Allied Finishing LLC

Sacramento, CA.

Allied Finishing is a 20-person, 23,000-square-foot finishing shop. It opened in 1990 finishing cabinets, furniture and millwork, which it still does, but its biggest niche is finishing doors for hotels and resorts. Annual sales are about $1 million.

Three Keys

1. The company finishes its doors using low-VOC, water-based materials. A forced-air drying system makes the use of waterborne finishes feasible by reducing air drying time from five days to four hours.

2. Many hotel doors are finished at the installation site. Allied Finishing Managing Member Curt Hennessee says that finishing doors at a fixed, dedicated facility saves money and allows for a cleaner product.

3. The travel industry may be in a freefall, but Hennessee says he does not think that will hurt business. Instead, he says hotels will turn their focus from new construction to remodeling, which will still require new do

Allied Finishing LLC air-dries its waterborne finishes, but a "force drying" system makes the process efficient by cutting drying time of doors from five days to four hours.

Running a finishing operation in the jaws of the California air-quality regulatory beast seems counter-intuitive.

Sacramento, CA-based Allied Finishing LLC has thrived, however, aided partly by tapping the splashy Las Vegas and Reno hotel-casino market and partly by investing in technology to make low-VOC waterborne finishes practical.

Dedicated to Doors

Allied Finishing opened in 1990 as a job shop finishing cabinets, millwork and furniture for other companies in the area.

Doors entered the mix naturally because of the many large door manufacturers in California, says Curt Hennessee. Hennessee and partner David Keelor are managing members of Allied Finishing.

The company cracked the hotel niche through one of its customers. “One of the door installers that we do a lot of work for had a business in Las Vegas. He gave us some doors to finish, and it’s kind of snowballed since then,” Hennessee says.

Doors now make up about 70 percent of the company’s work, with total output of about 25,000 doors annually. While big Nevada casinos are a strong market, Allied has finished doors for sites as far away as New York, Guam and Japan and in quantities as small as one.

“Most of the time, if a customer buys the door locally, it makes sense to have it pre-finished here as well,” Hennessee says. “We’ll go pick them up from the manufacturer, and then the manufacturer will pay to ship them [to the site]. It saves everybody a bunch of money,” by lowering handling costs, Hennessee says.

A dedicated door finisher is unusual for the hotel industry, Hennessee says. Instead, many hotels have their own staffs that finish the doors on-site, which increases their labor costs.

Hennessee says Allied can finish doors for about $35 to $45 apiece, while finishing in the field can cost $75 to $100 per door. “They don’t get as clean a finish as we do,” he adds, because the environment naturally has more dust from the construction.

Allied Finishing’s doors air-dry in four hours, thanks to a force-drying system that circulates and dehumidifies air in the drying room.  

Hennessee says that Allied gets all of its business through word of mouth and repeat customers. “Customers don’t even share us sometimes, because they don’t want their competition to have us,” he says.

Still, business is booming, despite the downturn in the travel market. “The rumor mill is that since the terrorism scares, most of the hotel companies are going to put money into remodeling, not new giant 50-story buildings,” Hennessee says. “Either new or remodel, we can get a piece of the pie.”

“Force Drying” Speeds Production

When the door business took off, the company started using waterborne finishes to meet air quality requirements. Now, it finishes all of its doors and some of its other products with low-VOC, water-based materials. The conversion, however, involved more than just changing coatings.

“When we were doing our first Las Vegas project, we had already we had already painted about 5,000 doors and realized that to do this kind of volume, we needed a better paint and a better way to dry the doors,” Hennessee says. “They had to sit in the ambient air for five days before we could stack them and ship them.”

The Rapid Dry system accelerates drying by pulling moisture out of the ambient air. The system condenses the water vapor into liquid form and cleans the water so it can be run down a standard drain.  

On the Internet, Hennessee learned about the Rapid Dry system from Optimum Air Corp. He contacted the company, visited some plants to see the system in operation and ultimately purchased one for Allied Finishing about four years ago. He says the system is the first on the West coast and the only one in the country used for wood finishing.

The “force drying” system dramatically improves drying speeds. “Warm, dry air enters the drying room through vents and circulates through the whole room,” Hennessee explains. “The water molecules jump onto the warm, dry air like it’s a sponge.” For Allied Finishing, using the system cut drying times from five days down to four hours.

High Efficiency, Low Energy

The drying room might not knock you off your feet, but it will blow your hat away. Air enters and circulates at 15,000 cubic feet per minute in the 2,000-square-foot room. The dryer also pulls moist air out of the room and squeezes out the water.

Despite the high airflow, Hennessee says the system uses relatively little energy — an important consideration given California’s power woes. He says energy costs for the dryer typically range from $1,200 to $1,500 per month, depending on whether or not the company leaves it on to dry doors overnight.

The drying room has a capacity of about 400 doors. “We also dry our solvent-based products in there because the air movement helps them dry,” Keelor says.

Finishing is done manually, but the process is highly organized, Hennessee says. Every door gets its own cart, which can be easily lined up and pushed as a unit. Employees first sand and perform quality checks. They spray finishes using Graco HVLP sprayers for waterborne finishes and Binks HVLP Mach One sprayers for solvent-based finishes used on cabinets and furniture. Almost all of the company’s finishes are made by Sherwin-Williams.

Hennessee says that most of the company’s doors have raised panels or applied mouldings that require extra attention, making an automated production line impractical. “We’ve done time studies with flatlines and so forth and we’re as fast,” he says. “And we’re more flexible — we can change colors at a moment’s notice.”

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