Star Tribune Article- July, 2008

Posted February 14, 2010 @ 4:28pm | by Sy

Given its four syllables and 13 letters, Sy Phandanouvong’s last name does not exactly trip off the tongue of this small-town Midwesterner. Better we should call him by the moniker for which the Laotian immigrant is best known hereabouts: Sy the Window Guy.

It’s a name well-earned by an entrepreneurial gent who specializes in repairing and replacing windows and doors in vintage homes where preserving architectural details is a priority.

Welcome to SP Custom Carpentry & Windows, a seven-year-old Burnsville business that includes a manufacturing arm for a patented storm window that Phandanouvong, 43, developed to offer what his business card calls "the look of history, the convenience of today!"

The development, a wooden frame on the outside with an aluminum combination window hidden inside, was the product of a 4 a.m. brainstorm in 2003. The innovation includes a window that can be removed easily for cleaning,

It was a key factor in a growth spurt that hoisted revenue from about $100,000 in 2002 to nearly $550,000 last year.

That works out to an eye-fetching compound annual growth rate of 40 percent, a trend that Phandanouvong said probably will end this year because of the economic slowdown and the cool spring.

The "wood-surround aluminum combination storm window," as Phandanouvong’s flagship product is called on his Patent No. 7,237,365, also was an important factor in his qualifying recently to bid on contracts for Phase II of the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s aircraft noise abatement program.

The approval doesn’t guarantee a contract, but "meeting the standards and being accepted" adds up to important exposure, Phandanouvong said.

To Steve Green, a construction manager with the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corp., however, noise containment isn’t the only feature of Phandanouvong’s windows that he regards as important. There’s also the tightness that’s built into the design.

"Nobody can beat Sy’s windows for energy-efficiency as well as sound reduction," said Green, who had 30 years’ experience as a window installer before joining the nonprofit housing corporation. "And they’re built to last, because they’re designed to handle the moisture that develops with tight windows."

The wood-surround storm window isn’t the only product of Phandanouvong’s nocturnal brainstorming. After a customer complained early last year that the vinyl interior jamb liners on his windows tended to bend and crack and were difficult to paint, Phandanouvong was jolted awake with another inspiration.

He repaired to his workshop and came up with a wood jamb liner (patent pending) that is set in an aluminum track and can be stained or painted to match existing trim. Then he added a double-hung interior sash replacement kit to offer a total package for window repair and/or replacement.

"He has a keen understanding of older homes and an impressive eye for architectural detail," said Mike Vanderscheuren, a satisfied Sy the Window Guy customer and a small-business consultant who has signed on to help Phandanouvong promote his company.

The two met when Vanderscheuren discovered serious wood rot in the window casings of his southwest Minneapolis home, a problem that several salesmen offered to fix with expensive replacements.

Then Phandanouvong showed up with his clipboard and a tape measure and presented a solution that focused on repair and preservation of existing windows and was significantly less expensive, Vanderscheuren said.

From Laos to carpentry

Born in Laos in 1964, Phandanouvong came to the United States in 1979 with his father, who had bartered his way out of a concentration camp by turning his home over to a guerrilla group that helped him escape.

Although he had little experience with carpentry, Phandanouvong learned the trade on the assembly line of a manufacturer of vinyl windows, as manager of a line of custom-designed, specially shaped windows and as foreman for a company that supplied window manufacturers with specially bent vinyl products.

A job with a company that repaired and replaced windows on older homes pointed the way to SP Custom Carpentry, which he started in his garage in 2001. That’s where he stayed until the introduction of his wood-surround storm window. The success of new product encouraged him to risk a second mortgage on his home and lease and equip a warehouse to manufacture the windows.

All of which is a lengthy stride away from his original career objective. After graduating from Rosemount High School in 1985, Phandanouvong signed up for an aviation mechanics program at Hennepin Technical College. But he quit in disgust after six of his Laotian classmates were turned away from potential jobs.

It was not to be his last taste of anti-immigrant feeling and racial prejudice.

"At least 10 times a year, [potential clients] will call and when they hear my accent, they end the call and I never hear from them again," Phandanouvong said.

"Sometimes it makes you feel sad; I think I have a great product to share with homeowners, if they’d only get to know me."

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