With new-home construction still in the dumps, suppliers of components like windows and doors have been suffering.
One longtime local manufacturer, American Openings, has weathered the storm by focusing on different markets and expanding product offerings.
Founded in 1992, American Openings makes windows, doors and related trim at its south-side plant, and sells and installs its products across the region.
Before the housing-market collapse and recession, new-home construction comprised about half of the company's sales, said Tom Regina, founder and president of the family-run business.
Now, to keep its own doors open, the company is relying on multiunit construction - particularly apartments, student housing and apartments for seniors - and renovation work.
"There's a lot of rehab projects going on right now. That's one of the things that is creating a tremendous amount of work, especially in Albuquerque and Phoenix," Regina said, noting that many old apartments are being rehabbed to make them more energy-efficient.
"There's nothing else going on - single-family (residential) is just dead," he said.
Because of a large order backlog, the recession hit the company a year or two after many of its peers, said Regina, who has owned or co-owned with family members several door-and-window and other construction-related businesses since the 1970s.
Nevertheless, Regina said, his company saw a 20 percent drop in business in 2009 and flat sales last year, declining to divulge exact sales figures.
As the housing market began to seize up, the company came up with several designs for drop-in replacement windows, including one that avoids rebuilding stucco exterior walls and drywall.
The firm found a ready market for its products among homeowners and building owners looking to cut their energy use.
The company makes only insulated windows that comply with federal Energy Star standards, with two or three glass panes and special "low-emissivity," or low-e, coatings that block or seal in the sun's heat.
The pitch got easier when the federal government offered $1,500 tax credits for replacements with energy-efficient windows in 2009 and 2010. That credit has been cut to $500, but replacement is still a compelling proposition given the long-term energy savings energy-efficient windows can afford.
The credits helped drive demand for windows up 7 percent last year, after four years of precipitous declines, according to industry estimates.
It's a big market.
"We see windows that one of my family's factories made in the late '50s or early '60s, or the early to mid-'70s - that's half this town and half of Phoenix," Regina said.
American Openings is one of two window makers in Southern Arizona (the other is Solar Industries, which Regina formerly owned) and the biggest with its door operation. It is well-positioned to take advantage of the shifting market, including major multiunit projects.
In the firm's cavernous, 125,000-square-foot factory on Tucson's south side, stacks of window components - glass and aluminum and vinyl frames - await final sizing and assembly. The company employs about 120 people, including installers.
A robotic glass cutter adds speed and precision while keeping workers safe, while a robotic insulation machine wraps the edges of glass panes with special edge dividers, fills the void with argon gas and seals another pane on top.
At one work station, manufacturing supervisor Javier Mejia carefully aligns the frame of a large vinyl window in a contraption that seals the corner seams with heat.
During the process, a Teflon seal is added to keep the joint solid - a step other window makers don't take, said Keith Regina, Tom's son and vice president in charge of marketing at American Openings.
Mejia will turn around the large order from a Phoenix customer in just three days, Keith Regina noted.
And if something's not right, a new window can be made and shipped to the customer in a matter of hours, he said.
On the other side of the building, stacks of door blanks await shaping and finishing as the smell of sawdust fills the air. The company makes its basic solid-wood doors mainly from alder or oak, but has done custom work with cherry and other woods.
The doors - which can range from a few hundred dollars for a standard model to thousands for a custom-made double entrance - can be shipped or installed by the company, locks and all.
Such vertical integration - being able to design, build and install its products - helps American Openings beat competitors' prices for comparable products, Tom Regina said.
But it's the company's deep expertise and service that has kept longtime customers like Jamie Dawson, president of Tempe-based Merchant Construction.
"Frankly, having them in Arizona is a huge advantage from a delivery and organizational standpoint," said Dawson, who is currently using American Openings to supply windows for two multiunit complexes in the Phoenix area.
"They're a one-stop shop for us ... they're really good at what they do, and when they want to, they can be hard to beat," said Dawson, who has been using the Tucson company since the late 1990s.
Tom Regina credits much of the company's success to a staff of loyal workers - including general manager Brad White, who began working for Regina's companies as a teenager.
Turnover is nonexistent at the company, which pays an average hourly wage of $21 to $23, he said.
The company is now moving into mass-producing windows with "break-resistant" glass, also featuring advanced energy-saving coatings.
Such glass adds about $100 to a typical $200 window, but can repel all but the most determined burglars.
"That's the next big thing in windows," Tom Regina said, adding that the company is awaiting delivery of new equipment to handle the tough glass.
Made in Tucson
ABOUT THE SERIES
Made in Tucson is an occasional series about local companies that make things, how they're made and the people who make them.
If you'd like to have your company highlighted, or want to suggest a local manufacturer to be featured, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and use " Made in Tucson" in the subject line. Or call us at 573-4181.
Company at a glance
Company: American Openings Inc.
Address: 6885 E. Southpoint Road
Employees: About 120
Top executive: Tom Regina, president and owner
Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at email@example.com or 573-4181.