STORY UPDATE
After the March issue went to press, CWB was informed by Platte Valley Woodworks, which is featured in that issue, that the company just went into receivership with its bank and was shut down. According to a company spokesman, the bank is trying to liquidate the assets, but there are several investment groups interested in purchasing the firm. He adds, "The management team at PVW remains committed to finding the right partner to help move PVW into a profitable and secure future."

Platte Valley Woodworks provides one-of-a-kind entryways for upper-echelon clients in the luxury ski resort areas of Colorado.

Platte Valley produced the Honduran mahogany flooring and doors for this exclusive home in Aspen, Colorado. More photos of this home can be seen at www.aspentuscanestate.com.

Platte Valley Woodworks in Fort Collins, CO, has been around since 1979, when the previous owner started the company in his garage. Since then, the company, which specializes in high-end custom woodworking, has grown to inhabit a 55,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with 70 employees. The company survived the death of its founder three years ago, when it was purchased by new owners who are committed to continuing and expanding the company’s success.

Platte Valley has always prided itself on meeting or exceeding customer expectations, especially when it comes to producing high-end custom woodwork based on its client’s requests.

“Anything you can dream up in wood, we can pretty much do,” says Platte Valley Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dan Kingery. “We work with a lot of character woods: character cherry, character walnut, knotty alder, character white oak, as well as mahogany, hickory, cypress and reclaimed lumber like beetle-kill pine.

“The company does all types of high-end millwork, including radiuses, boxbeams and arches, but the real emphasis is on doors: entry doors, interior doors and millwork packages,” he adds.

Much of Platte Valley’s business comes from upper- echelon clients who have homes in luxury ski resort areas in the nearby Rocky Mountain range of Colorado. Historically, Kingery says the company’s business has been 80% to 90% residential, with some commercial work, often for high-end condos and lodges, making up the rest of the total.

“We do tremendous business up in Aspen, Steamboat and Vail,” Kingery says. The company also has done work for resorts throughout the United States. Kingery says this business has come from word-of-mouth referrals, as the company really has not advertised its services in the past.

Challenges for the New Guard

But challenges have come with the passing of the founder and the change in ownership. The biggest hurdle for the company, according to CEO Nathan Drake, has been moving from an entrepreneurial/sole proprietorship direction to a new, broader-focused outlook. Fortunately, the core of the company, including its talented and dedicated workforce, is in place and on board to institute the necessary changes.

“Our workforce is very experienced in building a high-quality product,” Drake says. “The average time with us for most of our employees is 6-1/2 years. It is a very loyal employee base with a lot of knowledge in their hands.”

To assist in moving the company into the future, Drake has brought in two capable people with unique skills to lead the way.

“What is exciting now is that we are taking the tradition and are marrying it to a couple of professionals who have professional managerial experience in doing exactly what we are asking them to do. We are asking Dan to take us from a direct selling market in the four or five mountain counties that we have primarily served and broaden our exposure in the region and, ultimately, the entire country. He’s been doing that for the last 20 years and we are very excited to have him here.”

The other professional hired to help the company along is Vice President of Manufacturing, Dave Moeller.

“Dave brings process engineering management perspective to the shop floor, which is something that this company has lacked,” Drake explains. “We have historically made our products in an entrepreneurial/ ‘whatever-it-takes-to-get-it-done’ kind of way, and we have been successful, in a way, almost in spite of ourselves. Dave is focusing on things like quality and efficiency, yields and on-time performance — all of the metrics we need to evaluate ourselves.”

Platte Valley’s workforce averages 6-1/2 years with the company.

Improved Production Efficiencies

Platte Valley’s basic manufacturing process takes four weeks — starting with the order being entered into the system and paperwork produced. Production meetings follow, questions are answered, engineering drawings produced and material ordered and received during weeks two and three. The end product takes, on average, four days from raw lumber to finished product and out the door. The average number of doors produced in a single day is 50, and these range in cost anywhere from $300-$400 to complete $25,000-$30,000 systems.

Moeller says perhaps the company’s biggest challenge is to increase volume to make up for excess capacity in the plant. Last year the company implemented “round one” of remanufacturing methodology and the result was a 25% to 30% increase in productivity.

“Last year’s average cycle time was about 14 minutes shop time per door,” Moeller says. “This past summer, we were doing it at under 11. We have the potential to get down to six minutes. I just have to figure out how to get it to flow through the system at that rate.

“We just have to change how we do things like how we move things around the plant,” he continues. “I did a study and found that a door — from raw lumber to finished door — travels 3/4 of a mile inside this plant, which is insane.”

The company grinds its own knives and also lays up its own veneer. To accomodate customer’s special art work requests, the company uses Delcam’s ArtCam software to draw the designs to be cut on the door panels. Meanwhile, a strategy of investing in smaller, more flexible equipment has also contributed to Platte Valley’s success, with two Komo Mach VR 512 CNC machines taking care of much of the cutting and carving.

“We pretty much run all of our panel stock through the CNC; you can’t beat it for accuracy,” says Bob Call, Platte Valley Woodworking director. “The nice thing about CNC parts is the finishing. The parts just fit together so perfectly.”

According to Call, every door is run through a Timesavers Series 100 widebelt sander. All pieces are then hand sanded.

“We take a rough cut door and finish it so that it is a piece of furniture that is also a door,” Moeller says.

Another piece of equipment that has helped speed up processing has been a Radio Frequecy System RF gluer. “It has revolutionized what we do,” says Call. “Something that would have taken us two hours to let sit in a cold press can be done in about a minute and a half.”

Platte Valley’s main business has been in the ski resort areas of Colorado. These doors were made from wire-brushed preferred frame grade alder.

A Wide Range of Products

The company produces a wide range of doors and entryways, often including radius arches and glasswork, which is outsourced, as is the finishing. One unique product that Platte Valley builds is a double-sided door, with one wood on the outside and another on the inside. This type of door works well for clients who want the door to match a room like a den that has a different theme from the rest of the house.

Platte Valley says it can produce any size door from pocket doors to custom garage doors. A growing part of Platte Valley’s business is its custom, certified fire-rated doors.

“We can do 20-, 45-, 60- or 90-minute doors in any of 37 species, in just about any style the customer wants,” says Call. “We have matching fire frames and can do a wood frame up to 60 minutes. We can do that in a full radius arch door. We can do things with a fire door that most people just can’t do.”

“This allows us to serve these high-end commercial condominium projects in Aspen and Vail,” says Moeller. “People are paying top dollar to stay or live there and they are expecting the experience to look right. They don’t want to go from solid wood to an industrial steel gray look. Even the elevator doors and stairwell doors need the same level of appearance and detail. They all contribute to the whole ‘lodge’ theme and ambiance they are trying to create for their customer base.”

Plans are in the works to start producing French doors, folding patio doors and folding door walls, but perhaps the biggest excitement involves Platte Valley’s new dealership program.

Kingery explains, “In the past, we’ve really concentrated on the high-end market in the ski areas of Colorado. Now, we are looking to take the company onto a new expanded national level and growing the company to its full potential.“

The dealership program was rolled out in January 2009 and the company already has 20 dealers signed up.

“We are finding that one of the best customer options we have are other door shops who can’t provide the fire-rated doors,” Moeller adds.

“We think we have a great future ahead of us,” says Kingery. “We are just looking for good people to partner up with.”

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