50 Years of Building Relationships
After beginning his door and hardware career with a Manhattan contract hardware distributor in after the war, Don Loss established Donald A. Loss Associates, Inc. in Milwaukee in 1968 to sell quality architectural Division 8 and 10 lines as an independent manufacturer’s representative. Fifty years later, we spoke with his sons Jeff and Matt Loss as well Joe Hoffman who has been with the firm for over two decades.
Doors and hardware runs in their blood. “Well, we grew up playing with door hardware,” Jeff Loss, President and Owner of D.A. Loss says. “The idea was door closers for Christmas and we liked it!” he laughs. “But seriously, we grew up in the days when– just like many children of hardware reps– the fathers worked out of the house and the family was surrounded by the business. There was hardware and plans everywhere!”
They have since adapted to a new era where most rep firms don’t work out of their house. Jeff and Matt own their office in order to staff a larger organization. But they attest that the thing that made their father successful, which was relationship selling, is the way they successfully sell the lines they represent. “It’s the same way, maybe on a larger scale and a faster pace, as it was done 30-40 years ago, but it’s still very similar,” Jeff says.
Matt Loss, Vice President and Owner, stresses the importance of building relationships with the end user. When they first started with Special-Lite, one of their presentations of the SL-17 to a prominent school architect firm was met with the comment: “This will never be specified on one of my buildings.
D.A. Loss then went directly to the school and got them to try the door. It took nearly 20 years for that large architecture firm not to fight back when schools requested Special-Lite doors. “It was a long process but that’s what we do,” Joe explains.
D.A. Loss’ competitive advantage still largely lies within their technical knowledge and focus on service. They are able to talk technically with customers and not just sell a ‘widget.’ They maintain that they are able to better facilitate relationships with end users through being an independent agency and not being just corporate sales reps. “It’s about creating those relationships with the end users, it’s about bumping into them and seeing how they’re doing… and keeping it fun as much as possible.” Part of this strategy is bringing their customers to visit and tour the manufacturers they represent. Seeing how the products are made and meeting the people that make them strengthens the relationships between manufacturer, rep, and end users.
Ask Jeff, Matt, and Joe what their best business practices are and beyond fishing trips, they will say: “It’s a trust thing. People buy from people they trust.” The basics of building this trust are relatively simple concepts like consistently getting back to people in a timely manner, doing what you say you will do, and having a good product at a fair price—consistency. “We are always here for our customers, and for our factories too. We’re reliable and we’ve been here for 50 years,” Jeff says.
This longevity and reliability enables them to visit job sites and identify doors that were installed 30 or even 35 years ago. They describe a school district (Racine) that was embarking on a project to replace all their exterior doors, but the school was hesitant to invest in Special-Lite doors. Jeff remembered that the school had installed a pair of Special-Lite doors on the back of the building many years ago. Joe then went back to the school and showed them the doors that they had installed many years ago that had never failed– and that they never had to maintain! The school then replaced every one of the doors in the project with Special-Lite doors and continue to do so today.
Matt Loss views this type of story as a prime example of the benefit of an agency like D.A. Loss which has this “historic knowledge” and puts it to use.This benefit is getting lost in the corporate culture and consolidations of the door and hardware industry.
D.A. Loss now employs six individuals and continues to grow and change with the times and with the market. Product trends like thermally broken framing, wider market acceptance for fiberglass products, etc., are notable. Consolidations and growth by acquisition have taken over much of the door and hardware industry. Through all this change, D.A. Loss stays true to their values, their reputation, and their father’s legacy by continuing to prioritize building relationships and trust with end users, distributors, and the manufacturers they represent.