BHK of America’s Perspective

Three Keys to a Successful Partnership

1. Communication: Both BHK of America and flexcel stay in constant, close communication with each other. Through this constant contact, the companies are able to minimize problems and plan ahead for changes in flexcel’s manufacturing requirements.

2. Manufacturing Solutions: BHK helped flexcel standardize its drawer program and as a result, flexcel streamlined its drawer assembly operations. Flexcel helped BHK perfect its finishing operations to meet its requirements.

3. Innovation: BHK created a company within a company to more efficiently process smaller quantity orders. This helps flexcel get what it needs when it needs it so it can carry less inventory and meet tight lead times.

BHK of America
South Boston, VA

BHK of America, headquartered in Central Valley, NY, is a manufacturers of RTA drawer systems and components operating a 129,000-square-foot plant in South Boston, VA. The company is also a major supplier to the consumer market for paneling, laminate flooring, moulding and accessories.


 BHK of America, a family-owned drawer manufacturing business founded in 1971 in Germany, is one of the largest manufacturers of custom made drawer systems and components in the world and a pioneer in marketing a glueless laminate flooring product, along with engineered wood and cork flooring lines.

BHK has capitalized on the outsourcing trend. Labor shortages, costs, product quality and changing technology are just a few of the reasons more and more wood product companies are reaching out to wood component manufacturing specialists.

BHK has evolved from a manufacturer of drawers for the industrial wood products market to also serving consumer markets. Having experienced growth in every year of its operation, BHK continues to expand its product line, and its customer base.

Partners in Success
One of BHK’s major OEM accounts is flexcel, a division of Kimball International in Salem, IN. Entering into the second year of a component seller/buyer relationship, the two companies have worked together to make it through the latest turbulent economic stretch using a few age-old virtues to forge a mutually prosperous partnership: communication, dependable employees and flexibility.

Flexcel purchases glue-and-dowel constructed wood drawer parts from BHK for the office desks it produces. Through this partnership, both parties have been able to lean on each other to share knowledge and further their individual success.

“The key to our relationship with flexcel is the people,” says Bill Byrne, vice president of sales and marketing at BHK of America. “Partnerships are only as good as the people involved and John Barwe, senior buyer at flexcel, has really been instrumental in keeping our partnership going.”

Byrne says he has been calling on Jay Henriott, a current flexcel employee involved in design and development, for the last 20 years, which made the courtship between the two companies a little easier.

“He would use us as an information source in the past for certain projects he was working on,” says Byrne. “We would stay in touch on a regular basis and if he needed some outside information on a project he would give me a call.”

The partnership was formed when flexcel looked for a new supplier that could not only provide economical, quality drawers, but support with key product information.

The previous company flexcel purchased drawers from was not keeping up with the specifications and was letting quality slip. The personal relationship between Byrne and Henriott led flexcel’s purchasing department to contact BHK.

BHK of America purchased Koch equipment to help in the manufacture of its drawer systems. Most of BHK’s drawer box stations feature Koch equipment to do final cuts.  

 â€œWe looked at their situation and we worked with them to get the job done,” Byrne says. “They outlined what they were looking for, we matched the finish that they wanted — brought it back to what it should have been to begin with. From there, it just started to mushroom. We went from supplying them with only their drawers to also supplying some of their sheet goods. It is an ever-evolving situation now.”

BHK offers drawer systems in a wide range of sizes, substrates and finishes, making it easy for flexcel to work out its specifications.

“Once the relationship got off the ground, John Barwe was always looking for ways to make his production smoother and of course to save money long term. The relationship allows them the ability to do just that. We are providing them a much better product then they were previously receiving and we save them costs down the road,” Byrnes said.

One concept that both parties agreed on was standardizing flexcel’s drawer program.

“We recommended to them that standardizing would save them a lot of money,” says Byrne “By improving their production and quality, limiting the number of sizes available, it would reduce their inventory. It would also allow us to produce larger runs which helps in our production and pricing as well.”

Byrne says Barwe has been receptive to advice from BHK.

“We will make a recommendation, do this or take this drilling action out or standardize this to save X amount of dollars. He will take it to his engineering department and get it approved. They have been extremely flexible which is why it is so easy to work with them.

“The goal for both companies is to produce a high-quality product at a price point that makes us both competitive. The only way to do that is for both companies to work closely together,” Byrne says.

More Than Just Drawers
Pleased with the drawer program, flexcel also buys sheet goods from BHK.

“They now get some of their 4-foot by 8-foot plywood sheets from us,” Byrne says, “including mahogany, cherry and other plywood. They feel very comfortable with us and vice versa.”

As with any relationship, situations arise that create kinks that need to be worked out. That is where Byrne says the key ingredient — communication — comes in to play.

