As a designer and manufacturer of steel doors and frames, De La Fontaine makes products that we use every day, and its mark is everywhere — including at the U.S. Pentagon, where its doors and frames were installed in early 2000.
Founded in 1968 in Sherbrooke, Que., De La Fontaine became known for being the first in the Eastern Townships to offer interior doors that had pre-assembled frames for easier installation. Today, the third-generation family business is led by Robert de La Fontaine, who succeeded his father as president in 1982, and Robert’s son Gabriel, who is general manager. It has five manufacturing sites in Canada and the U.S., the fifth having just opened earlier this year in Indianapolis, and the original Sherbrooke facility was renovated and expanded in 2016. That facility alone — which is still the company’s headquarters — now has more than 200 employees; with its other facilities, employees number 275.
The team also now serves more markets internationally, including in the Middle East and Latin America. “We often talk about how we can grow but stay small, flexible and agile at the same time,” says Gabriel de La Fontaine.
“Some customers get worried about the fact that we are growing in different regions and that they could lose the family sense, the proximity and intimacy. But we work hard to make sure that our business model, structure and governance keep us small, even though we are growing.”
To that end, in 2014, he implemented an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system that provided the company with better software that has more functionalities to track this growth. “That’s how the success of a family business happens,” he says. “Someone runs the first 100 miles, someone else runs the next 100 miles and now I’m running the 100 miles after that.”
De La Fontaine achieves that success by keeping the emphasis on providing convenience and quality service for their customers. The company’s product offering has grown to include doors and frames that come in a variety of specialty profiles, including sound-deadening to limit noise and windstorm durability for buildings in coastal areas.
“It all goes back to bringing value to the supply chain and to the customer and making a difference in the industry by giving them not only a one-stop shop but also efficient service,” says de La Fontaine.
Another example of the company’s leadership in the industry — born, in part, of a hope for the business to carry on for generations to come — is its dedication to sustainability. Having adopted a set of ecological principles, it is committed to recycling 100 per cent of its production waste. In fact, the total recycled content of its stainless steel is an impressive 85 per cent.
“The reason we are good at what we do is that we have the right people in the right places,” says de La Fontaine of his team. “They think like customers but act like owners. We value them more than anything, and we show it through everyday transparency and regular communication so they feel like they are always protected — like they are family.”