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January 2004
Opening the Door to Success
By Casey Jacobus

      James Potts started at the very bottom of the business. Directly after graduation from South Iredell High School in 1978, he went to work in the warehouse of a Charlotte door company, pushing a broom and unloading trucks for $3.50 an hour. In 1988 he bought a share of the company that owned the warehouse. Six years later, with partner Randy Burris, he bought Overhead Door Company of Charlotte.

       Potts and Burris have grown their company from 23 employees in one location to 105 employees in three different locations. Business has grown from $2 million a year to in excess of $15 million. And they did it because they understand basic business fundamentals and believe in hard work.

 

Starting at the bottom

     Potts and Burris share humble beginnings. Potts grew up in Mooresville, the adopted son of textile workers. He has worked since he was sixteen years old, doing a shift in the mill while still going to high school. Burris’ father was a small businessman in Mt. Pleasant.

       “We had nothing but a desire to succeed and a willingness to work,” says Burris. The two men came to know each other while working for another door company in Charlotte. Potts, who started at the bottom, had worked his way up the corporate ladder, becoming a warehouse manager, an installer, an estimator, a purchasing/estimating manager, branch manager and finally, a partner in charge of the commercial division of the company. Burris was a sales manager in the residential division. When the company was bought out in 1993, the new Ohio-based ownership decided to eliminate Burris’ position.

       “We tried to tell them (the ownership) that that wasn’t a good idea,” says Potts. “We were a good team, with Randy overseeing the residential side of things and me doing the commercial. We had grown the company well and it enjoyed a good market share.”

       The out-of-state ownership wouldn’t listen. So Burris and Potts decided to go into business together, but raising the necessary capital wasn’t easy.

       “We were turned down by bank after bank,” reports Burris. “Finally we worked out a deal with Overhead Door Corporation to purchase an option to buy a distributorship. In 1997 we exercised that option. Everything we owned was on the line.”

       The two men had a lot to lose if they failed. Potts, at 43, is married with three sons and Burris, at 37, is also married with four daughters. Their families depend on them. But they shared a passion for the business and a faith in God.

       “I always trusted God to lead us and help us overcome the big obstacles,” says Potts. “It’s been an exciting journey. The company has grown beyond our wildest dreams.”

 

Building a business

       The Overhead Door Company of Charlotte has a long-term track record, having been in business since 1935. It serves both residential and commercial customers and services the products it installs, as well as servicing all other brands. When Burris and Potts bought the company, they divided up the business into the residential division, which Burris oversaw and the commercial division, which Potts supervised.

       At first the business rode the new construction wave of the 90’s, growing because the new home market in the Charlotte area was booming. But the partners knew they couldn’t depend on new growth forever. They decided to diversify and agreed to spend money to shift the company’s focus. They built up the after-market sales to homeowners, commercial end users, and the service/repair businesses. When the new construction trend slowed after 9-11, Overhead Door was ready to weather the storm. They had a new strategy in place; they would diversify and dominate every market segment.

       “If you’ve got a door issue, we’ve got the answer,” says Burris. “We want to be involved in all aspects. We’re working to bring in new products.”

       Today, the company has been able to open two new locations of Overhead Door Company (Overhead Door Company of Rock Hill and Overhead Door Company of the Piedmont). Potts and Burris also own and operate Williams Door Service, which provides a competing door product in the Hickory area. Recently they started a new commercial company called Loading Dock Systems of the Carolinas, which is a distributor for SPX dock products featuring Serco loading dock equipment and TKO knock-out doors. Overhead Door Company of Charlotte also added Garage Tek to its residential product line, appealing to homeowners who want to maximize the storage space in their garages.

       The duo also put a new business structure in place, which includes a five member senior-management team. Burris became vice president with all day-to-day operations reporting to him through those managers. Potts, while continuing to focus on the commercial side of the business, is responsible for the big picture. He keeps the company moving toward its goals.

       “We tag team a lot of stuff and, as the company grew it became confusing,” says Burris, who also admits that the two men, while they share the same goals and philosophy, have different personalities. “James is real laid-back,” he says. “He works well with people, while I’m more the enforcer-type.”

