Chris Cardillo is one of three owners of Castle Windows, a New Jersey-based corporation specializing in replacement windows and doors, is considered one of New Jersey’s most successful entrepreneurs. Cardillo started at Castle unloading trucks part-time, and by the time he turned 28, he bought out the company and turned it into what it is today – a multi-million-dollar business that continues to flourish into one of the largest window companies in the nation.
Cardillo was inspired by his father’s success as a sales manager for Castle Windows. The two spent long days together, where he became intimately familiar with the product line. Cardillo also found that he loved talking to people and educating them about Castle Windows and all it had to offer. For Cardillo Jr., talking about Castle Windows was so much more than a job but an opportunity to save the people he met money and increase the value of their homes. When Cardillo Sr. was given the opportunity to open a Castle franchise in New Jersey, Chris immersed himself more into the business that would eventually become his.
He went on to study business marketing at Rowan University. His professors told him that his focus on windows was too narrow, but Cardillo knew that there was no plan B. Windows was his future. Cardillo put his education into practice as he climbed up the ladder at Castle Windows, he soon proved his worth as a leader in the sales management team. In 2005, the retiring Cardillo Sr. sold the franchise to Chris and his partner Nick Cardillo.
Beginning with only a loose conglomerate of independent offices, the two owners negotiated the purchase of all the Castle Windows branches throughout the entire northeast. Castle Windows is now the sixth-largest home-improvement company in the country with offices from New Hampshire to Florida and in Michigan. Castle Windows has been installing windows for over 4 decades with over a million windows sold. It was named Best Window Company by South Jersey Magazine and Best Executive Team by Smart CXO Magazine.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Chris to discuss his journey to entrepreneurship and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
I have had one career my entire life. My father was a window salesman when we lived in Pittsburgh Pa. We didn’t have babysitters so I would spend a good bit of time during the summers riding along with my father on sales calls. I saw that when my father made a sale, the homeowners would thank him. I loved everything about selling products and working with people. I could demonstrate a window by the time I was 11. Science projects consisted of measuring the energy efficiency of glass, marketing reports were tailored to the building industry and as a young adult, my summer vacations consisted of unloading trucks and installing windows. By the time I graduated high school my father was given the chance to run a Castle Windows, which at the time was an independent franchise. Several years later, my brother Nick and I along with another partner at the time purchased the local branch and then eventually consolidated all the individual branches under one roof.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
Initially, we began expansion by breaking into fresh markets from the ground up. However, after realizing the immense investment of time, we moved to a strategy of acquiring existing businesses and converting them to our business practices. As of today, our expansion typically comes from entrepreneurs or business owners who seek us out and we essentially streamline their businesses for maximum efficiency or incubate their business operations.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
None of them. We use them for the sole purpose of communicating needs to existing clients. We do not find them to be effective in terms of advertising.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
Our advertising is scored on direct response marketing return. Don’t get me wrong, we have done everything from a full marketing sponsorship package with the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to charity drives. We have even given away a houseful of windows at a hockey game. However, we do not rely on brand awareness. For each marketing avenue, we calculate the total budget spent against the revenue generated. We base our business model off of a matrix of percentages, and then work to keep them in line.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
We rely heavily on in-home sales representatives to transfer information about the company and the products. Our unique selling proposition is our lifetime warranty. We cover everything on the product for the life of the home even if you sell your home. It’s pretty much no questions asked. Our size and stature in the industry allow us to buy through economies of scale and pass that savings to the client. The result is that we feel we offer the best quality product for the fairest price.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
Marketing and advertising is a moving target. The vehicles that work in the first year, do not work in subsequent years. When I first started with Castle, direct mail was king: newspapers, magazines, and shared mail. Print media is all but dead now. Before my arrival, it was telephone work. Today, it’s all digital and relationship touchpoints. In the past, this cycle would change every 5 to 10 years. The digital marketing landscape changes monthly. The important thing that you must consider is your ability to deliver a message that communicates a client’s needs and how to solve them.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
The COVID time frames were difficult to navigate from a compliance perspective. We work across a dozen states each with a different set of guidelines that were changing daily. We wanted to make sure that we complied with all of the laws, but also offered communication with the clients. Ultimately, we decided to move all of the office staff to a work-from-home format. The sales team also worked remotely entirely through sales presentations. We had always wanted to attempt to do this, but we were forced to do so and it was highly effective.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
Well, we had an employee who stole half a million from us so that wasn’t fun. In business, you have to watch everything. You cannot assume that companies will bill you correctly, or provide the service they agreed to. You cannot even assume that marketers will place all your ads. You cannot assume that a system that you put into place in the first month will continue to run the same in the second. You have to check ev-er-ry- thing. Otherwise, you will and I certainly have lost money by neglecting to keep an eye on everything.
What new business would you love to start?
I would love to have a full-service historic home restoration service. I love looking at old buildings, schools, and houses and think about what I would do to restore them to their original glory. I have a strange hobby of browsing residential and commercial real estate sites.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
There is not much that I regret. We don’t allow setbacks to shake us. Everything is a learning process.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
There is a small crystal trophy in our board room that says “Speed of the Boss, Speed of the Crew.” Watching my father’s insane work ethic as a kid was the thing that best prepared me (and my brother for success). He would work 7 days a week and only took off for Christmas. In college, I wasn’t the smartest person, but no one outworked me, so I was always at the top of the class. I took this into my career realizing that all I had to do was out work the next person or next company. Additionally, your co-workers will follow your lead. If you slack off, they slack off or if you have a day you are allowed to be sick, then they are as well. They will follow your pace, so maintain the pace at all times.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Find a mentor. I would learn from someone else in the field first. If you don’t have a good real-world understanding of your business, then you will get slaughtered and pay a huge learning curve. You should go find someone running a business that you would like to open and be very upfront with them that you would like to learn from them. Work for less than your value if you need to for this person. Let them guide you until you are ready to jump out of the nest and fly on your own.