Fixture Company Has a New Name, Same Quality

After 20 successful years in business, Ohio Cabinet Works is changing its name to Accel Group and beginning full-fledged marketing for the new millennium.

By Helen Kuhl


It may seem a little unusual for a company that has been successful for 20 years, having grown from a two-man shop into an 80-employee operation with a healthy customer base, to decide to completely change its name and begin its first-ever marketing campaign. When sales are strong and everything is running smoothly, it hardly seems necessary.

 

Some of Accel's work involves building vendor displays that are used within a retail store. This is part of a Kodak display area in a photo processing store.

 But that's exactly what the former Ohio Cabinet Works Inc. of Wadsworth, OH, is doing. Starting Jan. 1, 2000, the company officially became Accel Group Inc., with a new brochure, its first Web site (www.accelgrp.com) and a full-fledged marketing plan to promote itself aggressively to its customers.

The company has evolved a lot since Bob Mangus and Jim Terranova started working together out of Jim's father's garage in Aug. 1980, building items for craft shows. They grew into leased shop space in Akron, doing craft items and residential pieces for two or three years, before they started doing a little fixture work for the May Co. They expanded into fixtures, architectural casework and other commercial work, eventually focusing solely on store fixtures, which has been their emphasis for the past 10 years.

The name evolved, too, from Jim and Bob's Custom Woodworking to Custom Woodcraft to Ohio Cabinet Works when the company incorporated in 1984. Now, with the new marketing program, it was felt that the words "Ohio" and "Cabinet" are somewhat limiting and don't project the scope of full-fixture work the company handles on a national basis. Thus, another name change.

"We have a good customer base and a good reputation, and for our current customers, the name change is going to be pretty minor, I think," Terranova says. "I think the new name will be more appealing to our new clients."

The majority of customers Accel serves are in what the company calls the "service retail" industry, a niche it has defined within the retail market that comprises convenience stores, store-within-a-store displays and retailers like Kinko's.

"We are not doing department store work or apparel or anything like that," Terranova says. "We don't do grocery stores. We are more convenience stores, what we call the GÇÿservice retail' industry, and that is where we want to continue to grow."

Accel's foothold in the service retail market came about in great part because of its relationship with Kinko's. It began doing local work with Kinko's 14 years ago when the chain itself was young. As the retailer expanded, Accel's local work expanded to a regional and then a national level. Today, it produces about 80 different items for Kinko's stores, outfitting an average of 8 to 10 stores each month. It also has shipped fixtures to some Kinko's locations overseas.

The work done for Kinko's has been good for the company because it is higher-end casework, Terranova says, and Accel is proud of the quality it produces.

"Kinko's demands high-end fixtures. It is nice to be able to work for customers that have a requirement for a little higher-end product," he says. "There are customers who only require some slapped together stuff and it meets their needs. We prefer to do higher-end work that demands a little more attention and a little more skill from the plant."

The majority of Accel's work is done in plastic laminates and involves casework-type fixtures. Many fixtures require intricate curved work, as well as the incorporation of other materials, such as metal. Most thermofused melamine panels are purchased from Panolam, which is able to supply color-matched products as needed. Accel also has done a large fixture project that used Wilsonart's SSV (solid surface veneer) and others that featured Italian woodgrain laminates from Abet Laminati.

The company has been operating in Wadsworth since it moved from Akron in 1994 and built a new facility. The original building was 48,000 square feet; an additional 48,000 square feet was added in 1996. There is a 15,000-square-foot warehouse down the street used for finished goods storage. However, the company has already outgrown its current location, and Terranova and Mangus are looking for a new site, hoping to accommodate a plant in the 150,000- to 200,000-square-foot range. Sales in 1999 were close to $8.5 million, Terranova says, adding that the plant has a capacity of around $10 to $12 million annually.

The current site was designed for maximum efficiency in panel processing, with products being engineered to keep a smooth flow through the plant, Terranova says. The addition of about $1.2 million in new equipment three years ago gives the company an impressive array of high-tech machinery.

Basic panel processing starts at one of two Holzma pressure beam panel saws, where parts are cut and labeled. They travel by conveyor to Accel's two IMA edgebanders. An older model is used for 1&Mac218;2 mil PVC; the newer CNC-controlled, custom-built model can apply 3mm edgebanding on panels up to 70mm high.

As needed, banded parts are machined either on the company's older Biesse Rover 335 point-to-point boring machine, which handles drilling and minor routing, or on one of its new IMA machining centers. The new machines are identical -- custom-built with expanded size capability and able to process parts in different zones on both sides of the machine. These machining centers handle routing, drilling, V-grooving and cutting needed to accommodate extrusions. They are designed so that all waste falls through the middle of the machine table onto a conveyor belt, where it is carried up and away.

