Keystone Millwork’s strength is planning and managing high-end architectural projects with many different types of materials.

Owner Bob Kraus said the Texas company keeps projects on track and organizes workflow and materials, while being detail oriented on the administrative side. They also work closely with general contractors on a number of levels.

That emphasis on planning extends to Keystone’s own operations. The company may have 30 to 35 jobs in progress at any one time. Casework is 45 to 50 percent of the business.

“We don’t just make boxes,” Kraus said. “We do a lot of the complex jobs and a wide variety of things, including fabric, leather, and metal. We make mockups for architects, 3-D drawings. Management planning and attention to details are strengths.”

Because these jobs can be complex, intricate projects, they want to make sure that customers are getting exactly what they wanted, said Keystone’s Kate Henderson, marketing director. That also allows Keystone to be in an advisory role, using value engineering to complete a job while saving money.

Emphasis on planning extends to Keystone’s own operations. The company may have 30 to 35 jobs in progress at any one time. Casework is 45 to 50 percent of the business.

Thirty years in Aggie country

Keystone Millwork provides custom architectural millwork for commercial construction. They are located in Bryan, Texas, in the heart of Aggie country and in the middle of the Texas triangle of Austin, Dallas and Houston.

Keystone operates out of our 40,000 square foot location but began 30 years ago in a one-car garage in neighboring College Station.

Kraus started the company in 1989, using a small Sears saw that was put on a tabletop. He started as a builder and had a number of businesses, with a degree in construction science, and said he should have gotten an MBA.

“Just because you can make a cabinet doesn’t mean you can run a business,” he said. “My lack of business knowledge was an impediment, but I’ve taken classes, done everything I could to learn.”

Kraus outgrew his first shop and began to add to his team. Sixteen years ago, Keystone moved into its current Bryan location and two years ago, that building was doubled in size. The recent expansion gives the company space for flexibility and staging work.

Before they moved to the current Bryan location, he paid consultant Gero Sassenberg to develop a plan emphasizing flow. Sassenberg provided concepts that Kraus put into practice when setting up the new location. “Best $3,000 I ever spent,” he said.

Keystone Millwork offers hands-on management of each project from start to finish and the ability to execute both large scale casework and fine custom designs. They meet with architects to design the millwork they envision, manufacture it in their facility and install the millwork themselves.

One of the biggest reasons for the company’s success is in training people, managing and paying them well. There’s no micromanaging, Henderson said. People are allowed to have ownership in their work. The company has 38 employees.

“It’s not about the wood, it’s about the people,” Kraus said. “Like most successful businesses, most of the people have been here 10 years. People like it here.”

Computing Services Project at Texas A&M University was completed earlier. Architect: The Arkitex Studio, Inc.

Contractor customers

“Our customers are large general contractors,” Kraus said. Work may be in educational, medical, university, museums, and performing arts centers. A lot of work is related to Texas A&M University in nearby College Station, which accounts for about a quarter of the jobs. Keystone also did 600 convenience stores for a major chain and 60 retail stores for a cellphone company.

Aggie Build is a special project in which Keystone is donating and providing cabinets that are put in a shipping container with medical equipment and sent to developing countries.

It’s so much about relationships, Henderson said. At one time Keystone did many small jobs, and then they wanted to do fewer big jobs. That became very oriented toward relationships. They only bid with the larger companies they want to work with. “They come directly to us because they like us,” she said.

Keystone’s estimating department is really the face of the company. “Our estimators work with the general contractor’s estimators to put out a number so that when they get their final number on bid day, they’re confident that it is a good number,” Henderson said. “The fact that we have a very thorough and complete estimate is very meaningful. It’s the face of our company.”

Kraus also seeks out the challenging work.

“We’ll get a complicated set of drawings that is hard to understand,” he said. “I’ll say, yes, that’s what I want. Most people won’t touch that. I want to be the person who goes after that.”

Scheduling is one of their main issues, as millwork providers are one of the last to get into the building.

“That’s what we’re constantly trying to refine,” Henderson said. “How do we get enough ahead without putting ourselves in a bind? Expanding the shop helped us tremendously. Now we can have projects wrapped and ready for delivery.”

Kraus said that Keystone is paid for stored material when it’s is sitting in their operation.

Keystone has a Mayer panel saw with Weima grinder and a several smaller dust collectors rather than one large system for the whole plant. Cut pieces have a barcode label applied.

Flexibility in the shop

Keystone has a Mayer panel saw with Weima grinder and a several smaller dust collectors rather than one large system for the whole plant. Cut pieces have a barcode label applied.

A Homag Vantech 512 CNC router, Weeke ABD 050 Optimat dowel inserter, and Brandt edgebander, along with a Thomas return conveyor are also in the Bryan operation.

A Weeke BHX 055 Optimat vertical machining center provides flexibility in the overall operation if other machines were busy or not available.

“The BHX is great little machine, it helps flow quite a bit,” Kraus said. “It gives us more capabilities, diversity and options. It’s a perfect complement to the nested-based router and the beam saw. The three work together very well. It’s a great combination of machines.”

In the assembly area is a J.C. Uhling HP3000F case clamp. An older Busellato Jet 4002 CNC router is used as a backup for the shop.

The shop also has a custom fabrication area for solid wood and special work, and a countertop fabrication area. They are doing fewer laminate tops, but added solid surface capability. They do most installation, especially locally.

Henderson said that expanding the shop helped them in two major ways. They were able to order materials earlier, and store them and organize them.

Keystone has used many different kinds of software over the past 30 years. They are now using Microvellum and Cabinet Vision for drawing, and TradeSoft’s ProjectPAK and ShopPAK for the management side of the business.

Keystone does 90 percent of machine maintenance themselves, working with Texas A&M or hiring a local technician rather than calling a machine tech from out of town.

Finishing in the future

Finishing capability is planned for the future. Keystone will start with an inflatable portable finishing booth. They are planning for no VOC finishes, all water-based, which will save on fire prevention equipment.

But Keystone will continue to send out larger finishing jobs, such as 300 sheets to a flatline finisher, Widner Product Finishing. Kraus wants do the smaller number of pieces or one-of-a-kind finishing in house.

Over the past 30 years, Kraus said the biggest change is manufacturing has been in software, especially in the office end of the business.

Kraus is also looking for a quantum shift, maybe away from laminated panels to plastic cabinets or injection molded boxes. He is trying to anticipate what might affect the business for the next 30 years.

Keystone Millwork offers hands-on management of each project from start to finish and the ability to execute both large scale casework and fine custom designs.

 

AT A GLANCE

Keystone Millwork

Bryan, Texas

Custom architectural millwork for commercial construction

Employees: 38

Plant size: 40,000 square feet

http://www.keystone-millwork.com

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