Factory tours allow installers and reps to learn about and better understand  the product.
Factory tours allow installers and reps to learn about and better understand the product.

How are windows made? Actually seeing a home improvement product being made — window, door, shingle, or sunroom — can give reps the knowledge and enthusiasm to sell more effectively.

“When you talk with homeowners and can say you've been to the factory, it's a great selling tool,” says Troy Marshall, president of Marshall Roofing, in Lorton, Va.

Ever since Marshall visited CertainTeed's window factory in Valley Forge, Pa., several years ago, he better understands how windows are put together, and, in turn, he can share that confidence with customers. Salespeople who visit a manufacturer's factory “are inclined to push the product a bit more. It gets them to buy in,” he says.

BEEN THERE Every rep at American Vision Windows, in Simi Valley, Calif., has been on a factory tour, says marketing director Matt Herren. “It's invaluable when they're in the home and can tell the customer, ‘I've been to that factory, and they're expert craftsmen. I saw the quality-control.'” Seeing the vinyl extruded is an “amazing” sight, and while they're visiting, the reps also learn how to correctly fill out an order form, he adds.

But the benefits of tours, which typically take just a day or two, extend beyond pumping up sales. Contractors also can gain valuable contacts at the plant. “When you go out to a manufacturing plant, you meet with their engineers,” says Buddy DeRocco, president of DeRocco Building Corp., in Warminster, Pa. Being “on a first-name basis with those people” is a big help if questions or problems arise, he says.

Managers at California Replacement Windows, in Anaheim, Calif., believe so strongly in the networking and other advantages of factory tours that they send all employees, not just salespeople. “It lets the factory know that you're interested in the products, and it lets your people know you're educating them and putting money into them,” president Jerry Kerby says. And, he points out, when employees come back, “it's important to ask them, ‘What did you find out? What did you learn?' It shows you're interested in what they picked up.”

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL Even companies that manufacture their own products make sure their reps get that close-up education. Woburn, Mass.-based NewPro, which manufactures its own windows, has a one-day program. The reps stop at each workstation as windows are made, says president Nick Cogliani, and the factory manager explains the process. “It makes them understand the quality. They feel good about what they're selling and go out with confidence,” he says.

Although it's more convenient to go to factory tours these days, Cogliani says, the time and expense were still worthwhile back when staff had to travel hundreds of miles to the factory. “It's one thing in words and another thing to physically see it,” he says, “to see how a welding machine works and see a window put together. There's only so much you can do with painting a picture with words. People who don't [visit factories] are missing out on an important part of training.”