“But Mathews Brothers wants to know
Do you want windows white as snow?
Because other colors they can make
So just sit and listen for Pete’s sake.
‘No! I do not want a snow white frame!
What other colors can you name?'”
So begins the clever Dr. Seussian-insipired radio commercial for Mathews Brothers, the oldest U.S. window manufacturer based in Belfast, Maine (and fourth-generation, family-owned).
It was the company’s radio commercials that caught my attention some months ago. Clever, witty, and folksy, the commercials were everything other window commercials were not. I found myself turning up the volume whenever I heard one and then analyzing why I liked them.
But it was the two commercials that ran over the summer that got me to make a 3+ hour drive one way to the hinterland of Maine — and in the middle of a monsoon to boot.
That’s because the commercials had a call-to-action you don’t hear every day: come tour our company (and get a free thingamajig).
I’m a sucker for factory tours. I emailed the company and received a personal reply from Bob Maynes, Director of Marketing, inviting me to Maine.
(The videos in this post are also the radio commercials.)
One word: “WOW!!!”
Nothing I write here will do justice to what I witnessed during the tour. Since 2008 the company has been on a mission to redefine itself and its products (see the link to its History page at the end of this post). Like many U.S. manufacturers, Mathews Brothers combines automation with skilled employees in order to improve productivity and efficiency while reducing costs.
And, to make a damned good window, too.
The process begins with the glass cutting. A huge sheet of glass is placed on the long cutting table — the front part of the table is like an air hockey table in that it has holes where the air comes up and the glass hovers over it. The glass is moved to the cutting section where suction holds the glass in place while it’s cut by computer.
According to Bob, even the most efficient team of people can’t match the computerized cutter for efficiency and waste reduction. The computer program knows how best to lay out all the windows being cut from each piece so waste is minimal (and is recycled). Once the glass is cut, it’s moved to the last section of the table where workers break the glass along the cut edges. The computer tells them which piece of glass goes where in each holding rack. These holding racks are then moved to the sealing stage.
Workers manually apply a seal to the edges of the glass and more air hockey like conveyors move the glass to the heater where the seal is melted and thus permanently affixed.
“Other window manufacturers have a 1 percent or more failure rate due to poor seals,” said Bob. “This is because they automate the sealing process. But since we do it by hand, our failure rate is less than half of a percent.”
Machines weld the vinyl frames together but people build the sashes, place in the grids, etc., and perform final assembly.
As with all U.S. manufacturers today, productivity is huge, huge, huge. Anything Mathews Brothers can do to make their process more efficient or their people more productive, they will do. For example, the company invested in a 3D printer because it was costing them $125 to source a small part. They now 3D print that part for $4.
“The 3D printer paid for itself in 6 months,” said Bob.
The company also invests in its people. All employees attend a 10 week vision planning course centered around self-improvement. “We all work to find one thing every day that can help make us better people, better employees,” says Bob. “Scott Hawthorne, our president, believes that Mathews Brothers becomes better when we as employees become better.”
About those radio commercials . . .
The tour was super exciting, my eyes were bugged out half of the time, and my head was spinning from all the information being processed, but the most pressing question for me was, “So, Bob, who does your radio commercials?”
I thought for sure Mathews Brothers had hired an agency — a really good one that understood the company, listened to them and produced the commercials in a slick studio with a highly-paid “voice over” personality.
Bob produces them.
In his basement.
And he writes them himself.
The story gets even better.
“I came up with the idea for running radio ads on talk radio because I used to be in sales. I spent a lot of time in my car and got hooked on talk radio. It’s engaging — it keeps you engaged, meaning, you don’t change the channel. I then realized, after observing my grandkids, that music stations don’t keep us engaged. When a commercial comes on, we’ll change the channel. And of course, we now have our own music, so who needs a music station?
“It took me a couple of years to convince our president to run radio ads. But once he agreed to give it a try, we began advertising on local talk show affiliates in the greater Boston area. We saw results within two weeks. People started calling us.”
Currently, two ads run each day on the Howie Carr show, which airs 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM Monday through Friday on WRKO.
Funny and downright cheeky, the radio ads feature Bob’s voice and a story of some sort. They almost always include three statements:
- “wicked awesome Maine made windows”
- “available at better lumber yards and window professionals across New England”
- the tag line, “that’s Mathews Brothers — with one T”
It’s the tag line everyone remembers.
“One of our employees was stopped for speeding by a Maine patrolman,” Bob said. “When the employee told the officer he was late for work, the officer asked where. Our guy said, ‘Mathews Brothers.’ ‘With one T?’ asked the officer and when our guy said ‘Yes!’ the officer let him go!”
Due to the commercials, Bob has made Mathews Brothers stand apart from other window companies. As a listener and consumer, I know to look for the famous Mathews “bug” or logo and that the windows are made right here in New England.
The ads are working. As we continued our tour, Bob told me that one of the sales guys was out on the road and had called in after visiting prospective architects on Cape Cod. “Each one he visited knew about us due to our radio ads,” he said.
The week I visited, Bob had already done a tour with a busload of people from Iowa and another with the editorial team from a national magazine. They’ve also had bus loads of contractors come in for a full day of training and a tour.
Lesson: Stay true to your values
As I made the trek home late that afternoon, I thought about Bob, Mathews Brothers and their achievements. They’ve proven, much in the same way that Market Basket has, that building a successful business is all about investing in people — employees, customers, and vendors — and in your process improvements while staying true to your values.
But more importantly, Mathews Brothers comes across as friendly and “down home.” Like family, you’re invited into their home where you can watch how windows (maybe your windows) are made and how people work. You learn that Mathews Brothers takes great pride in making the best windows you can imagine. And they don’t rest on that laurel — they’re constantly improving.
Mathews Brothers embodies the story of innovation, ingenuity, and passion for excellence that’s the life blood of many U.S. manufacturers today. And, this story comes across loud and clear in how they do business. It’s why people listen to their commercials and remember them and why, when it comes time buy windows, people ask for Mathews Brothers by name.
Telling the stories of manufacturing companies like Mathews Brothers is something I’m passionate about. If you’re a small industrial manufacturer, and you’d like help with creating marketing that’s unique to your business, give me a holler. I’d love to help you.