Maximizing Versatility and Flexibility
Willco Sales & Service, Inc. delivers space management solutions in New England
Willco Sales & Service, Inc. (Willco), supplies beautiful, functional products for architects, designers and general contractors across New England. It is based in Stratford, Connecticut, and has a branch office in Hingham, Massachusetts.
The company sells, installs and services folding and glass wall systems, daylighting, refuse management and smoke and fire containment systems as well as overhead and sectional doors. These products provide customers the flexibility to completely transform and safeguard their spaces—from creating large exterior openings to bringing natural daylight indoors—at the push of a button. Many of its products are designed with LEED in mind, incorporating energy efficiency into designs for new construction and retrofits of existing spaces.
Expertise, Longevity, Flexibility
The family-owned, full-service contractor has completed between 25,000 and 30,000 projects during its 62-year history. The strong relationships it creates with customers and manufacturers have led some to do business with Willco for 30, 40 and even 50 years. Willco projects include large commercial, industrial and retail spaces, educational facilities, hotels and sports stadiums.
“The construction business is more complicated than ever,” says Scott Tague, Willco‘s President. “There are so many insurance, contractual and labor requirements. We’re staffed to meet those requirements and deal with complexity.” For example, Willco has both union and non-union options, architectural sales representatives and in-house installers who have completed manufacturers’ training programs.
Three Generations of Service and Products
“We are very much a family business,” Tague says. His grandfather, Edward Tague, started Willco in 1957 in Fairfield, Connecticut, initially selling church pews, sprinkler systems and incinerators. The first two employees in its folding-wall division were Edward’s son, Don Tague, who became President in 1963, and cousin Buddy Patrignelli. “Buddy introduced my mother and father,” says Tague, who is Don’s son. Tague began helping his dad when he was 13, making drawings and copies on Saturdays.
“Dad still comes to work every day,” he continues. “My sister, Laura Walker, is our CEO. Laura and I have worked here since the 1980s; we’re now partners and joint owners.” Other family members in the business are senior project manager and chief financial officer Scott Walker, Laura’s husband, and sales manager Tricia Tague, Tague’s wife.
Not every business makes it for three generations. Tague shares Willco’s experience as a member of the Center for Family Business on the Orange, Connecticut, campus of the University of New Haven. “It’s a great format for the exchange of best practices with other family businesses,” he says.
Many of the products Willco sells are designed to help building owners and managers create flexible, versatile spaces. “We provide all types of space management design options to the architectural community: walls that move up and down and back and forth,” says Scott LeMoult, Willco’s online marketing coordinator. For example, Willco offers Modernfold and Skyfold movable partitions by dormakaba Group, custom operable doors, walls and windows by Renlita, and a wide array of other products from top manufacturers. Solutions include folding glass walls, overhead doors, retractable roof systems and large retractable glass enclosures.
Willco is a leader in providing waste management technologies—from chutes and compactors to recycling systems. “There’s been a progression over time from burning garbage in incinerators to sending it to compactors and sophisticated recycling systems,” Tague says. “Today, by pushing a button, our systems sort the materials placed in the chute; recyclables are mechanically separated from trash into bins in a building’s basement.” This technology is especially popular in high-rise residential and commercial buildings.
According to research studies funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, humans spend 80 to 90 percent of their time indoors. Some of the products Willco distributes and installs, such as Solatube Daylighting Systems, address health concerns associated with this statistic by capturing natural daylight and transferring it into interior spaces. These systems save electricity, avoid the solar heat gain experienced with traditional skylights, and channel natural daylight deep into interior spaces. “According to research studies, natural light promotes productivity, well-being and reduces eyestrain,” LeMoult explains. “A Solatube Daylighting System is energy efficient, and, when set up correctly, can fully light a commercial facility during the day. One of our products is SkyVault, Solatube’s largest tubular daylighting device, used in vast indoor spaces like sports stadiums and warehouses.”
Since licensed architects must earn continuing education credits each year to fulfill the American Institute of Architects (AIA) professional requirements, Willco employees deliver AIA-approved, one-hour presentations in customers’ offices—usually over lunch or breakfast. Topics range from building codes that impact trash chutes and compactors to health and safety code issues pertaining to egress doors, folding walls and passageways.
The sales team also conducts brief drop-in meetings to share exciting new products and applications with architects and designers. “We keep them abreast of the very latest products and technologies available,” LeMoult says. “For example, the use of glass in architectural design is very popular.”
Co-founding an Industry Association
In 2006, Willco co-founded the Independent Distributor Network of North America (IDNNA), a trade organization of leading space management contractors. The IDNNA has evolved into North America’s leading association of space management solution distributors and now has 21 members in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Tague has served as the group’s President for the past seven years.
“We identified a mutual need for a deeper connection with other distributors and with equipment manufacturers,” Tague says. “The IDNNA really helps us stay connected with distributors of similar products outside our territory and with manufacturers. We’re able to provide nationwide service to our customers through these trusted relationships.”
Committed to Strengths and Families
Willco has 32 employees, including factory-trained installers and technicians, architectural sales representatives, project managers and estimators. “We play off each other’s strengths,” Tague says. “Everyone is specialized based on what they do best.” The company’s culture supports working together closely and communicating throughout the day. Everyone celebrates when orders come in and employees are acknowledged—immediately—for a job well done.
“It’s a family business. Our employees have families; their kids have games and other events they don’t want to miss,” Tague adds. Flexible scheduling means team members can be in the bleachers or auditorium to cheer and applaud.
Two of the company’s sales representatives worked for Willco for 40 years before retiring. Employees who have been with the company for many years are now nurturing and training new employees who represent the next generation of Willco.
Making a Difference
Willco’s leaders take pride in the fact that the products they sell make a difference in the lives of their customers. “Everything we do is about flexibility and maximizing the use of space,” Tague says. This, in turn, has an impact on building operations and budgets—from reducing energy costs to eliminating the need to build additional space.
There are also times when Willco has taken direct action to make a difference in its community. For example, the company helped introduce natural daylighting in public schools in Burlington, Vermont, by donating Solatube units for installation in interior, windowless classrooms. “We showed the school facilities staff how to install them,” LeMoult says. “It made a big difference, and now there’s an initiative in Burlington schools to daylight more classrooms.”
The company also supports AIA and IDNNA charitable activities, as well as sporting events at local public schools and community colleges.
Delivering on Promises
Willco has built its reputation by consistently delivering on promises. “We’ve never walked away from a project,” Tague says. “In 62 years, we’ve never completed a job where the customer wasn’t completely satisfied. We’re proud of that. To this day, I instill in our team the guiding principle my dad taught me: once we have the job, we own it and will do what we need to do to get it done.”