Hope’s Windows is to steel windows and doors what Coca Cola is to soft drinks. They are the brand by which all the other manufacturers of steel windows are compared.
After being a Hope’s agent in the NYC area for about 16 years, I came to understand the company from the inside out. Several truths come to mind as I analyze what makes them so ubiquitous.
- Years in Business
- Product Quality
- Industry Support
- Short Memories
Years in Business
This is a complicated story because their history overlaps with Crittall Windows of the UK. Without getting too far into the weeds, the Henry Hope company is a precursor in the UK dating back to the earliest days of hot-rolling steel bars in 1818. They set up distribution in Jamestown, NY in the early 1900’s and after some ownership changes the factory that is today called Hope’s Windows is still in the old facilities.
Several other U.S. rivals came into the market, but few are still alive today. Hope’s products were taught in architectural schools and their standard sizes and configurations were then adopted by the industry. There is something to be said for being around a long time beyond that you are just plain old.
Overall the product that Hope’s has produced is of the highest quality in the industry. Many of the advances in distribution, finishing, weatherstripping, and packaging came from or were promoted by Hope’s.
I was also an installer for Hope’s for the years I sold their products, so I also understand that they are not perfect. My field guys would complain regularly that the mullion holes did not match the sashes, glazing beads did not fit up nicely and other irregularities. As an industrial engineer, I also understand that the archaic engineering and layout procedures that they employed were hard to control.
Steel windows went from being mass produced in standard sizes in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, to being used in unique private residences where almost every window was custom sized. When shop drawing were finally approved, they needed to be hand “detailed” with every bar being dimensioned with the respective holes called out. That detailing paper was then used to hand mark the actual bars for hole punching, one-by-one. It is more a miracle that as many things came out right as they did.
Hope’s has always had stunning photography for their more dramatic projects. Their marketing brochures and their website have always lead the field. When an architect is trying to defend their decision to spend multiple times more for a Hope’s windows to make his design work, they better be fueled with great examples of how this vision is likely to turn out.
Architecture is largely visual, and pictures sell.
The Steel Window Institute is the association of hot-rolled steel window and door manufacturers. It was single-handedly established by Frank Farrell the president and owner of Hope’s Windows, until his death a few years ago. Hope’s has always provided most of the financial support for the organization.
In the 70’s and 80’s, aluminum windows were kicking the butts of steel windows with thermal technology and much lower prices. The aluminum guys had the AAMA where more recently the second “A” morphed from Aluminum to Architectural. Banding together to tout the merits of steel windows became very important.
Later, formed-steel sections started coming into the country from Europe to compete with hot-rolled steel bars. Again, the issue was one of cost and they were considerably cheaper and faster to manufacture. Hope’s lead the effort at the SWI to keep formed-steel sections out of the association and fought to keep architect’s from allowing specifications calling for hot-rolled steel sections from allowing formed-steel ones.
Interestingly, Optimum Windows is currently a member of the SWI and they were pushing formed-steel windows as hot-rolled in the NYC market and Frank Farrell was quite upset. Optimum went on to make hot-rolled steel windows and doors as well and now have feet planted on both sides of the argument.
When I took over the NYC territory for Hope’s in 1990, there were two things that needed to change, communication and delivery reliability
I positioned my people and I between the architects, contractors and Hope’s personnel. Loving Hope’s as I did, I realized they were largely dysfunctional and used the “well you didn’t tell me that (fill in the blank here with things like muntin alignment, etc.) was important to you.” We took the consulting approach of assuming responsibility for making sure that the architect’s intent was understood and clearly communicated to the Hope’s engineers. We saved a lot of heartache and headache that way.
The thing that we were not able to solve was the delivery failures. Hope’s has always had just about the longest production cycle in the world. In good times they would ship in 16-18 weeks after all the shop drawing approvals were complete. With the slowness of the engineering department to produce shop drawings and misinterpretation of architectural intent. The shop drawing process could go on for months with redraws and delays.
That is when the real fun would come. On way too many occasions we would make a call to the production control team at Hope’s around week 16 to confirm the actual shipping day only to be told that it wouldn’t ship for another 4-5 weeks. Vitriol would commence from the architect, owner, and contractor to little or no avail.
At the end of the day, the architect who had stuck their neck out to push for this most expensive of all window and door solution was embarrassed and in some cases, fired over the failure to live up to expectations. The architect would swear that they would never, ever specify Hope’s products again. Almost every one of them came back to Hope’s within a few years. I have no idea how they did it other than their competitors were so poor.
Is there life after Hope's
I was disassociated from Hope’s in 2004 and represented other companies and designed other products that I have taken to the market. 2Fold® Doors has all my attention these days. It is a better steel window and door system made from hot-rolled steel sheets and it delivers quickly in about 8-10 weeks in most cases with better thermal insulation.
We always make sure that the architect’s intent is understood and that exactly what the product can do and can’t do is understood by all concerned. Our shop drawings process starts with the first phone call with only a single chain of command in the communications loop. Our production team is on the ball and lives up to their commitments. Both our product and the experience of getting them are first rate . . . every time.