When Rachel and Jaclyn Blum’s father died unexpectedly two and a half years ago, the sisters had to decide to save the family business or let it go. The window and door dealer and installer their father founded in 1995 had survived the recession, but the Window Factory was now operating in the red.
“He was putting his own money into the business just to keep it afloat,” said Rachel Blum, co-owner of Window Factory with her sister Jaclyn Blum-Guelfi, “but we knew that if we could bring the overhead down quickly, we could pull this together.”
Two sisters are learning what it's like to be young women in a mostly male-dominated business after saving their father's Marin County window and door installation store. Their worlds were turned upside down when he died unexpectedly more than two years ago, leaving them to decide whether to save the family business.
Rachel Blum, 33, of Oakland, and Jaclyn Blum Guelfi, 36, of San Rafael, were born and raised in Marin, but never thought they'd be co-owners of a company their father founded in San Rafael in 1995. The sisters realized early on they'd have to make many changes to keep the Window Factory afloat.
"We knew my father was running this business in the red," Blum said. "He did survive through the worst, but he didn't do it by not putting any of his own money into the business."
“A window is only as good as the way it’s installed,” Blum says. “If you have a wonderful window that’s not installed right, you’re going to have problems down the line.” This is why they turn their focus to bringing in people that are open to the company’s techniques and who will learn and grow with them, she says.
Almost like an apprenticeship, installers train in-house under the tutelage of one of the foremen—all of whom have risen from the ranks of installers. Depending on an employee’s ability level, he may get a “buddy in the field” when learning installation techniques. And, all installation training follows AAMA guidelines. Once a week, the co-owners visit jobsites to make sure proper installation techniques were followed.
“What makes our installation crew special,” Blum says, “is not just how they install windows, but how they operate on the jobsite.” The crew has worked together for so long, they operate as an efficient team. “People are blown away at the lack of noise and disruption,” she continues. “No radios, no personal chit-chat, and they clean up so well you’d never know they installed windows that day.”
Three years ago when Window Factory owner Leon Blum died suddenly, his two daughters—Jaclyn Blum Guelfi and Rachel Blum—had some big decisions to make. Barely into their early 30s, the sisters found themselves the heirs to a struggling company built on an outdated business model. Still, Window Factory had a good reputation and a great staff. In the midst of a family tragedy, the women had to decide whether to walk away from the business, closing its doors for good, or throw themselves into it 100 percent.
“We had to put aside a huge part of the personal aspect of it and move quickly,” Rachel Blum recalls. “We had to deal with the family death later. My sister and I bounced everything off of each other regarding the company and we moved fast.”
Though Window Factory, a specialty window and door retailer serving the San Francisco Bay area, had grown steadily since its founding, the housing downturn hit the company hard starting in 2006. “In the last year of his life, my father shelled his own money into the company to keep it afloat,” Blum notes. “He did that because he always thought it would come back. He really put a lot of faith into it. And he had employees he didn’t want to let down.