Vermont roots and years of experience keep this entrepreneur going
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
After decades of working in building products sales, Dale Dingler opened his New Haven company, Vermont Building Supply LLC, in 2007.
It doesn’t take long in Dale Dingler’s presence to observe that he’s a rare individual: a pragmatic man who appears to be completely happy with his life. For example, asked if he had any regrets when the economy tanked just after he took the plunge and started his own business in 2007, he replies, “My business was new for me, so there was only one way my sales could go.”
Others were worried, though. “An awful lot of people said, ‘Oh, boy! You chose a bad time to do it.’ But here I come in with lower overhead right in the middle of my marketplace where most of the other competition are coming in from out of state. Service is everything, especially in this business.”
As the owner of Vermont Building Supply LLC, a New Haven wholesale company that provides vinyl windows and doors manufactured by Simonton, plus millwork and supplies, to independent lumber dealers in the state, Dingler knows his marketplace. “It’s all I’ve ever done,” he says.
In 1977, about a year after graduating from high school, the Essex native took a job driving a tractor-trailer for Johnson Building Materials, a window wholesaler in Burlington. A little over five years later, he moved to inside sales for the company. “I’ve been in sales ever since.”
He worked in Johnson’s sales office for about six months, then followed his manager, Duncan Rollason, who had launched his own business on U.S. 7 in Middlebury. “That’s how I ended up down on this end of the state,” Dingler says.
He bought an old Victorian house in the middle of Bristol and settled in. He worked with Rollason for the next 17 years, until 1996, when Rollason retired and Dingler found himself back in the market for a job. The difference was that he now had a growing family to support. In 1988, he had married Deborah Ayres, and by ’96, they were raising two young children.
For the next 10 years, Dingler sold for Huttig Building Products, a Hooksett, N.H., wholesaler. “At that point,” he says, “I just kind of decided — took probably the next four months off — to put things together to start my own business. Vermont Building Supply opened January 1, 2007.”
Going out on his own was somewhat easy, he says, “because I’d done it all my life.” “Easy” is a matter of definition. Dingler works what he calls “mega hours,” starting his days at 6 a.m. and leaving around 9 at night.
“When I started the business, I did it all — bought it, sold it, built it — and that’s still the process.” Over the years, he’s had part-timers come and go. He hired a full-time employee earlier this year, and a bookkeeper works part time.
“One of the keys to getting through these harder times is low overhead,” he continues. “I keep mine as low as I can, although the business has grown and grown and grown. I could have had a full-time employee three years ago, but I’m somewhat of a controller, I guess.”
A big advantage is the fact that he and his customers and their employees have been colleagues for years. “I can’t speak for how it is in other states, but in Vermont, it seems that when people get into the building business, they’re there for life,” says Dingler, who adds that a lot of lumber yards in Vermont remain independent, family-owned businesses.
“I grew up with a lot of these guys. Anybody who’s done business with a certain yard for a number of years, they’re still dealing with the same people they dealt with years ago.”
One such customer is D.J. Noel at Sticks and Stuff in St. Albans. “When I met D.J.,” Dingler says, “he was working the counter of a lumber yard, which he still does.”
Noel confirms that. “I’m still on a counter in a lumber yard. I’ve been doing the lumber business since the mid ’70s. Dale is one in a million,” Noel says. “He’s a complete professional.”
There does, indeed, seem to be a close comradeship and high regard here, and a willingness for them to drop their legendary taciturnity, at least when it comes to praising one another. A perfect example is Dave Beitzel, the owner of Magnum Millwork in Pittsford, a longtime customer who, says Dingler, has always been in the business.
“Dale’s been a friend of mine a long, long time,” says Beitzel. “He’s a real gentleman — real businesslike, and very good at what he does. I buy a lot of windows from Dale. He’s fabulous. If I have any problems whatsoever, he resolves them right off the bat. He’s awesome; goes the extra mile to make sure everything gets taken care of.”
Building relationships like this takes consistent personal contact, something Dingler has been able to do through sales calls and deliveries. “The delivery works out kind of good for me,” he says, “because I’m in the yard and can see my customers and talk to them, and you need to do that to keep all those relationships going.”
He’s planning to train his new employee to take over some of the deliveries, which will free Dingler up to be on the road selling. He might have time to explore additions to his line. “I’ve sold windows, it seems like forever, but I’m constantly looking for new products,” he says.
A dedicated family man, he spends as much time as possible with Debbie and their children, Matthew, 23, and Jade, 21, who are now on their own. “I do a little golfing,” he says. I’m a terrible golfer, though. Got into it a little more than two years ago. I like to fish. We have a place down on Lake Dunmore where we spend our weekends in the summer. Built a log cabin down there probably 14 years ago now.”
Two years ago, Dingler built a 4,100-square-foot warehouse in New Haven and moved his business from a rented space in Middlebury. Just inside the overhead door sits a clue to another passion: a 1965 Mustang G.T. 350. He’s not forthcoming about details — “I try to keep my life private,” he says — but he does confess to loving to ride his Harley. “And my father helps out at the business a lot. He’s a retired deputy U.S. marshal.”
Having had a chance to review his life, Dingler admits that he’s pretty happy with things the way they are. “If I could do my life all over again,” he says, “there isn’t anything I would change. Even the way I did my job.
“I’m pretty well settled with what I do. If I think of something, I just go out there and do it. There are not a lot of boundaries for me, I guess. Stuff has always come easy for me.” •