The Art of Opening
Innovation drives Garage Doors Unlimited
People do not usually think of artisans as creating garage doors. It’s a term generally reserved for those who make things like handcrafted pottery or finely knit textiles.
But Garage Doors Unlimited (GDU) of Poway, California, makes custom, creative garage doors for its Southern California clients. They don’t even need to be used in garages or for exterior purposes. Whether the doors need to appeal to a certain architectural style; fit in a small space; swing in, out or up, GDU can find a door solution within a customer’s budget.
The company’s products are designed to beautifully mesh where traditional, industrial-looking garage doors would not, in places like San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, for example, which has a distinctly vintage vibe.
“Our glass overhead doors have been very popular,” says President and Founder Scott Alix. “Restaurants can use them to join indoor and outdoor spaces or close the areas off if it’s raining, but still keep that historical style and look thanks to aluminum frames and metal finishes in a full range of colors.”
Barleymash is one of the Gaslamp Quarter eateries that had GDU design and install Alix’s vertical lift windows, a product also known as “The Downtown.”
GDU also installs custom doors, pedestrian gates and driveway gates that either slide or swing open manually or with automation machinery. Creative techniques include the use of specialty materials such as birch, red cedar, mahogany, wrought iron or glass. Styles can vary from Colonial to Mediterranean to Spanish, with portholes, metal filigree designs and iron traps. Gates can have matching wood doorjambs, he says, and the front door of a home can be designed to match the gate as well.
Knack for Puzzling
A Navy veteran, Alix launched the company in 1999, growing GDU to a 30-employee-strong organization with annual sales of $5 million. After the military, he studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The fundamental tasks of the engineering process resonated with him. Alix says he found his calling.
“Though I didn’t ultimately get my degree in that particular major, I realized I liked estimating, measuring and figuring out what to do to solve problems. They were all skills I was able to apply to help develop client designs later, with my company,” he says. “Then, along the way, my artistic talents just evolved from there.”
Though he now leads considerably more employees than he did in the company’s early days, Alix continues to travel and visit clients alongside the people on his team.
He enjoys being on the road.
“I don’t go out as the owner. I go to help train employees, to be a resource and help them use their knowledge to come up with a solution. It’s my favorite part of my day: Solving problems for clients and making their properties look cool in the process,” Alix says.
“You will see him out of the office more than you will see him behind his desk,” says Kandee Cole, Chief Administrative Officer.
Cole joined the company in 2009, helping to navigate GDU through the period after the Great Recession and is now guiding its growth.
She and Alix were married in 2015. They have a blended family with their boys Christopher, Ethan and Aden, all of whom have helped unload trucks at GDU and have worked on the phones, following up on leads.
With two of the boys in college and one in high school, they are heading into adulthood having been exposed to a business model that emphasizes truly personalized service.
“Relationships are more important to Scott than the bottom line, and he exhibits this daily,” Cole says. “Scott grew up in a Midwestern town where everything was done with a handshake. He really enjoys getting out there and seeing clients face to face.”
Alix prides himself in solving every client problem that has come his way—just as he did with emergency vaulted releases installed at a homeowners’ association property prone to electrical outages.
Alix is also proud of the awning windows that GDU began manufacturing after he couldn’t find anything like it on the market. He welcomed the opportunity to take on the challenge and create a solution. These awning windows consist of a single piece of glass with a tight seal. They flip up and out, so establishments like bars can serve drinks or restaurants can serve food orders onto adjoining countertops without the need for a latch or sliding tracks. Residential clients can use the windows, too, to join spaces for entertaining between kitchens and poolside areas, he says.
The concept for the awning window originated when a longtime client asked Alix for a product like it for his space, but it didn’t exist at the time. That was about two years ago. The predicament spurred research and development efforts at GDU.
“I brought in a welder, steel fabricator and engineer,” he says. Now GDU makes and ships about three awning windows a week globally and is still working to get the word out about the product. Alix sees awning windows as a division of his business with great potential.
“I feel like we are at the tip of the iceberg on where that is going to go,” he says.
As the awning window program continues to grow, GDU has made great strides in its referral partnerships through Costco Wholesale and Dixieline Lumber and Home Centers.
Alix developed a program for Costco 18 years ago where the retailer collects leads for contractors from shoppers in the stores. It’s now used across the country, he says.
“We are the only one still in the program in San Diego County,” he says. “We’re now exclusive special kiosk vendors for both Costco and Dixieline, which is pretty cool. We are proud of that,” Alix says. “They have helped broaden our client base.”
A broader client base means more challenges for Alix and his team to solve. For example, GDU completed historic renovations at San Diego’s Naval Air Station North Island, installing custom wood doors and custom gates at the Admiral’s Quarters and at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. The company has handled multiple affordable-housing community projects and even work at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, with awning windows installed in the Walkabout Australia kangaroo exhibit.
While bringing the artistry and functionality of GDU products to residential and commercial customers, the company is also dedicated to being environmentally conscious, reducing landfill waste where it can.
Renewal Through Reuse
GDU recycles materials it uses in its offices and the old doors it removes, Alix says.
All cardboard, paper and steel is picked up and transported to a recycling facility. Customers’ old doors are salvaged and donated to Habitat for Humanity, for use in homes in Tijuana, Mexico, or for local schools and churches, Alix says. The local fire department also makes use of old metal and wood doors, training new recruits on how to cut through them in case of a structure fire where quick entry is needed.
This waste-reduction commitment remains strong as GDU continues its awning-window production and looks forward to other manufacturing efforts in the future. Its vertical-lift doors are another innovation that shows Alix’s ability to develop unique solutions for customers.
While the creative side of the business is thriving, the company’s core business continues to perform very well. GDU has been an Amarr Platinum Dealer for high sales every year since 2005, Cole says. In 2016, it won a Marantec America Corporation Growth Award and is consistently a yearly Costco Nationwide Dealer in Top Sales.
Alix feels certain the company will continue to achieve and excel. A smart business model, a creative team and a penchant for innovation make GDU a company with a strong opportunity for further growth.