacing your windows?” We only contact those people who are interested. And, believe it or not, they are open to hearing more about our products.
How many people do you employ? What’s your outlook for hiring?
Harvey Magden: About 80 people locally — that includes our headquarters and Baltimore and Northern Virginia sales offices and installers. We aggressively hire the entire year. We’re always looking for better people. Installation is different — you have to have certain certifications and we do our own training. Just because you know how to install a window doesn’t mean you know how to install our windows.
I hired someone in February in marketing who is dedicated to Internet and social media. We have 2,700 people who “like” Window Nation on Facebook.
We will be hiring about 15 to 20 people next year.
Does your business provide an insight into local real estate? We’d love to hear from you, whether you are a contractor, homeowner, house hunter or a real estate professional. Tell us your story. E-mail email@example.com and write “Market Insight” in the subject line.
Solon brothers follow in father’s footsteps (View pdf version) Published: Sunday, August 28, 2011, 9:13 AM By Thomas Jewell, Sun News
SOLON For Harley and Aaron Magden of Window Nation, less is more, at least when it comes to marketing and product presentation.
And their father, Mike Magden, late of Regency Windows, really can’t argue with the results.
Back in the day, “Mikey” was known for his over-the-top commercials. He smashed windows, slashed prices and waved cash.
Then he sold Regency Windows in 2004 and eventually retired to Aurora, although Harley and Aaron stayed on as marketing and sales vice presidents.
That lasted until early 2006, when the brothers from Solon left Regency and started their own company, Window Nation, signing a “non-compete clause” with Regency and setting up operations in Baltimore.
Incidentally, the “non-compete” clause expired in 2008, and Window Nation now operates in Maryland, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and yes, Ohio.
The brothers have since opened up a showroom in Bedford Heights on Miles and Richmond roads.
“It’s definitely interesting running up against the company you helped run and your father owned,” Harley said in a conference call with Aaron and Mike, who took a little time away from a vacation in Put-in-Bay.
In fact, Harley and Aaron had worked in the industry all their lives, starting as warehouse boys in their teens. They basically worked in “every facet, except installation.”
They also gave their assurances that no child labor laws were ever broken, as they worked while attending Solon High School in the 1990s and after that, John Carroll University.
“I don’t think there’s anything on the books about unloading trucks when you’re 10,” younger brother Aaron quipped, having moved over to sales after finishing school.
As it turns out, Mikey, a Cleveland Heights High graduate, grew up in the business as well. It was his father, Melvin Magden, who got things started with a general home improvement company in Cleveland Heights.
Aaron and Melvin’s relatively low-key business approach continues to pay off. Last year, Window Nation earned over $20 million in revenue. It ranks 37th on Replacement Contractor’s list of the 100 largest companies in the home improvement industry, and 28th on Qualified Remodeler’s list of the nation’s top 500 remodelers ranked by revenue.
The windows are manufactured in Streetsboro, according to the company website.
The Magdens also do a lot of charitable work in Cleveland, their most recent project being with Goodwill earlier this summer.
They have donated a portion of their sales, employee time and windows to Habitat for Humanity and Ireland Cancer Center. They’ve also been involved with the Cleveland Animal Protective League.
And Mike couldn’t be prouder.
“They’ve done a superb job, following what I taught them,” the retired Mikey said. “Here are two guys who learned the business, opened up their own company and moved to a new place.
“And they did it in an economy that was wobbly, expanding to five states,” the elder Magden added.
Asked if they would ever consider emulating the old man’s approach on commercials, Harley said it was highly doubtful.
“I don’t think we can get up to that level. We’re not as animated.”
The Interview: Harley and Aaron Magden, Window Nation
September 04, 2011 | By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun
Brothers Harley Magden (left) and Aaron Magden are pictured… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)
Harley and Aaron Magden grew up working in the family business — supplying replacement windows to homeowners — but decided to make a change when their father sold the Ohio company.
The brothers are still selling windows. But now they’re doing it from Glen Burnie.
Five years after founding Window Nation in the Baltimore area, the brothers have built the company into the 28th-largest firm on trade magazine Qualified Remodeler’s list of the top 500 home-improvement companies nationwide. Revenue rose 70 percent last year over the year before.
Not counting part-time installers, the company employs 26 in the area and just as many elsewhere — including Ohio. Window Nation entered the Cleveland market when the brothers’ noncompete clause with father Mike Magden’s former business, Regency Window Co., expired in 2008.
