WARNING: Reading this may cause drowsiness.
HISTORY OF HUMMINGBIRD SHUTTERS
On Sunday afternoons when my children were growing up, I would tell them that I was going into my bedroom to read Merck’s Manual (a large, heavy, medical, reference book). That was my way of telling them that I was taking a nap, because I figured that if I ever did try to read it, I would fall asleep after three words. Well, if it’s Sunday afternoon, you might likewise tell your family that you are going to read the history of Hummingbird Shutters. Sweet dreams. If you get through this collection of words, I want to invite you over to see slides of our trip to the Grand Canyon.
We started Hummingbird Shutters as a retail plantation shutter business in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1992. The business rapidly expanded. Before the first year was over, we were able to buy the manufacturing facility that was supplying us with shutters in Westminster, South Carolina. This move not only gave us a price advantage, but it gave us control over production.
Shortly after I bought the business, Greg Grier a good friend and co-worker in a Christian School in Bradenton, Florida, moved to the upstate and became our shop manager. The previous owner, Jim Hensley, was a master craftsman; under his tutelage for five years, Greg (former computer programmer and Christian school business manager) became a “Class A” shutter maker. Now he is passing his skill on to other young people in the shop and the chain continues.
My background prior to the shutter business was in manufacturing. So, between selling shutters in Greenville and traveling to Westminster two or three times a week, I started working on ways to take the cost out of the shutters while increasing the quality. We started a lean manufacturing system that includes making shutters one at a time to the precise specifications of the customer’s windows. This worked so well that we were able to add other features to our shutters; one being a unique frame and hinge system that enabled us to actually “pre-hang” the shutters in the shop. Just about all of the installation aspect of the shutter is done properly in our factory. This allows our installers to install shutters in a very fast and efficient manner. This method works so well that I installed shutters myself and did so for several years.
Out next project was to design a new shutter made with mortise and tenon joinery. This step is one that 90% of the shutter industry shy away from because of the cost involved. But we were pushing to have a shutter that was upscale but competitive with the majority of mass-produced shutters. With our cost efficiencies continuing to improve, we were able to achieve this goal. At that point, our slogan became Upscale Features…No Added Cost.
Jim Hensley had developed our first model: it had good proportion with tapered louvers and furniture grade paint. We took it the next step: we added a unique shadow-line frame to the shutter. The combination allows us to mount closer to the window and yet be stronger and more warp-resistant than some of the bulkier shutters that are common in the market place. The strength and warp-resistance is a product of our joinery method.
One of the benefits of our quality, value, and service is that in the Greenville area it was common for other window treatment companies to approach us about becoming Hummingbird Dealers. One of my favorite was, and if I remember correctly, the first one - Brian Williams who had built a very successful business selling blinds and shades in the Greenville area. Brian, a few years earlier had moved to Greenville from Columbia SC where he worked for a company installing blinds and shades. We made the decision, even though he was a competitor, to make him a dealer. That was in 1993. This worked out very well both then and later. We have been fortunate to work with Brian, and he has made us very proud.
One of the problems of building a business is what you do when it is time to retire? You spend years and years nurturing and fine tuning your baby and you just don't want to turn it over to the wrong person. My first idea was to hire and train a partner. After a costly couple of tries, I finely figured the right answer was right under my nose. Greg was the quality craftsman that had always made things work in the shop and Brian was our best dealer.
At the end of 2011, Greg took over the manufacturing side of Hummingbird and Brian the retail side. I would like to say that they have done a very good job of carrying on the business of which they were a big part.
From time to time, I go out to the shop and I am always amazed to see that Greg and Brian continue the tradition of making minor adjustments that over a period of time take cost out of the production but not the quality that they are able to pass savings on to the customer.
Back to my initial premise: I doubt that anyone has read this far. So, probably it doesn’t matter how this ends. However, if you have, please drop me e-mail and make my day.
God bless you,
Jon D. Oren
June 1, 2017