Windows of Opportunity
Businesses Pitch in to Help Habitat for Humanity
A distributor of Marvin windows and doors, Enfield-based A.W. Hastings was hard hit by the long recession of the early ’90s and its profound impact on the housing market. It also weathered other economic ups and downs, shifts in product lines, assimilation into the Greater Springfield market, and mounting competition.
“A lot of people stood by us and helped us through those tough times,” said Hoyt, listing banks, long-time customers, suppliers, and devoted employees as those who enabled the company to endure and recently reach a rare milestone — 150 years in business. (Actually, it’s 158, as determined by some recent research).
Being on the receiving end of such generosity has helped spark a strong sense of giving back throughout the company, Hoyt told BusinessWest. He cited creation of the program TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), which has involved employees in a number of community activities, as the greatest manifestation of that spirit.
Indeed, while searching for a meaningful way to celebrate the 150th birthday, Hoyt and his brother, Jonathan, Hastings’ treasurer, wondered if the company could take its participation with the Greater Springfield chapter of Habitat for Humanity to a higher level.
Hastings had frequently made at-cost contributions of windows and doors for Habitat homes, and several employees had volunteered to install such products, said Dusty Hoyt. “I was thinking about the various talents of the different people we have within our company — from architectural drawing ability to hands-on skills, and it struck me, ‘why can’t we build one of these houses all by ourselves?’”
He put that question to his employees early this year, and the response was overwhelming, thus providing one of the pieces to what will be a landmark Habitat project, scheduled to commence later this month.
Stephen R. Gelling, executive director of the Greater Springfield chapter of Habitat, said this will mark the first time that private companies will provide the land, labor, and materials for a home. A parcel at the corner of Bartlett and Carew Streets in Springfield, across from the entrance to Mercy Medical Center, has been donated for the project by Thomas Henshon, owner of West Springfield-based Pearson Systems, said Gelling, adding that Hastings employees will provide the bulk of the labor for the project and also purchase the materials — families in line for future Habitat homes will also contribute sweat equity. “We’ve had other companies sponsor homes in the past,” said Gelling, using that word to describe the act of covering the cost of materials and specialized labor not handled by volunteers. “But they (A.W. Hastings) want to utilize their specific skills and go in and make this a total hands-on effort. For our chapter, this is something totally unique.”
And also something he hopes will prove inspirational to other businesses in the area. “This build project will provide a family with a home,” he said, “but it will also create a lot of excitement within this company and a tremendous sense of accomplishment; we’d love to see other businesses experience those same things.”
BusinessWest looks this issue at how this most recent Habitat project came together, and also at how the local business community continually steps up its contributions to the organization that makes the dream of home ownership a reality.
Hammering Home the Point
Hoyt and Gelling both told BusinessWest they weren’t sure what to expect for a response when they scheduled an after-hours meeting at A.W. Hastings this past spring to formally present the company’s Habitat plans and gauge response.
“I was expecting maybe a handful of people,” said Gelling. “Instead, the room was full of people who wanted to know what they could do; there was a lot of energy in that room.”
The home to be built at the corner of Carew and Bartlett Streets, one of three to be started by the local chapter by the end of this year, represents a new, higher level of involvement for the business community in Habitat, said Gelling. He noted that individual companies and groups have made contributions ranging from full sponsorship to donations of materials to volunteering in the construction of many of the 22 homes the local chapter has built in the past five years.
Members of the business community have taken part in the chapter’s ‘women-build’ initiative, he said, referring to one home built, as the name, suggests, entirely by women. They have also taken part in some of the so-called “blitz build” projects in which homes are put in 10 days, and in various ways for more-traditional projects, which take six to nine months.
Meanwhile, the latest Habitat project is also the most ambitious act of ‘giving back’ for A.W. Hastings employees, said Hoyt, noting that it melds community activism with the company’s experience in home-building.
“This made sense for us on a number of levels,” he explained. “First, we’re affiliated with the home-building business as a window distributor, and we also recognize how important a home is to a family and understand the inspiration that can ensue when someone has a vision like that to look at.”
As Hoyt mentioned, the company’s ‘giving-back’ philosophy stems in part from the generosity extended in its direction throughout its history, and particularly over the past 30 years. In 1976, the company, founded in Boston, lost its primary window supplier, and, as a result, about 40% of its business. It found a new supplier in Marvin, but needed strategies to replace the lost volume.
One of those strategies was to expand territorially, a decision that brought Hoyt, grandson of Ivan Hoyt, a manager who purchased the company from the Hastings family in 1945, out to Springfield to cultivate a new market.
Over the next few decades, the company consolidated both its operations (into its current facility in Enfield) and its product lines — focusing on Marvin and its windows and doors — while also weathering several downturns in the economy.
“What brought us out here was a crisis — we were really on the ropes,” he said. “We’ve been through a few of those on my watch — hopefully not because of my watch — and there are a lot of people who helped us along the way.”
Today, the company, like most in the home-building and renovations sectors is enjoying profound growth at a time of extensive new building and remodeling in many regions, including the Pioneer Valley and Northern Connecticut.
“The past decade has been our longest period of sustained growth,” he said, adding that while the tough times are becoming an increasingly distant memory, they haven’t been forgotten.
“We know what it’s like to need help,” he explained. “And I think it’s because of where we are now and the experiences we’ve been through over all those years that we feel that since we’ve achieved some element of success that we have an inherent responsibility to give back to our community.”
This mindset helped drive the creation of TEAM, said Hoyt, noting that the program solicits small weekly donations from employees as well as time and energy for various charitable efforts, ranging from the “adoption” of a local Enfield elementary school to staging a bike race to benefit an employee’s with mitochondrial disease.
And it also created a great deal of enthusiasm for the Habitat project.
Indeed, as he talked about the enormous task ahead for A.W. Hastings — building the 1,200-square-foot, six-room home, raising the money to pay for the materials, and organizing every aspect of both initiatives — Hoyt said he expects each of his 140 employees to “touch” the undertaking in some way.
“One of my goals is to get everyone involved in this — be it with fund-raising or banging nails,” he said. “There’s certainly plenty of work to do.”
The level of organization needed for the project can be seen in a flow chart that delineates the various aspects of the initiative and those who will lead them. Hoyt is acting as project leader, and has three teams reporting to him — one focusing on processes and volunteer-coordination, another on marketing and finance, including fund-raising, and a third, much larger group dedicated to the broad construction effort.
Within the construction team are more than 20 leaders of specific tasks, from excavation to gutters, permits and inspections to landscaping, interior trim to the front porch.
The Habitat project has captured the imagination of the company’s employees, said Hoyt, adding that many have enthusiastically found ways to trim time and cost from the initiative by soliciting donations of materials and expertise.
“We had someone step up and say ‘my cousin does excavation, and he says he’ll do the excavation work for this and only charge us for the asphalt,’” said Hoyt. “We have an electrician who said he’d do that work for no charge; we’re seeing people come forward and do things like that. It’s exciting.”
Reflecting on the creation of TEAM and this latest manifestation of its purpose, Hoyt said A.W. Hastings has created a culture grounded in the philosophy that, by working together, its employees and managers can do more than make their company successful.
“We can make an impact in our community,” he explained, adding that the “Hastings home,” as its being called, will hopefully inspire other businesses to be part of Habitat’s efforts and encourage more families to pursue their dreams of home ownership.
In that sense, the company is opening doors of opportunity — literally and figuratively. v
George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]