Cincinnati-based home improvement company Champion Windows & Home Exterior has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a small, family-owned business founded by in 1953 by Alvin Levine and Arthur Stevens. In the past three decades, Champion has seen a staggering period of high growth, expanding its operations across thirty-six states and serving over thirty thousand customers a year. Now owned by a private equity firm, the company is poised for continued growth.
But that kind of growth doesn’t always go smoothly. According to chief financial officer Eric Sweitzer, Champion was very decentralized during its periods of highest growth, which made it hard to scale. As such, Sweitzer spent the past few years drawing from his expertise within the finance function to lead his team to support Champion’s finance department and system implementations.
Before he was CFO, Sweitzer had worked with Champion in 2012 and 2013 as interim CFO while employed as a consultant for corporate restructuring firm Development Specialists Inc. (DSI). After spending some time at Champion as interim CFO, Sweitzer eventually took on the role full-time in 2015, and he’s been there ever since.
One of the biggest problems with scalability, Sweitzer notes, came from having insufficient levels of infrastructure in the numerous new locations Champion opened throughout their boom years in the 1990s and 2000s. “The company wasn’t standardized in its processes, as a lot of companies struggle with initially,” he explains.
As such, Sweitzer and his team have been hard at work on what they call ‘division support’, which involves standardizing and automating or centralizing much of the administrative work the company does in support of its retail consumers. “We’re kind of three business rolled up into one”—manufacturing, selling, and installing their own home exterior products, from windows to sunrooms to exterior doors and more, he says. “Champion is complex business, lots of activities to coordinate and standardize.”
Sweitzer and his team have organized the division support process into several major stages, starting in 2012 and 2013, when he partnered with the Champion IT department and external IT partners to put in SQL databases and extract, transform, and load (ETL) tools, among other technology solutions. They built solutions to pull information from disparate data sources and decentralized databases, aggregated them, and created consistent reporting structures so they could consolidate their financial information.
“That’s a big piece of it, just engaging and trusting the other leaders, knowing you have each other’s backs.”
One of Sweitzer’s greatest allies in this division support process is Champion VP of IT Dave Hofmeister, who came into the company around the same time he did and whose manufacturing and operations background makes him a strong advocate for this approach.
“He gets both sides of the business—operations and IT—and has done a tremendous job,” Sweitzer says. Together, they implemented several solutions including an accounting system (Microsoft Dynamics AX), payroll system (Automatic Data Processing,) and centralized accounts payable process among others, for all fifty-plus locations.
Such an immense project makes use of all of Sweitzer’s years of experience in corporate finance and accounting functions. One of his most useful areas of expertise is technology. “I’m not an IT professional, but I’ve always been interested in data management and what tools you can use to do that more efficiently,” he explains. That level of interest, from both him and Hofmeister, has fueled Champion’s move toward standardized software platforms like CRM, ERP, and business intelligence tools.
Furthermore, Sweitzer credits his experience in various facets of business with his varied approach to maximizing Champion’s efficiency. “I get to see what everybody else is doing, and how customers flow across the organization,” he remarks. “I’ve kind of got a cool seat.” Sweitzer uses that vision to assist those in other departments through his cross-functional approach.
But Sweitzer acknowledges that he is not a monolith. Much of their success has been due to the way he’s worked with his team and his fellow leaders at Champion like manufacturing VP Brett Gantz, who has had an impressive career in both the tier one automotive supply chain and more recently as a leader at Nike and has further shaped Sweitzer’s approach.
“You’re upsetting how things have always been done. And you try to let [employees] know what’s coming, why it’s being done, and let them be a part of the solution.”
Every Friday, he, Hofmeister, and Gantz get together in his office to talk about the challenges they’re having and solve them together. “That’s a big piece of it,” Sweitzer notes, “just engaging and trusting the other leaders, knowing you have each other’s backs.”
That level of trust is paramount for Sweitzer, especially in a role where he’s helping change so many processes that have been standard at Champion for decades. “You’re upsetting how things have always been done,” he explains. “And you try to let [employees] know what’s coming, why it’s being done, and let them be a part of the solution. You have to build a solid team that can make decisions on their own (while aided by standardized processes) and quickly react to the needs of the customer. That’s the secret sauce that makes organizations go.”
Despite all the work they’ve done so far, Sweitzer stresses that the journey is far from over. “There’s always more to do,” he says. At this point in the process, they’re halfway through implementing CRM software in all of their locations, and will complete the ERP implementation for all three of their product lines this year. “By the end of this year, we’ll have the head connected to the tail to better serve every new customer that comes to Champion.”