Postformed panels take a slightly different route, starting with initial layup of the laminate using a Midwest Automation contact adhesive sprayer, and moving to one of three postformers. (The company has single-sided and double-sided feed-through postformers from Edgetech and a single-sided postformer from Evans Machinery.)

From the machining centers, panels go one of two routes -- either to the custom laminating department, which handles subassemblies and other hand work, or to the prep area, where hardware is added.

Accel uses mostly dowel construction and various KD fasteners, Mangus says, although it is always experimenting with different joining techniques and assembly methods. The prep area houses a considerable amount of auxiliary equipment, including a Koch CNC dowel inserter, a Gannomat 280 boring machine and dowel inserter from Tritec Associates, a DMG50CB contour edgebander from Delmac Machinery Group and an Altendorf F45 sliding table saw. While most metal parts are subbed out, the company has a small department for doing cutoffs of metal parts and other simple work.

After parts are prepped, they are stacked back into groups as products (two ends, a bottom, shelves, etc.), and subassemblies that have been finished in the custom laminating department are added to the stacks. Then they move to the assembly department, where the complete fixtures are assembled, and on to stretch wrapping and shipping.

 

Equipment in the prep area includes this Koch CNC dowel inserter.

 The company utilizes an extensive conveyor system to reduce material handling as much as possible. In addition, there are large staging areas throughout the plant to keep jobs organized and flowing efficiently. The final staging area, outside the assembly department, allows jobs to be kept in their knocked down state until it is time for shipment, thus minimizing space requirements for customers' inventory.

Accel's system to keep materials flowing in the plant starts with the project engineering in the office. The company gets a basic fixture design from its customers and determines how to build it and value engineer it so that it can be done as cost-effectively as possible.

"When we get a new product, we break it down to analyze how it's going to go through the plant. Sometimes we will spend more time in the office doing the preplanning than it takes to run the job through the plant," Terranova says.

The company tries to standardize its process as much as possible, Mangus adds. "We have certain construction methods that the engineers can pick from to put things together," he says. "We are always developing new methods, too. But there are only so many ways you can put fixtures together. And in the plant we have standardized subroutines for the machines. So our engineers do not have to totally GÇÿreinvent the wheel' with every project. They might be creating something that looks totally different, but they are still using the same processes to put it together."

The company uses AutoCAD and ABC-Cam to process drawings into CNC machinery code and is in the process of implementing IMOS, which designs objects three-dimensionally. Accel also has spent about nine months in implementing an ERP (enterprise resource planning) software system, which integrates all processes from initial order processing through plant production and into final billing. Terranova says that they are using Vantage software from Epicore, and the process is about 90 percent complete. While it has been rough, it is well worth the effort, he adds.

While Mangus and Terranova have worked hard to acquire equipment and develop processes to achieve their desired level of efficiency and quality, they also give their employees equal credit for contributing to their success.

"We got where we are today because of the people," Mangus says. "We have some really good people who work here."

Most of the people who work in the office as project supervisors and engineers started in the plant, he adds. And Terranova says, "We try to give people a challenge to do better and move up, to lead a department or be a supervisor. The door is always open, and our growth is from within. I think people like that challenge and do a good job."

The company's production techniques lend themselves to serving the service retail niche well, and the new marketing plan is designed to expand business in that market. However, Accel also is experimenting with doing some parts production for other fixture companies when it fits its schedule.

"We can provide parts assemblies or even a complete product for other companies," Terranova says. "It helps them meet deadlines and also gives them some added capacity that they don't necessarily have in their plants. We do a pretty good job for them, and it can fill gaps in our production schedule. So we will probably pursue that type of work a little bit further."

Mangus also would like to expand in the area of vacuum forming to provide additional capabilities to customers. "We have done some thermoform projects, but we outsourced them," he says. "I'm just waiting for a customer to come along who needs a lot of it, so I can talk the other guys into buying the machine."
Even in the service retail market, competition is stiff and stores are concerned with creating a sharp-looking image, which is why they are willing to invest in higher-end fixtures and different looks. "All retail stores, even convenience stores, want an image," Terranova says.

He adds that his goal for the company is to be able to produce one of something just as cost-effectively and efficiently as it can produce 100. "If you can standardize and expedite your process to make one of something, and I really feel that someday we can do that, the doors would be open to quite a few different things," he says. "Those orders for 100 pieces are nice. But if you can make one of something and turn it around quickly, you can have a lot of business and still make a dollar. That's our goal, and I think we'll get there!"

 

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