When Joe Altieri began seeking a way to make a better window screen in his Plum garage, he was just looking to improve on what was century-old technology.
“The current patent on window screens dates back to 1907,” Altieri said. “So you have 100-year-old technology on modern windows.”
Altieri, 43, developed and patented the first “flexible” window screen after more than 15 years working in the window and door industry.
It has a thin frame that disappears into the screen track, it is coated with PVC so that it won’t dent and tear like traditional aluminum screens, and it can be bent nearly in half to pop in and out of a window frame.
Even as Altieri began laying the groundwork about five years ago for what today is FlexScreen — a nationwide company with manufacturing facilities in Murrysville, Detroit, Alpharetta, Ga., and Vermillion, S.D. — his wife had trouble accepting the reality that her husband was staking the family’s financial future on an invention he created in their garage.
“When we ordered our first semi-trailer, we drove over to the plant, and when we pulled in and she saw that trailer with ‘FlexScreen’ written on the side, she started crying,” he said.
FlexScreen has nothing to cry about today: Altieri has partnered with multiple window manufacturers who have begun tailoring their products to accommodate FlexScreens, he is working on sales agreements with national retailers like Lowe’s and Menard’s home improvement stores, and is shipping his product all over the country every day.
“We’re kind of spoiled,” he said. “We have this unique product that no one else is doing.”
Altieri patented the FlexScreen design — which uses high-carbon, oil-tempered spring steel as its base — and the screen’s resistance to the type of easy damage inflicted on other window screens puts the company in an advantageous position.
“Not a lot of people are doing mail-order window screens, because they don’t ship well,” he said. “With traditional screens, about one of every 25 gets damaged during shipping.
“With ours, it’s closer to one of every 2,000.”
Altieri also credited the group of investors who helped him launch and grow the company.
“Just creating the process to make a FlexScreen is a $1 million investment,” he said. “When I started, I had a Ford F-150 (pickup truck) I used to drive samples around. I recently traded it in with a quarter-million miles on it.”
Altieri has begun selling FlexScreens to Canadian consumers, with an eye toward expansion into Europe, South American and Australian markets.
The Murrysville production facility along with the other three typically employ about 40 workers each, a number he hopes to boost over the next year.
“Depending on growth this year, we may have between 70 and 90 employees down the line,” he said. “We’ve been overly aggressive in bringing our message to our customers and our customers’ customers as well.”
Altieri said doggedly pursuing his goal was a key part of his success.
“You have to be tenacious,” he said. “If an entire industry is doing something one way, why change? We had to give them a good reason.”
And for Altieri, there were really two options.
“I gave up my career,” he said, “so it was either make FlexScreen successful, or start selling cars.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.