Each month, discover a Sherbrooke company profile
DE LA FONTAINE
Design and manufacture of steel doors and frames
- Creation : 1968
- Employees Number : 160
- Sites : Sherbrooke (Québec) // Woburn (Massachusetts, USA)
- Target Markets : Commercial // Industrial // Institutionnal // Multi-residential
Doors and frames from Sherbrooke company DE LA FONTAINE are opening at a number of surprising locations around the world: the ultra-secret Pentagon in the United States, the renowned Harvard University, the exotic Aruba Ritz-Carlton in the Lesser Antilles, the Monterrey Stadium in Mexico, Hong Kong’s police headquarters, and more.
Closer to home, its doors and frames are found in such places as the VÜ residential complex currently under construction in the heart of Sherbrooke, as well as in the new detention centre in Sorel-Tracy.
These projects have strict and diverse requirements. To be able to meet them, DE LA FONTAINE relies on two closely related strengths: flexibility and innovation.
“This is what is conveyed through our slogan – Imagine. We realize. We apply this on a day-to-day basis, with the goal of exceeding expectations from every perspective: design, performance, cost, customer service. This has become even more important in the current global context,” pointed out General Manager Gabriel de La Fontaine, from the third generation of the family company.
Standing out through innovation
A culture of innovation is apparent at DE LA FONTAINE at various levels: in the company’s work organization, its production processes, and its product offerings. The company was a finalist in the Productivity Improvement category of the Mercuriades business contest.
This Sherbrooke company adopted the Toyota management model – lean management – and value-added production principles (VAP) in 1998. The Brodeur Street factory, which covered 12 000 sq. ft. at the time, was renovated to increase productivity and cut delivery times.
DE LA FONTAINE then introduced cutting-edge equipment, including laser-cutting technology, which enabled certain production stages to be automated.
As a result of an R&D project conducted with the Solutions Novika College Center for Technology Transfer, the Sherbrooke company implemented a unique laser welding process. At the end of the production line: design doors with pre-embossed panels, recessed panels, or inlays of wood, stainless steel, laminated plastic, etc.
“With this new range of pre-finished, customized products, we are going for both aesthetics and performance. For example, companies may have their logos inserted in their doors, and yet have a product that is both safe (with fire-resistance certification) and functional, with a soundproof option. The launch of these design doors on the market in 2009 enabled us to take great strides ahead our competitors.”
DE LA FONTAINE’s signature doors and frames also feature other sought-after characteristics. The company has developed an exclusive split door frame model that can be adjusted and installed at the end of construction. Some Windstorm doors and frames withstand winds of up to 274 km/h and the impact of debris.
Reputation to be exported
In office since 2012, Gabriel de La Fontaine is adding a new chapter to the family company’s adventure, continuing in the steps of his father Robert and grandfather Gérald. DE LA FONTAINE won the Relève et transmission de la PME (SME transfer to the next generation) and Grande entreprise awards at the 2014 edition of Gala Reconnaissance Estrie.
The young manager is turning to the international stage: “The company’s reputation in the North American market is firmly established; we are excelling there due to our products and customer focus. Now, we’re aiming to expand our presence elsewhere in the world. The goal is to intensify the development of new markets, beyond the contracts obtained sporadically in the past, while continuing to enhance productivity.”
Among the targets: Latin America, where DE LA FONTAINE already has a foot in the door thanks to agreements made with distributors in recent years. Currently, the United States remains the chief destination for DE LA FONTAINE’s doors and frames, the destination for over 80% of the company’s exports.
A family and team success
With an overall increase in sales in the order of 10% annually over the past four years, DE LA FONTAINE is experiencing a new growth spurt as it approaches its 50th anniversary.
Its secret? Inherited agility! The family company’s management has always had perfect timing in terms of seizing opportunities and adjusting its business strategy when necessary. Founded in 1968, DE LA FONTAINE initially specialized in interior doors, trims, and moldings. Steel was gradually introduced to tap into the apartment building market, and then later into commercial construction, especially in the United States, where the company has been exporting products since 1986.
The work team is also one of the key ingredients in DE LA FONTAINE’s success, noted the General Manager. “To innovate, manufacture, and deliver top quality products on a daily basis, the contribution of each employee, in both the plant and the office setting, is indispensable.”
In Sherbrooke, there are more than 160 employees: engineers, labourers, designers, supervisors, administrative personnel, etc. The factory, certified ISO 9001: 2008, may be in operation 24 hours a day on weekdays, depending on the order book. On the production floor, the tasks are varied: bending, assembling, painting, welding, doing maintenance, etc.
“Versatility and adaptability are highly valued,” stated Human Resources Advisor Julie Rompré. “Since production employees may be called upon to perform various operations, we focus more on soft skills than know-how when hiring. Then we train our people.”
The training component is another major initiative at DE LA FONTAINE, with the imminent introduction of an enterprise resource planning system. “Thanks to this new tool, the data from all of our departments will be centralized to enable us to conduct more detailed, easier analyses and thus optimize our processes. In the plant, this will result in work stations that are more computerized, hence the need for training, which we have decided to manage internally to have greater control.”
Top time delivery
Promptness of service is also a trademark of DE LA FONTAINE. “We are striving to stand out from the competition to a greater extent,” pointed out Gabriel de La Fontaine. “We can deliver within a two-week timeframe, on average, and even in less than 48 hours in certain cases through our hybrid production plant in Woburn, Massachusetts.”
DE LA FONTAINE has been operating this “quick turnaround” factory located near Boston for the past five years. Earlier the site served as a warehouse. Six employees work there full time, exclusively on production, since the engineering and administrative components are centralized at the head office in Sherbrooke.
“This model of super-fast production has enabled us to significantly expand our clientele in New England. There is no denying that this was a bold decision in 2010, when our American neighbours were experiencing a rather adverse economic situation. But, we had made the decision to invest as a long-term plan, and now it is paying off.”
A calculated plan for the future
Given this success and the upswing of the American economy, DE LA FONTAINE is planning to open a new flexible manufacturing plant in the United States in 2017, this time in the Washington region.
In the short term, the company – which in 2014 took part in the first industrial open house, organized by Sherbrooke Innopole – will invest more than $3 million in its facilities in Sherbrooke’s regional industrial park. In summer 2015, DE LA FONTAINE plans to enlarge its factory here: 16 000 square feet will be added to the current 60 000 square feet. Along with the acquisition of new equipment, this expansion will increase the company’s production capacity.
Keeping an eye open for energy-efficient trends in construction, DE LA FONTAINE offers insulated doors and thermal break frames. Through a blend of materials that inhibits heat/cold transfer, DE LA FONTAINE’s products improve the energy performance of buildings and cut operating costs, thus reducing the carbon footprint.
This Sherbrooke company’s commitment to the environment goes further still: its galvannealed steel and stainless steel doors and frames earn credits through LEED – a green building rating system. More specifically, the materials used by DE LA FONTAINE are regionally sourced and have more than 85% recycled content.
DE LA FONTAINE also implements other initiatives to reduce its impact on the environment: recycling scrap steel and other production waste, using water-based paints that have a low volatile organic compound (VOC) content, etc.
The quality of DE LA FONTAINE’s products has been recognized through a series of accreditations from: the Door & Hardware Institute (DHI), the Construction Specification Institute (CSI), the National Association of Architectural Metal Manufacturers (NAAMM), the American Institute of Architects (provider); the American National Standard Institute (ANSI), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the Steel Door Institute (SDI).
4115, rue Brodeur Sherbrooke (Québec) J1L 1K4 Canada
+1 819 821-9230 / +1 800 565-9230