       Burris and Potts believe they have been successful because they understand basic business fundamentals, including the importance of customer service. The partners want to know whenever anyone in their organization makes a mistake, not to necessarily reprimand who made the mistake, but so they can work together to correct and learn from it. One of the two tries to be available to talk to every caller with a complaint.

       “Our goal is to provide the best customer service,” says Potts. “Our price may be beat occasionally, but never our level of service.”

       The challenge is to get 105 employees to buy into that philosophy. Burris says that happens when a company has a culture that rewards individual initiative.

       “James believes in knowing his employees well, utilizing their strengths and putting them in a position to do well,” says Burris. “We believe that a company should have a culture where an employee can come to work and enjoy what they do. We want everyone to be excited about being here and to be motivated to work hard.”

       Potts, who relates well to employees since he has held just about every position himself, says the keys to successful management are:

1. Hiring good people.

2. Never asking anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

3. Empowering people to their jobs.

       Nonetheless, it is ongoing challenge to recruit and train good employees. In addition, the rising cost of insurance is a problem for small business owners like Potts and Burris. With increases of 30 percent a year, they can only fight back with more safety programs for employees.

       Success can also breed other complications. One of these is competition from unscrupulous businesses, which falsely represent themselves in the market. Overhead Door Company of Charlotte is a name that is easily imitated. Other companies have called themselves various combinations of the words “Charlotte,” “overhead,” “door,” and “company,” causing confusion among customers. The Overhead Door Comp-any of Charlotte is working to educate the public to look for their red-ribbon trademark.

       “We are the only authorized distributor for Overhead Door products in the area,” says Potts. “If you don’t see the ribbon logo with the name; its not the Genuine, the Original, Overhead Door.”

 

Looking to the future

       While the garage door is one of the most utilized parts of a house and is certainly the largest moving object in the house, it has also been one of the most overlooked parts of the house design. Potts says that is beginning to change and the garage door industry is starting to get the respect it deserves.

       “People who used to spend big money on their front entry door but wanted the cheapest possible garage door are now looking for something better,” he reports. One of the latest trends is found in the carriage house garage doors.

       In response, Overhead Door is diversifying its products. Among its product lines are the Ranch House Collection, a new line of wood doors in 18 classic designs. These doors come in a choice of woods, including cedar, redwood, hemlock, and poplar, with a choice of decorative hardware to match the architectural style. The Renaissance Collection gives the look of a custom wood door with the longer lasting durability of a steel door and comes with four decorative window options. The Banner Collection features a smooth quiet operation and doors designed to be seen, not heard.

       Commercially, Overhead Door of Charlotte offers sectional doors, rolling steel doors, commercial openers, fire doors, dock equipment and high speed doors.

       “If you’ve got a door issue, we’ve got the answer,” says Burris. “We want to be involved in all aspects. We’re working with different suppliers to bring in new products.”

       Potts says the company will also look at adding additional locations over the next five to ten years. While the company’s fleet of 50 service vehicles can easily service a 50-mile radius from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Potts asserts that customers like to do business with what they perceive as a local company.

       “We saw that with the success of our Rock Hill location,” he says. “We’ll continue to expand within the Charlotte metro area, as long as we can get the quality of people we need.”

 

       Customer education is another project for both the present and the future. All mechanical devices require periodic maintenance, and overhead garage doors are no exception. Preventive maintenance can protect both residential and commercial customers against expensive emergency repairs. Overhead Door Company offers annual maintenance plans as an important part of its customer service.

       Success also attracts imitators. With Overhead Door Company of Charlotte the number two distributor in market share among 460 distributors nation-wide and among the top ten in overall revenue for the last five to six years, the company is a natural target for competitors. Potts says that while he knows there are other companies who would like a share of the market, he isn’t overly concerned.

       “A lot of companies that come in and make a run at us have short-term agendas,” he says. “We’ve made a long-term commitment. It is not an option for us to pack up and leave when competition gets tough. Competition, as in any business, keeps us on our toes and only makes us better. God willing, this business will always be here.”

 

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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