Jerry and Marty Ortman fit together like two well worn slippers. Jerry is the former aerospace project manager who can solve any technical problem. Younger brother, Marty, loves people and is welcome anywhere he goes. Together these two brothers from Youngstown have built one of Canton’s most beloved home improvement companies on a foundation established by their uncle Morris.
Back in the 1950s and 60s there was a group of door-to-door salesmen (no women back then) known as “tin men.” They were immortalized in Hollywood lore as sharpies in shiny Cadillac’s selling aluminum siding to replace the “time-to-paint-the-house-again” wood found on most pre-World War II homes.
The Ortman’s uncle Morris Knell was in the same business, but in a distinctly different way. A furnace-man by trade, he put more emphasis on quality products and services than sales. His company, Canton Aluminum manufactured aluminum storm windows and doors in an old pretzel factory a stone’s throw east of downtown Canton. It was a good, solid business.
Jerry Ortman joined his uncle a short time after leaving the Army where he was sent to Japan and learned the language. He soon left for a project management job at a large aerospace company where his Japanese language skills proved important. When Uncle Morris took ill, Jerry returned to a business and city he’d grown to love.
In 1986 Marty Ortman had a sales job in Cleveland and a new wife from New Jersey when Uncle Morris had a sudden heart attack. Soon Marty was in Canton, ready for life as his brother’s new partner. The first day he asked Jerry where his sales territory would be. The answer came back, “Anywhere you can make a sale.” The partnership was off to a flying start. Together the two brothers began knocking on doors.
Thirty-three years later the Ortman brothers are still together and Canton Aluminum is still growing on a swelling wave of happy customers. The only thing missing is the aluminum. Shortly after Marty joined, the window and siding industry underwent a radical change. Aluminum, once the symbol of modern America, was replaced by a new wonder material, vinyl. With its color-through properties vinyl lasted longer and was easier to install than aluminum.
Soon Canton Aluminum was out of the manufacturing business choosing to concentrate on installing quality nationally manufactured products. By this time they were selling siding, windows, awnings, doors, roofs, gutters and new sunrooms that were becoming popular. As the area’s housing stock changed, awnings became less of a factor, so the brothers decided to sell that side of the business to concentrate on other remodeling products. Soon sunrooms became their most important product.
As Jerry and Marty worked to put their kids through college and grad school, the business kept changing. The Yellow Pages went the way of the dinosaurs while the internet rose to take its place. The building industry went from boom to bust to equilibrium, and the Ortman brothers kept growing on an even keel. Even when the whole building industry fell apart in 2008, Canton Aluminum kept growing, supported by a legion of satisfied customers who passed the Ortman’s business cards to relatives, friends and neighbors.
Today, while bigger window and siding groups from Cleveland mine Stark County for business, Canton Aluminum won a “Best of the Best” award in the Repository’s annual survey and the last two years have been their best ever. The Ortman brothers just seem to fit Canton like two comfortably worn slippers.