Fire Doesn't Slow Pacific
August 14, 2011 | 9:37 pm CDT

By Mike Wilson

High-end architectural woodworking shop Pacific Woodworking continues to grow after a massive shop fire stopped in-house production for the majority of 2006.

Click here to read how a North Carolina cabinet shop recovered from a fire.

Read about how a Philadelphia facility successfully prepared for a devastating shop fire.

Fire knocked out Pacific Woodworking’s manufacturing facility for 10 months in 2006, but the high-end architectural millwork company set a sales record during that year. 

A combination of preparation, help from fellow association members and suppliers, and hard work allowed the Burnaby, British Columbia-based business not to miss a beat while building a new shop. Since its new facility opened, Pacific’s ongoing commitment to quality, technology and employee development has allowed the company, which serves hospitality and retail clients throughout North America, to continue growing, according to co-owner Mike Harskamp.

Pacific Woodworking's shop was completely gutted by this fire, but production never stopped as work was contracted out to fellow AWMAC members during the rebuild.

“On Dec. 6, 2005, I got a call just before midnight (about the fire) and came down to the shop. There really wasn’t a whole lot we could do; it looked like part of something you see on the six o’clock news,” Harskamp says.

The shop was closed when the fire started, so there were no injuries. Harskamp left with his business partner to meet, then returned to the shop at 6 a.m. Firefighters had the blaze largely under control, and employees were starting to arrive for work.

“We decided we had two major priorities – to take care of our staff and look after our clients,” Harskamp says.

Pacific Woodworking is a long-time member of the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada and the Architectural Woodwork Institute, and the phone soon began ringing with offers of help from fellow AWMAC members. By the afternoon, Harskamp was phoning major customers to inform them about the fire and let them know that all orders would be delivered on time.

A firewall between the shop and offices saved Pacific’s servers and project files, allowing them to quickly start work on projects that were already in progress using other shop’s facilities. The company was also "religious" about backing up all its files offsite, so no important data was lost.

Work was found for all employees who wanted it, which included temporary hires by fellow AWMAC members and sub-contracting other employee’s work to outside shops, Harskamp says.

A photo of one of Pacific Woodworking's projects. The company is contracted for work throughout North America.

A stone supplier provided rental space in an unused showroom, and Pacific got to work. Struggles with the phone company forced them to use three cell phones for flurries of phone calls between shops being used for outsourcing, customers and issues involving the fire. One of his few regrets was not calling all customers, even those without current projects, to let them know about the fire, Harskamp says. In such a relationship-based industry, customers would have appreciated knowing what is going at the company, even if they didn’t have a job currently in progress, he says.

“We started work in other shops two days after the fire,” Harskamp says. “One shop had the biggest load, so we would go through it and make sure we were happy with the quality and clarify the business.”

Working with fellow AWMAC members enabled the company to continue producing quality pieces because of a level of trust built with the long-time members, Harskamp says. Pacific’s insurance company assigned a heavy equipment specialist to help figure out the process for replacing all the equipment lost in the fire.

“Our equipment had been fairly up-to-date,” Harskamp says. “On the whole we basically replaced machinery with newer versions of ones we had before.”

Keeping employees on the payroll helped immensely once the new shop was ready to be built, he adds. Many even helped with the construction of the new plant, which had to be built on a different plot due to city regulations at the shop’s former location.

While putting the new shop together, the layout was completely redesigned to accommodate a better workflow, as the old shop’s floor reflected a section-by-section growth as the facility expanded its capabilities over the years, Harskamp says. The company also decided to add a finishing room on the premises, as they had sublet their finishing while housed in the old shop.

A shot from Pacific Woodworking's new home. The company redesigned the production flow to optimize manufacturing at its new location.

“We started with a green box and thought, 'how do we want to lay this out?'” Harskamp says. “We looked at everything, from how materials are being received, to how they can come into the system, to how they flow out into the large machinery and assembly room, then into finishing and out to shipping.”

Pacific shipped its first product from the new shop in October 2006, 10 months after the fire.

“The first year was busy and a bit challenging, with a whole new plant and bunch of new people on staff,” Harskamp says. Since the fire, the company has continued to take on new challenges and recently became a Forest Stewardship Council certified shop, which will aid clients looking to fulfill LEED-certified projects, he adds.

“We’re excited about it,” he says. “We have an enthusiastic staff. We like doing what we’re doing, and love doing stuff that’s unusual.”

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