Re-View Windows Reflects Well on Kansas City
Brooks Gentleman discusses the benefits of operating a business in the country’s heartland
By Kelly Phillips
Twenty-five years ago, Kansas City was not considered a hotbed of historic preservation. That label was reserved for cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City, where many buildings date back to the 1700s. However, Re-View Windows, located just north of the river, plays a vital role in the preservation of historic landmark buildings such as the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals building in Washington, DC. And contractors and architects across the country have taken note.
Re-View, owned by Brooks Gentleman and Todd Maxwell, specializes in preserving the unique architectural and historic properties of a building by restoring or manufacturing wood or steel windows that remain true to the building’s original design. Old windows can often be salvaged during a preservation project. Re-View fabricates or refurbishes windows using the same materials, joinery, finishes, and hardware as the originals. It’s a niche business that many are surprised to discover in the heart of the Midwest.
How did such a specialized business wind up in Kansas City? Gentleman says it was a natural progression for him. A native of Des Moines, IA, he moved to Kansas City after spending seven years working for Dun & Bradstreet in Dallas, TX. He was ready to move back to the Midwest and was interested in a city that was big enough to sustain an entrepreneurial venture but that still had the home-town feel he grew up with in Des Moines. Kansas City fit the bill.
Gentleman purchased the local Pella Windows distributorship in 1990, and within three years, recognized a need for custom wood windows built to satisfy the requirements of a historic preservation project. At the time, Pella did not have the ability to manufacture windows that were outside the current product line. Attempting to satisfy this need led to Gentleman’s first preservation project: Kansas City’s historic Union Station. “We didn’t really know what we were doing at the time, but I said yes anyway,” says Gentleman. “We ended up having so much fun that we decided to aggressively pursue more business in the historic window preservation arena.”
Re-View grew quickly and went nationwide shortly thereafter. Today, the company works on commercial landmark buildings where the historical integrity of the building is at stake. Gentleman and Maxwell still keep the business close to home with projects like the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, Webster House, and the new J. Rieger Distillery, but they also work on projects across the country, including state capitol buildings in Idaho, Minnesota, and Virginia; City Center Temple in Provo, UT; and the Oregon State Hospital, known by many as the hospital where the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed.
Gentleman attributes much of the company’s success to its location. “My experience owning a business in Kansas City has been so positive that I really can’t imagine locating the business anywhere else. Today most of our business is not in Kansas City. Since we’re a national company, being in the center of the United States helps geographically by providing quicker access to the markets we work in…It allows us to more easily compete with companies that are bigger than we are. Being located in the middle of the country gives us a competitive advantage and is a real plus for the business.”
Owning a business in Kansas City has other advantages. Not only is real estate less expensive here, but Gentleman notes that the local banking community is very supportive of new business – something not often found in larger cities. “Kansas City has a very healthy local banking environment. There are banks here that respect the integrity and passion of the owners and spend the time to understand the concept and the business model that they’re considering investing in.”
When Re-View first began bidding projects nationally, established players in the industry were surprised. For the first few years, Gentleman says they were questioned intensely on every job they went after. There were many who couldn’t fathom a historic window manufacturer in Kansas City having the necessary knowledge and capability to compete successfully. But compete they do, and today it’s not uncommon for them to get a call from a general contractor with a specific job in mind. Re-View has earned a reputation for quality and expertise that’s unmatched in the industry.
Gentleman says it’s been fun to break through the barriers and somewhat snobbish attitudes of East Coast competitors by winning jobs from them. “It’s fun to compete with someone on their own terms and win because you’re better at what you do,” he says. “We take pride in that.”
Re-View often hosts visitors to Kansas City. Contractors, architects, and state historic preservationists need to get comfortable with the notion that two guys in the middle of the country know what they’re doing when it comes to historic window manufacturing. They’re always surprised by what they find when they tour the shop: the latest in technology and machinery, best-in-class processes, and top-notch employees who understand the business.
Locating the business in Kansas City was the right decision, says Gentleman. “I would encourage people to give Kansas City a good look for a new business or expansion of an existing business. We have an amazing talent pool, affordable real estate, a financial community that’s cooperative and understanding, substantial entrepreneurial support, and a solid community that’s a great place to live and raise a family. If you’re starting a business and want to attract and retain employees, it’s much easier when the community is the kind of place where someone can set down roots.”
As Re-View Windows continues to put Kansas City on the map in a niche industry, Gentleman looks forward to impressing the next group of out-of-town visitors with his state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. That, and a little Kansas City barbecue. He laughs. “No matter where they’re from, they always want Kansas City barbecue when they visit.”