A Grand Opening

Garage doors keep these partners driving

by Chris Farnsworth

limoge1017Rick Limoge (right), co-owner of Limoge & Sons Garage Doors Inc. in Williston, says he has been in the garage door business since he was 10 years old, working with his father, who launched the company in 1969. His business partner, Mike O’Grady, joined the company 20 years ago as an employee.

Charles Dickens once wrote, “A very little key will open a very heavy door.” Having written that sentence over a century and a half ago, the author certainly intended his words to be allegorical, but for Rick Limoge and Mike O’Grady, owners of Limoge & Sons Garage Doors, they can certainly be taken literally.

Limoge & Sons has been installing and servicing garage doors since 1969, when Limoge’s father, Raymond, started the business out of his Essex home.

“I started when I was 10 years old,” Limoge recalls. “When I got out of military service after four years, I came back.”

When the company outgrew the home office, it moved to Blair Park in Williston for a couple of years before building a showroom and warehouse on Park Avenue in the 1980s. In 2012, operations moved into a new showroom directly adjacent to the Park Avenue location on James Brown Drive.

Limoge’s two brothers came in and out of the company over the years. In 1998, his brother Matt joined the business to help with Raymond’s transition into retirement, as Limoge was feeling overwhelmed from the demands of the business. Matt stayed on until his death in 2009.

Enter O’Grady, who had started as an employee at Limoge & Sons in 1997.

“I needed a job!” O’Grady says with a laugh. “Rick had done some molding at my parents’ house. I was 21, my dad saw that they were hiring and, well, … Rick hired me, ponytail and all.”

By 2013, O’Grady had became co-owner of the company through a combination of buy-in and sweat equity — a relief, says Limoge.

“We transitioned him from the field to the office some years back. Now, we overlap each other. Mike does all the paperwork stuff, the bills, and I’ll line up jobs and organize the guys. We both handle phones and dispatch, though.”

At the center of their partnership, and indeed with the company as a whole, is the understanding that their job continues long after purchase and installation of the doors.

It can be a daunting prospect, as the service demands can vary wildly at times. Sometimes it’s a garage door–opener that’s not working or a residential parking garage in need of assistance. Either way, Limoge and O’Grady know their company’s response is crucial.

“It doesn’t really matter what the situation is,” Limoge says. He can recall a customer’s calling to schedule a repair on a door the company had installed 30 years before. “If you do it right, they’ll come back. They just will.”

Though the company handles all sorts of jobs, the partners really enjoy working with homeowners, who constitute about 60 percent of their business. There’s a personal element that O’Grady prefers — a sense of helping a client find just what’s needed.

“We’re not just trying to sell them doors,” he asserts. “We like to help them pick out the right one, and we like to stay engaged afterwards.”

“We are family-owned,” Limoge adds. “We don’t go by numbers or volume; we don’t have salespeople. If a door isn’t worth spending the money, my guys will say that — they’re not on commission. My main goal is for my people to treat everyone how they want to be treated.”

The partners apply that same ethos to their bigger, commercial clients, although the process can be far different. “With big commercial jobs, you do essentially the same stuff, but there’s just so much more paperwork,” says Limoge.

He lists some of them off of the top of his head: “Heritage, Handy’s, pretty much all of the dealerships,” he says.

The company also counts town highway and fire departments among its accounts — “almost all of them,” says O’Grady. In addition are commercial and industrial developers such as REM Development and Catamount East Development Co.

“They know us; they stick with us for the service,” O’Grady says.

Gordy Demeritt, co-owner of Catamount East, echoes those sentiments. He and his father, Cedric, before him, have worked with Limoge & Sons for decades.

“They are a great group of people,” Demeritt says. “Their commitment to service, and the quality of their workmanship has created a relationship we rely on. They always go above and beyond.”

The company’s formula seems to be equal parts customer service and the ability to adapt on the fly.

“A typical day” as described by the partners depends largely on the phones. The two take turns answering calls, putting out fires, and dispatching crews. They have eight technicians for field work, some with trucks loaded to go on assignment, others on standby for the inevitable service calls.

“Nothing is really planned,” Limoge admits. “Every phone call can change your day, change your plan. Other than installs, we can’t really plan much out, you know?”

Many of the calls are for smaller, annoying problems like malfunctioning photosensors in the garage door openers, which became mandatory for all installs after 2011.

“Biggest headache in the business,” Limoge declares. “Once those photosensors came out in the early ’90s, they became such a nuisance.”

“They’re good if you have kids — they’re designed for safety — but …” O’Grady adds, rolling his eyes. “We get so many photosensor calls a day — they get bumped by snowblowers, trash, pets, you name it.”

Then there is the call from someone who’s driven a car into the garage door. Limoge estimates the company receives at least one call a day about it.

“Hell, I’ve done it myself!” he says with a grin.

Whether it is car damage, faulty sensors, or the fire department’s calling at 1 in the morning, Limoge & Sons answers those calls. That trait has won the company loyalty.

“We’ve done business with those guys for over 20 years,” says Tom Racine, vice president of Willie Racine Jeep dealership. “We use them for our business, and I use them for my own home. I wouldn’t even think about calling anyone else, really.”

“Most door people don’t have hobbies,” Limoge jokes. “We’re on call too much. It does wear on you. It’s a beautiful summer day, you’re on your boat, and then you get a call.”

Both partners are married: O’Grady in 2006, Limoge in 2010. Neither has children.

Limoge, who lives in Williston, does find occasional time to relax, either at his camp on South Hero or his Florida home once the cold Vermont winds rise. O’Grady keeps it simple, choosing mostly to hang with his Labrador retriever, Peter Parker. “About once a month he lets me go golfing,” he says. “The wife doesn’t mind, but I have to clear it with the dog.”

The market is ever-changing, the partners say say, with automation and self-driving cars on the horizon, and there is a noticeable dearth of mechanically-trained workers coming up. The company will have to be ready, as always, to adapt and evolve.

“I’m not trying to get too big,” Limoge says as he surveys his Williston office, part of a warehouse/office/showroom complex the company moved into in 2012. “Mike might have a different vision once he takes over. He’s young.”

O’Grady takes a moment to consider his partner’s words.

“Maybe in 20 years we’ll just be putting in doors for autonomous cars. Know what? We’ll still focus on service. We’re not cutting-edge. Some people want this to be a tech industry, but we know it’s all about the doors. At the end of the day, people just want their doors to go up and then go back down again.” •