One of Montgomery County’s largest employers has managed to remain a major employer by developing innovative products, especially during one of the worst economic downturns in the country’s history.
Kasson & Keller in Fonda makes vinyl replacement windows and new construction windows. Its business is closely linked to the housing market. When the housing market tanked during the recession, the company saw sales decline, prompting it to reduce its workforce, said Matt Sullivan, vice president of sales.
“We struggled. We hunkered down and laid off staff,” he said.
Kasson & Keller’s workforce went from 180 to about 100, but some of the decline was also due to the seasonal nature of the business, Sullivan said.
Rather than continue a downward spiral, the privately-owned company, a fixture in the Fonda community since 1954, diversified.
“We sat around with supervisors and management and came up with ideas,” Sullivan said.
One of those ideas was to develop a new product for a new market: a vinyl window with aluminum paning. The product allowed Kasson & Keller to enter the light commercial window market. The market covers schools, apartments, office buildings, condominiums, stores and other facilities that require a strong, maintenance-free window that can fit into a masonry opening.
“We married two products together to create opportunities,” Sullivan said. “Aluminum allows you to put a structural cover around the opening to make it maintenance-free and to reduce any water and air filtration.”
Commercial windows now account for 30 percent of total sales at the company, up from 10 percent three years ago, Sullivan said. The company, which does not release profit figures, said it does about $20 million in sales annually within the Northeast, its primary service area.
Sullivan said Kasson & Keller was able to launch the new product within 10 months of concept — a turnaround time made possible because of the company’s relationship with sister company Keymark.
“We are large enough to be a regional manufacturer and have the flexibility to do things more quickly,” Sullivan said.
Keymark is an aluminum extrusion company also located in Fonda.
“The relationship with an aluminum extruder helps. It allows us to be more innovative,” Sullivan said.
William and James Keller own both companies. Together, both companies employ some 800 people.
“We are starting to build the business back up because of these innovative products,” Sullivan said. “We have been able to maintain and increase our workforce.”
The company also sells regular insulated windows, as well as R5 triple-pane windows. It sells products through dealers and distribution networks, custom-building windows for customers.
“Our products are priced for the market,” Sullivan said. “There are lower-priced products out there, but we feel we have a product with features and benefits that justify the cost.”
Kasson & Keeler is not resting on its laurels. It is still developing new products in response to guidelines issued by Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that sets energy-efficiency standards on products such as windows.
“They are demanding higher-performing windows constantly,” Sullivan said. “Most building codes calls for Energy Star-compliant windows.”
Windows are typically the most inefficient portion of the house, often comprising 30 percent of the facing of a building and serve as thermal and sound barriers. Windows with a low R-value — which measures thermal resistance — leak heat and air, which translates into higher energy bills, Sullivan said.
Energy Star standards call for windows with higher R values, and Kasson & Keller is making these windows.
Austin Kasson and William L. Keller Sr. started the business with three employees in 1946, primarily offering blown-in insulation for homes in the local market. They added a line of storm windows and doors the next year.
In 1951, they opened a factory in Gloversville to assemble parts used in storm windows and doors for other companies that manufactured the finished product and had a workforce of 10, according to the company’s website. The business continued to flourish, and in 1954, the partners needed to find additional space and decided to locate in Fonda because of the access to all forms of transportation: highways, rail and water.
The business expanded, and in 1956, the company started to manufacture its own exclusive line of aluminum products under the “Kasson & Keller” brand. The company produced seven different lines of windows, three different lines of doors, a line of roll-up awnings, a line of permanent awnings and a line of jalousies.
In 1963, a major renovation and upgrade was done to the plant on School Street in Fonda, and by then, the company was manufacturing aluminum siding. The renovations made it possible for raw material to come in the back of the building and roll out the front door as finished product.
In 1980, as vinyl became more of a mainstream building material, Kasson & Keller began to manufacture vinyl windows and service the Northeast corridor.