By Amy Flanigan, remodeling market manager
In the snowy suburbs of West Chicago lies the Masonite Innovation Center (MIC) – one of the world’s largest, private research and development facilities in the door industry.
A team of 60 scientists, industrial designers, mechanical engineers and lovers of all things Star Wars and llamas (among other things) work tirelessly to keep this behemoth 144,000 square foot facility running like a well-oiled machine. Collectively, these individuals bring a wide variety of experience to the table, ranging from expertise in tech and design, to careers of over 40 years in the building products industry. Although they come from different backgrounds and experiences, there’s one thing they all have in common – a passion and constant curiosity for imagining, designing and executing a better door.
In February, Sherry Winchester Schultz, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) of Greater Chicagoland, joined other members of the Chicago chapter of NARI for a tour of the MIC.
“Masonite has been around a very long time. Yet, many of us in the trades know next to nothing about the company. Tradespeople are always looking for a product that provides appealing form and superior function at a great price, and is made in the US,” says Schultz.
Masonite recognizes its responsibility to arm remodelers and builders with product knowledge and tools that help position them as resources to their customers. While the DIY revolution helped bolster the homebuilding category, making it fun and trendy to personalize a home, it also resulted in a severe lack of trust from homeowners towards trade professionals—why would I hire someone to do this for me when I can just watch a video on YouTube and do it myself? Remodelers and builders need the support of manufacturers like Masonite now more than ever to help build back that trust and reinforce themselves as the experts.
When a trade professional is making a product recommendation to a homeowner, what sets one apart from a competitor is being able to communicate the quality behind the brand and the story behind the product. Having a valid reason for choosing one brand over another makes all the difference in the world to a customer. Masonite wants every trade professional who uses their doors to understand the forward-thinking design, rigorous testing, high-quality craftsmanship, and attention to detail that goes into each and every one of its products, which is a story well-told when taking the tour of the MIC.
“The majority of NARI’s members understand that the integrity of a door is important to their work, so that they don’t get call-backs. But to see the depth and breadth of testing and craftsmanship that goes into creating each door would help them to make their clients understand why they need to consider more than just price when selecting their interior and exterior doors,” says Schultz.
Kayleen McCabe, licensed contractor, former TV host of DIY’s Rescue Renovation, and NARI brand ambassador, also joined the tour in February and was both impressed and surprised by the level of science and testing a door goes through at the MIC.
“Using quality products makes all the difference. Having that level of research and care from Masonite in these doors makes it well worth the investment,” says McCabe.
For McCabe, Masonite communicating the science that goes into building a better door not only helps professionals see the bigger picture, but it also helps the next generation get excited about the trades.
“We’re up against a perception that working in the trades is very unskilled and blue collar. I want to communicate that you can be a part of building a home in a variety of ways – it’s creating art. If we don’t encourage this next generation, we won’t have people to support our infrastructure, which is why it’s so important to encourage a mind shift of the trades.”
McCabe feels that exposing the younger generation to facilities, such as the MIC, will reinforce the message that working in the trades doesn’t always equate to swinging a hammer – you can be an industrial designer, a mechanical engineer or a material scientist with a doctorate degree and all work collaboratively under the same roof.
“Visibility is the first step toward introducing students to vocational careers. In addition to putting the onus on school districts to take vocational training more seriously, real-life examples of vocational success can help students realize that real, relatable, and successful adults work with their hands,” says McCabe.
Fifty percent of the employees at the MIC have over 10 years of experience in their field of expertise, while the other half are comprised of new talent from outside the door industry and the next generation, bringing a set of unique and targeted skills to the table.
With this bimodal distribution of experience, the MIC has stacked the deck with the best and brightest, holding true to Masonite’s blueprint—a company rooted in knowledge leadership, design integrity, and cutting-edge technology and innovation at its core.
With its message and mission being spread throughout influential organizations like NARI, the MIC plans to continue to innovate and grow alongside the ever-changing landscape of the building products industry, providing trade professionals with well-designed, high quality products for many years to come.
See for yourself. Take a walk through the Masonite Innovation Center in the latest video below.