The Little Shop That Could
Since 'scoring' the millwork contract for the $250 million Jack Kent Cooke football stadium in Landover, MD, Architectural Detail has established a thriving business not only by meeting 'impossible' deadlines, but also by satisfying the most demanding of clients.
By Jean Headley
Jack Kent Cooke passed away only 160 days before the stadium named after him opened for its first game on September 14, 1997.
The new home to the Washington Redskins had taken 10 years to become a reality. Most of the that time had been spent not in designing and building the stadium, but with Cooke in failed site negotiations with local representatives of Washington, DC, then Alexandria, VA, then Washington, DC again and finally, Laurel, MD.
The Redskins eventually found a home in Landover, MD, in 1996, when the Prince George's County Council approved Cooke's plan to build a 78,600-seat football stadium on a 200-acre site.
Ground was broken in April of 1996, with only 17 months to go before the first game would be played in the new venue. Instrumental in helping Cooke meet his tight deadline was Architectural Detail, an architectural millwork and cabinetry shop located in Arlington, VA.
In certain respects, involvement in the project began for Architectural Detail when the architectural division of Walter Lynch & Co. had been contracted to design the Redskins' training facility a few years earlier, and a woodworker employed by the firm, Kevin Smith, performed the work with seven other individuals.
"I was the main person with the cabinetry skills who could do the project -- who could think it through and process it, schedule it and make it happen," says Smith, currently general manager of Architectural Detail, which is an offspring of its parent company, Walter Lynch & Co.
"That project got me off the floor building things to sitting behind a desk and making projects happen," he says. In addition, profits from the training facility project helped Smith and Walter Lynch set up Architectural Detail as a separate entity under the Walter Lynch umbrella of leadership in 1994.
When Walter Lynch was named project manager for the stadium, Architectural Detail immediately bid on the project.
"Even though it was competitively bid, we knew we were going to do the work," Smith says."Nobody else could really competitively bid it because there was no design in place.We were building it as fast as we could design it."
Smith used Cabinet Vision software to generate drawings for the project, which required half a million dollars worth of solid mahogany and half a million dollars worth of Nova prefinished hardwood plywood birch and mahogany panels from States Industries.
Involved with the project from the start were Jack Kent Cooke Sr. and his son, John Kent Cooke. "John was mostly concerned with the look. He didn't care what we had to do to get it done, he just wanted it to look nice," Smith says.
The stadium project consisted of two phases for Architectural Detail. The initial phase (budgeted at $2 million) had to be done by opening day and consisted of the paneling around the stadium, concession stands, restrooms, condiment stands, pro shops and two food courts. The second phase, completed during the summer of 1998, ran the stadium developers $1.6 million and consisted of The Cigar Bar, The Big Jack brew pub and the suite levels.
When the stadium project was in full swing, the company was up and running 24 hours a day.
"They threw the suite levels at us at the last moment. We had to produce three months' worth of work in four weeks," Smith says. "And for the initial phase, we were in a much smaller shop. We had a table saw and a dozen routers. That's how we laid it all out. We didn't have a widebelt sander. We didn't have a lot of anything. I bought a lot of small power tools, but we didn't have any major purchases at that time.
"In both phases of the stadium project, we had incredible deadlines. At the same time, the scope of work kept increasing and clients were changing in the middle. I'm very proud of the fact we were able to meet the deadline despite all of these extra challenges," Smith adds.
With the Cooke stadium as a shining example, Architectural Detail has established a reputation for itself in the District of Columbia as a small company which can pull off large projects where bigger and better-equipped companies have failed, according to Smith.
"I think one of the things we do best is to perform small miracles. We work well within rigid time constraints," he says. "We recently did a quarter-of-a-million-dollar millwork project in a residence after another millwork company pulled out because it didn't have enough time to finish it. We didn't have enough time to do it either, but we organized our people and got it together and did it."
The company recently completed three courtroom projects in Baltimore. The contractor hired to do the job had defaulted with six weeks left in the production schedule. Architectural Detail was contacted and finished the project in eight weeks."That was an incredible time frame, and the turnaround we did for that job was amazing," Smith says.
Such turnaround times are made possible by Architectural Detail's ability to "mass-produce custom work," according to Smith. "Because we are set up to produce one-of-a-kind work, and because of our clients' needs and the speed with which they need those needs met, we have to be very flexible. We don't have CNC machines that need a big input to produce product. Instead, we've arranged our shop to efficiently accommodate custom projects, both big and small."
Architectural Detail serves both commercial and residential clients, without aggressively pursuing either segment. "One of our mottoes is, 'Build a bathroom -- Build a stadium.'There are plenty of small 'nuisance' jobs out there, but sometimes you do them anyway -- not because you need the work, but because you never know where a small project will lead," Smith says. "We did a residential project for a client in the real estate business who sold a house to Jack Kent Cooke. This got our foot in the door to do work in Cooke's house, which in turn got our foot in the door for the stadium project. So, if we had turned down the small job in the beginning, we would have lost out on our big lead."
The company currently employs 40 -- 20 production personnel, 10 field employees, eight office personnel and two design specialists. For the first four years of the company's existence, Architectural Detail inhabited a 2,000-square-foot shop.The company graduated to 4,000 square feet for a short period of time, before moving to the 11,000-square-foot shop in Arlington where the business currently is located.
"We bought new equipment just before we moved here. The old shop wasn't nearly as efficient, we literally had to unplug machines and move them around to get to other work areas. Unfortunately, this shop wasn't ready in time to do all of the stadium project. We did the first phase of the stadium out of the old space and the second phase was done here," Smith says.
The current shop houses two Powermatic 66 table saws; a Delta Rockwell 14-inch rip saw; a Holz-Her 1265 panel saw and 1403 edgebander; an S.J.G. machinery A37C widebelt sander and a line boring machine and a construction boring machine, both from Ritter. The company also has a Unique 250 door machine; a shaper and bandsaw from Delta, and a custom spray booth with an air make-up system.
"We don't have a moulder, but we can use the shaper to produce the large amount of mouldings we need," Smith says.
The company fabricates all of its own cabinet doors. "We used to outsource, but I outsourced some doors for the stadium project, and I never had so many headaches in my life, as far as the product not coming in on time. When you have a tight schedule and you don't have complete control of an important component, then you are at somebody else's mercy. So, I promised myself I'd never again outsource a component that's vital to a project. I'd make it myself, even if I had to buy extra equipment, because that's the only way to have control," Smith says.
Last February, Architectural Detail installed a $50,000 spray booth, where primarily Linmar lacquers are applied by two finishing employees with Kremlin and Binks spray guns.
In its first year of business, the company grossed $200,000. In the last two years, annual sales have hovered around the $2 million mark...and growing.
"We're not holding back as far as growth at all. We're moving forward. I'm not sure where our next level of growth will take us, but it probably won't be in this shop," Smith says.
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