December 1, 2012

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Article

Innovative and Invisible

Won-Door—a Great Utah Company You’ve Never Heard of

Peri Kinder

December 1, 2012

Courthouses, universities, subway stations, libraries, office buildings, assisted living centers and theaters around the world use the Won-Door system, which is accepted by the International Building Code to shelter occupants in case of fire or emergency, enhance the open space by eliminating swinging doors and barriers, and allow architectural creativity. The doors can also be computer monitored, can automatically alert fire or police officers and can shut down a specific area to isolate a threat.

“It doesn’t matter if the electrical goes out to the building. Each door has its own battery back-up system,” Smart says. “We’ve been able to save a lot of lives. People buy fire doors not because they want to, but because they have to.”

During a major fire at a Sacramento hospital, the Won-Door FireGuard closed off the cafeteria to contain the blaze. The entire cafeteria was destroyed but the building didn’t even have to be evacuated because the doors contained the smoke and fire.

Third-generation Innovation
Smart took over the business from his father in 1979 and, during the ‘80s, Won-Door was one of the first companies in the construction industry to create a network of company-owned and operated branches. Business was booming and in 1986, Smart sold the company to a business in California.

But the company got into financial trouble and in 1992 Smart was approached to see if he’d come back and run the business again. “I didn’t want to, but somebody had to come in and fix it,” he says.

Smart traveled across the country to the company’s six plants and met with all the employees from the managers to the janitorial staff. Without cutting any jobs, he was able to make the company economically strong enough to sell off part of it, but Smart and a partner bought back Won-Door and grew it into what it is today.

“There’s not a doctorate program I could have taken where I could have learned more about restructuring and reorganizing a business when you’re taking over a company in deep trouble,” Smart says. “I’d hate to go through it again.”

As the company moves forward, research and development continues as it improves on an already unique design. Constantly inventing leading-edge products, Won-Door’s upgrades over the last few years include a tighter fold so the doors take up less space within the walls, thermal lockout measures that won’t allow a door to open if there’s a fire or smoke danger on the opposite side, and more computer options for safety control.

“We’re always coming up with new and different things,” Smart says. “In the last three or four years we’ve been in the top 20 companies in Utah with the most patents.”

Part of the research talent comes from Smart’s son, Scott, who graduated from Brigham Young University with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. As Won-Door’s vice president of engineering, Scott Smart has had several job offers from high-profile firms such as ATK, but Smart would love to see Scott take over the reins of the company, although Scott is reluctant to commit to the position.

“He’s been the master designer of our new products,” Smart says. “He’s really the future of the company.”

Won-Door continues to grow and has several direct offices throughout the country and manufacturing plants in New Zealand and Argentina. During the recession, as other companies cut back on production, Won-Door was aggressive, testing new products as more people began recognizing the need for security.

For a company that started out small, making accordion partitions, Won-Door has changed the landscape of architecture, providing safety as iconic, elaborate building designs continue to evolve.

“We’re the greatest Utah company that nobody’s ever heard of,” Smart says. “Unless you’re involved with commercial construction, you just don’t know we exist.”

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