Sixty-two years ago, John Tormino borrowed $200 to start a business. His first product was a wood-frame storm door he built on the sidewalk outside his tiny shop. Tormino then went door to door in search of customers. After selling his prototype, he used the receipts to buy material for more doors.
Two years later, he moved to 102 N. Helena St. and ordered a sign that proudly proclaimed Tormino’s Sash & Glass. Today that vintage sign still serves as a beacon for anyone on a quest for hard-to-find windows and bargain-priced doors.
Tormino’s son runs the business, but his parents still come to work every day … except Wednesdays.
The business closes during the slow winter months. But John Jr. stopped by the chilly showroom to explain how Tormino’s Sash & Glass evolved, why it remains unique – and what’s so special about Wednesdays.
S-R: How do you describe your business?
Tormino: We specialize in doors and windows you can’t find anywhere else. We get a ton of business from the big home-improvement stores. Home Depot has me bring them boxes of business cards so they can give them to customers who need something they don’t carry.
S-R: When did you start working here?
Tormino: When I was 18. My dad wanted me to either become a dentist or pursue golf seriously. But two weeks after I graduated from Ferris, I joined the business.
S-R: When did you become the boss?
Tormino: It was very gradual – probably around the mid-’90s.
S-R: When did you become president of the company?
Tormino: Way before I became the boss.
S-R: What distinguishes this from other storefront businesses?
Tormino: Everything. For one thing, our unusual hours. We close for 2 ½ months in winter because we’re so busy the rest of the year that nobody gets a vacation.
S-R: And why are you closed Wednesdays?
Tormino: My dad started that in the late ’60s because he wanted to golf with his buddies. Most of them were doctors and they had Wednesdays off.
S-R: How come your business has no answering machine?
Tormino: I had an answering service one winter, and when I came back to work in March there were so many messages, I didn’t have time to return them.
S-R: Where do you get your doors and windows?
Tormino: Usually from manufacturers like Lumber Products (a Spokane Valley wholesale distributor). They’ll have custom high-end doors that maybe open to the left when they should have opened to the right. So they sell them to me at a deep discount.
S-R: What sort of deals can customers find here?
Tormino: Three months ago, I got a four-panel, 12-foot-wide sliding door – fir on the inside, black aluminum outside. It retailed for about $8,000, and I sold it for $2,000.
S-R: How has the business changed since the early days?
Tormino: In the ’50s, my dad worked almost exclusively with builders. Over the years, we started buying more bargain merchandise and reselling it, because the profit margin was a lot better. But we still special-order stuff for people. That’s about 30 percent of our sales.
S-R: What’s your business philosophy?
Tormino: I personally work with customers as much as possible. I want to show them what we have, make the deal with them and, if time allows, load it in their truck or trailer to make sure it’s safe.
S-R: How would you describe the ambience of your store?
Tormino: Eclectic. Some of the stuff has been here 50 years. If a customer brings in a part they want to replace, or a picture of a part, we’re very helpful. But our policy is, if you don’t have a sample, we can’t help you. It takes too long to hunt through 30 boxes of maybes.
S-R: Your store, your rules?
Tormino: Yep. In 1980, before smoking bans became popular, we had 17 no-smoking signs in our office. One day a big-time builder came in smoking a cigar and laid out a bunch of plans on the counter, and told my dad, “I need so many of these …” Twice my dad told him to take his cigar outside, and finally the guy said, “You want to sell me these doors and windows, or not?” My dad wadded up his plans, stuffed them in the guy’s chest and said, “Get out of here.”
S-R: What do you look for when hiring?
Tormino: A good work ethic and a willingness to learn. Three of my employees are work-release people. Two of them knew absolutely nothing about the business, and I trained them to do things the way I wanted. The third had window training before I hired him, and he’s taught me a ton. I thought I knew how to cut glass until I worked with him.
S-R: Has the recession affected your business?
Tormino: It’s affected big sales, but we’ve done a lot more weatherization with energy incentives and tax credits. We’ve sold as many windows, but we sell five windows to 1,000 people instead of 25 windows to 200 people.
S-R: What’s your favorite customer reaction?
Tormino: There’s two. When people say, “I can’t believe you had that.” Or when they say, referring to some old part, “I knew you’d have it, but I knew it would be expensive.”
S-R: Are some items expensive?
Tormino: Well, if it’s something you can’t get anymore and we’ve stored it for 40 years, it’s not expensive compared with having to replace something.
S-R: Businesswise, is there anything you wish you’d done differently over the years?
Tormino: I wish I’d had more patience with my father as he got older. My reaction to him not remembering something I thought he should remember – sometimes in front of customers – I wish I had done that differently.
S-R: Do you have any heroes?
Tormino: My dad. And my mom. He’s 84 and she’s 83, and they both come to work every day.
S-R: Will you work into your 80s?
Tormino: Yes, I love my job.
S-R: What will happen to the family business when you eventually quit?
Tormino: My girlfriend’s daughter, who’s only 4, says when she’s big, she’s going to organize this place.