Photo by Tracy ShilobritSam Dunlap & Claire Kelley
By Tracy Shilobrit
When you’re in need of a new garage door, or someone to repair your current garage door, it’s usually a fairly urgent need due to something breaking and your cars being stuck on the wrong side of that door. For many, the answer is as familiar as the commercial jingle we’ve been hearing for years, “Don’t think twice, call Geis.”
The Hinkes/Dunlap family has owned Geis Building Products since 1955 and is currently transitioning to its fourth generation of leadership, as duties are now being shifted to Sam Dunlap and Claire Kelley, the children of current president, Marcy Dunlap. The transition began last year when Marcy’s brother, Dan Hinkes, retired, and the goal is to complete the transition by the company’s 70th anniversary in 2025.
Interestingly, Geis was the name of the original owner Sam and Claire’s great grandparents bought the business from, and they have never changed it. Mr. Geis was building garage doors, unironically, in his garage and their great grandparents took the business to the next level. They had a full line of garage door manufacturing through the 1970s that they installed and serviced. Then, the company transitioned out of manufacturing to focus on the installation and service side of the business. Based in Brookfield, Geis Building Products now sells a wide variety of commercial and residential garage doors, as well as garage and home shelving solutions and garage door openers and accessories.
Currently, Sam is mainly responsible for operations management – working with the installation/repair team in the field – and providing quotes to builders and retail customers, among other duties. Claire’s role is more in flux as she is picking up more administrative responsibilities. “I’m training a new commercial salesperson to take over those responsibilities and then I’ll be heading into more of the financial end of the business,” said Claire. “I’ve done the majority of the different office jobs except for scheduling over the years, which is good training.” The siblings are focused on absorbing their uncle’s former duties now and will begin lightening Marcy’s role next as they add the right staff to take over specific duties.
“The transition is going pretty well,” said Sam. “Most of our challenges have been finding the correct people to staff our office, but we’ve been relatively successful doing that, and now it’s just a matter of getting people trained and ready to go.”
The company currently has 35 employees, with about 15 of those working in the field providing service and installation to customer across Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine and Walworth Counties. They also have several dedicated subcontractors they call in when needed, most of whom are trusted former employees.
“New construction is probably 30% of our business, replacement doors is about 15% and service of existing doors is another 30%,” said Sam. “The remainder is wholesale sales to builders and other garage door companies that purchase their materials from us, as well as the shelving business. Our competition is friendly because they get the material from us.” He added, “We go through about 6,500 garage doors per year.”
Claire and Sam grew up in the business, starting in high school in various jobs. Claire started working at Geis full time in 2012 after going to school for engineering and deciding it wasn’t a good fit. She said, “I started bartending for a while and there was an opening at Geis and my mom said, ‘well, why don’t you try it?’, so I did and it just kind of stuck. Eventually, after I started having kids, I decided we should move back to this area from Madison because I realized I’m not going to quit.” She added that her four-year-old is very interested in garage doors, so there could be a fifth generation coming.
Sam started working at Geis as a summer job before his freshman year of high school through his college years at Whitewater before he transitioned to a full-time employee. And the rest is history, as they say.
The company’s reputation for providing great service is built on a few key elements. The first is employee longevity. “Over half of our employees are very long tenured and there is minimal turnover, said Sam. “We have four or five installers who have been with us for over 20 years and our carpenter has been here since 2006.”
Claire added, “There’s an expectation that we put forward with our employees to provide high quality service and customer satisfaction. We pride ourselves in being fair and charging a fair price, and we also provide a full year warranty on new doors and a 90-day service warranty.” She continued, “We’re not one of those companies that pays their employees based on what they sell in the field – they’re not commission based like some of our competitors – which I think helps keep everyone focused on service as the priority.”
What’s next for Geis Building Products
Sam and Claire agreed that there is room for growth, due to the market demand for their products and services. They may consider expanding toward the Madison area or toward Illinois, as they are already stretching as far north as Fond du Lac and Sheboygan on occasion. If they were to expand, Claire said they would need another location, especially for warehouse space because they have capacity limits at their Brookfield headquarters.
What’s the best thing about being the fourth generation to lead Geis Building Products? Sam said, “Our legacy. Not many companies make it to the fourth generation, so I think that’s pretty cool. I remember coming here as a kid when my grandfather was still the owner. It’s going on 35 years later and we’re still working and still successful.”
Claire agreed, “I think one of the best things to me is to have a company that we’re proud of and want to be a part of and keep in the family. We have a good foundation, and we believe in what we’re selling. There’s also the added pressure of being the fourth generation and carrying on that legacy.”
Both Sam and Claire agreed that having the right people in place is the most critical element to their future success. And they’re always looking for more field technicians to install and repair those garage doors, so if you know anyone mechanically inclined who likes a little variety in their work, tell them to call Geis. No experience required. They offer a company vehicle and a flexible schedule, and your day might include working on projects like the Bucks Entertainment District or helping out a family that is very grateful they can finally get the car out of the garage.
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