“Whether it be a color problem, adjustment in the finish or drilling or machining of a certain product, the key is to have a tight communication with each person involved,” says Byrne.

“We stay in touch daily, either via e-mail or telephone. We stay on top of situations that arise and make sure not to let them fester. If a face-to-face visit is required to make sure the situation is resolved, it gets done. If we address the situation immediately and find a resolution, there are always options. The communication between the two companies is what makes the partnership work.”

No Drawer Customer too Big or too Small
Though BHK has a lot of large OEM accounts like flexcel, it has a distribution chain to serve small woodworking companies as well.

BHK’s Cefla flatline finishing system includes two Hessemann widebelt sanders. The company sends an average of 95,000 square feet of sheets a day through its finishing line. “The secret to finishing is in the sanding.,” says Byrne. “That is where you make or break your finish.”  

 â€œThe economy has given everybody hits over the past couple years,” says Byrne. “We have basically reviewed our business during this time and made changes where needed. Our business has changed 100 percent in the last five years.”

BHK has been on the ground floor of several production innovations including vinyl wrap and miterfold drawer sides, and glueless laminate flooring.

New products which BHK will introduce soon include tongue-and-groove laminate ceilings, paneling and complimentary mouldings.

The drawers produced by BHK used to be strictly for large volume accounts. The thought of taking time to alter the equipment and production schedule to make 10 or 20 drawers for a small shop was simply not an economically feasible option for BHK or its customers.

“Our business has changed. Some of our customers instead of ordering 30,000 drawers at a clip, wanted to order 200 drawers. To set up this equipment for 200 drawers isn’t practical. So we built a company within a company,” explains Byrne. “We put in state-of-the-art Koch drawer making equipment along with an additional Brandt edgebanding line and Altendorf saws. This now affords us to do the same quality work with minimum volumes. Yes, we can still do 30,000 drawers next week, but we can also do 100 drawers.

“The onesies and twosies have really helped us in our bottom line and allowed us to weather the storm during this downturn in the economy,” says Byrne. “We are now at about 60/40 when it comes to large vs. small companies. Business is constantly changing and unless you change along with it, you aren’t going to be around for very long.

“We have a quick-ship program. Whether we ship one drawer or 50 drawers, we can ship in three days,” says Byrne. “We have it set up so that our sales people and distributors can give a small account a delivered price right on the spot.”

BHK created a company within a company by making space for the purchase of new equipment to use for handling the smaller production runs.

BHK uses a Homag Optimat edgebander on its main edgebanding line with most of the drawer box stations consisting of Koch equipment to do final machining of drawers. Leuco is BHK’s dominant cutting tool supplier.

In addition to two Schwabedissen saws, BHK uses a Selco panel saw from Biesse America to cut the various drawer parts. If it is busy the company is able to utilize an Altendorf F-45 sliding table saw.

“Everything is scheduled so we can take advantage of the space and equipment we have,” says Byrne. “We truly are a just-in-time manufacturer.”

The edgebander used for the smaller jobs is a Brandt. “If someone comes in with a job they need done in a hurry, that is what we will use,” says Byrne. “We have to have the Altendorf saws for cutting bottoms and such. Even when our Selco is booked solid, we can still use the Altendorf to cut the bottoms for drawers.” Byrne goes on to say that the Koch equipment can generate 6,000 to 8,000 pieces a shift.

The company is now looking to add an additional 50,000 square feet to its 129,000-square-foot facility in South Boston for future endeavors. BHK’s current total is roughly at 1,000,000 square feet in total space with all of its worldwide facilities combined.

Finishing Touches
BHK installed a Cefla flatline finishing system at its South Boston facility five years ago. The line also includes Heeseman widebelt sanders

Walter Fruend, plant manager at BHK’s South Boston facility, came over from Germany and is the taskmaster of the operation. “There isn’t a piece of equipment in this finishing line or this facility that he can’t totally tear down and put back together,” says Byrne.

BHK uses a double-sanded 12mm board, which provides a consistent thickness. The company sends an average of 95,000 square feet of board a day through its finishing line.

Once a board is put on the finishing line, it goes through the initial Heeseman sander, then the oven before the basecoat is applied. The UV lamps cure the basecoat finish before another gel coat is applied. After curing, the gel coat is sanded and then a clear coat is applied, dried and sanded to complete the process.

A consistent finish and attention to detail has helped BHK be able to supply its customers with better value-added products.

“The secret to finishing is in the sanding. This includes making sure the equipment is set at the right pressure, making sure the sanding pads are maintained, the rollers are applying the sealer correctly and that the finish is maintained properly,” says Byrne.

“The sanding pads and rollers are maintained so they stay pliable with the right consistency, which is very important,” says Byrne. “That is where you make or break your finish. A lot of people try to cut back and keep rollers in the process too long.”

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