The Art of the Turnaround
Glen Blickenstaff fashions himself as something of a turnaround artist —and he’s well within his rights.
Getting his start in the late 90s as the founder of two HR companies geared toward troubleshooting problems at other businesses, he eventually found himself as a consultant to organizations on the brink of collapse. The list of those he’s rescued ranges from credit unions to construction firms, and, in 1999, he led the privatization of the Birmingham Zoo, running its operations for nearly a year.
So when the Iron Door Company, an Alabaster, Ala.-based seller of wrought iron doors, asked him to step in as CEO, he didn’t bat an eye. He had already been consulting the company’s board of investors for several months, and they needed him—badly. Iron Door was half a million dollars in debt, and had just released its previous CEO.
“When I walked in here, it was clear: Tie a bow on it, it’s done,” Blickenstaff says. “I remember telling my wife that I was going to accept the opportunity, and she looked at me and said, ‘Really?’”
But, having previously turned around eight other organizations, Blickenstaff brushed off his shoulders and got to work, setting his focus on reviving the company’s one, single lifeline: an idle, year-and-half-old distribution contract with The Home Depot. The retail giant, he says, had threatened to turn to other companies with similar products.
“Having an unexecuted contract that had no performance behind it was not going to be a good story,” Blickenstaff says. Utilizing a $150,000 investment from Iron Door’s board, as well as a bridge loan he provided, Blickenstaff first set out to rebuild the distribution model of the contract. Because of the high-end nature of the company’s products—the average retail price for one of its doors is $5,000—the original store selection, he says, was all wrong. So he began strategically selecting store locations near upper-class residential areas, which, by capitalizing on retrofitting trends, also helped the company fend off the housing crisis. The company invested about $6,000 in each store to build displays to market the product, and by the end of 2008, Iron Door had rolled out its products to 17 stores in the southeast area of the U.S.
“Everybody knows that Home Depot is the biggest guy on the block,” Blickenstaff says. “What they were offering us was store traffic, which we knew could get some attention for the product.” Following a larger rollout in Home Depot’s West Coast locations, the distribution deal now accounts for 55 percent of Iron Door’s annual revenue, which has grown from $100,000 to more than $2 million in just three years. Blickenstaff also helped boost the company’s growth by orchestrating the acquisition of another door manufacturer, Castle Entries, in 2009. (Iron Door sells directly to consumers through the Castle Entries brand, while the doors distributed exclusively by The Home Depot are marketed as “Monterrey Doors”).
Blickenstaff also credits part of Iron Door’s turnaround to the decisions he made to lay off certain employees—partly to save money by outsourcing Iron Door’s installation operations to another company, but also to save team morale. Blickenstaff says he’s the only person still with the company since he started in 2008.
“Having the right people is important,” he says. “A lot of people were not willing to make the sacrifices that were going to be necessary to make it happen.”
Today, business is booming for Iron Door. But despite all he’s done for the company, Blickenstaff says his proudest moment occurred last year, when Iron Door snagged Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, daughter of the 11th Duke of Marlborough and supposed generational cousin of Winston Churchill, as a designer for a line of the company’s doors. “I got to meet British royalty,” Blickenstaff says. “In Alabama, we call that walking in tall cotton.”