Harley, 35, and Aaron, 31, are married; each has a young daughter. They say they’ve settled into the Baltimore area and have no plans to move back to Cleveland.
The brothers talked with The Baltimore Sun recently about Window Nation’s rapid growth, why they came to the Baltimore region — and which football team they root for when the Ravens go up against the Cleveland Browns.
How did you increase the company’s revenue 70 percent last year?
Harley: A lot of things going our way. One of them was the [federal] tax credit [of up to $1,500 for energy-efficiency projects], which recently expired. No. 2, we increased our advertising budget significantly to try to penetrate the market. We’re relatively new in this area, so we’re just trying to increase brand recognition.
Aaron: We took a lot of the market share. We offer a lot of different windows for different budgets. We’re sort of like GM: We offer a Chevy, we offer a Buick, we offer a Cadillac.
How has the rough economy and difficult housing market affected your industry?
Aaron: Most people aren’t thinking about buying new houses. They’re staying in their existing house. Out of all the home-improvement projects that can be done, windows are something that will pay you back. They’ll save people on their energy. That’s been a big hit for us because it’s not like a kitchen, where it’s just beautifying the home. There’s a lot of wants, but this is a need.
How’s business this year?
Harley: We’re tracking up around 20 percent this year. Which all things considered is very strong, considering, on average, trade publications … say the markets are down 5 to 8 percent.
Why did you decide to leave your father’s company after he sold it?
Harley: We stayed on for a little while — so did he — and basically ended up leaving the company to move on to bigger and better things.
We figured we had been in this business for a while, we knew it and we wanted to open a new company. … We did have a noncompete [agreement initially] so we could not just open up in the city we lived in. So we checked out about 10 different cities and ended up here in Baltimore.
The housing stock is of the right age, the economy is very strong and stable because of all the government work and government employees, and it’s just so conducive to expanding. … Philadelphia is close, Charlotte is close. … Plus my brother and I really like the area.
Aaron: When we were younger, my dad used to take us to the Harbor every few years, and he’d take us to Ocean City.
How’s the competition with the ex-family business going?
Aaron: In the beginning we were fighting tooth and nail. … We’re probably larger than they are now.
They’re taking a corporate strategy into a family-owned … business, which is slowly but surely deteriorating them.
What does your father think of your company and the fact that you’re competing with his former business?
Aaron: He’s very proud of us and what we’ve put together. Obviously we’ve learned a lot through him and through our family. It’s really not that big of a deal that we’re competing against his old company, because once we left, a lot of the employees that we hired had left. … My dad doesn’t have that attachment that he would have if my brother Harley and I stayed on.
Mike Magden was known for doing wild television commercials — yelling, “I’m gonna save you a lotta money!” What are your ads like?
Harley: Totally different. … We don’t do the eye-catching, loud commercials like my father did. We definitely take things down a notch. My brother and I have appeared on a few ads on radio and TV, but that’s not really our forte. We like to stay on the low-key side of things.
What’s the competition like in this region?
Harley: It’s very fragmented. … There’s really a lot of room for growth.
Do you make your own windows?
Harley: We don’t make our own windows, but we have an agreement where one of the local manufacturers makes the windows … designed specifically for us. And [the windows are] also designed for [the climate in] this market.
How old were you when you got into the family business?
Harley: I started when I was 16, so about 19 years ago.
Aaron: Probably about 15 or 14. I was unloading the window trucks when they came in.
Was there a part of you that wanted to try something besides windows when you left?
Harley: We took time off and really thought about what direction to go in. … Windows [were] the only thing that would force us to move; anything else, we could have stayed [in Ohio] if we wanted to. So it wasn’t an easy decision.
Why did you do it?
Aaron: We just figured we knew this industry best. … Our whole plan was to open up here and then have Cleveland as well, which we did. We were possibly going to move back, but now that our parents live in Florida, Baltimore’s our home. We have no plans of leaving.
Harley: We’re still Browns fans, though.
Veteran linebacker was on hand with Redskin cheerleaders to help open the doors of Window Nation in Lorton.
HUNTERSVILLE – Window Nation has opened a showroom at 15905 Brookway Drive that features full-size displays of name-brand vinyl, fiberglass and wood windows.
Window Nation President Harley Magden said, “We offer unlimited options to people who want to buy replacement windows for increased security, energy efficiency and beauty. We’re here to show people they can make an investment in their homes without spending an arm and a leg.”
Window Nation, headquartered in Baltimore, was founded by brothers Harley and Aaron Magden after working for years in their father’s window business. The company operates in the Carolinas, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Washington, D.C.