This dynamic cabinet manufacturer finds growth aspirations and respect for the environment go hand in hand.
Bill Weaver does not hesitate when asked about the secret behind Monroe, WA-based Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.'s success. What makes the company one of America's best, according to Weaver, president and CEO, is its people.
"What it always comes back to is people," he says. "We never give up. The sense of never being satisfied is what keeps us going."
Along the way Canyon Creek has posted steady and strong growth. This year, sales are up 15% to nearly $70 million, after increasing by 20% last year. Since 1999, Canyon Creek's sales have skyrocketed by 70%.
Weaver's five-year target is $150 million in sales - without relying on acquisitions.
Some of the recent growth comes from market expansion. While the company's focus remains primarily in the western United States, Canyon Creek has added East Coast distribution in the last two years. Sales in the high-end market also have expanded "tremendously," Weaver says.
Consumer demand spurred a growing product line which includes so many options, that Canyon Creek has essentially become a high-volume custom cabinet shop. That's part of the continuing challenge, Weaver says.
Canyon Creek's "green" practices are long-standing; the company established a comprehensive recycling program long before it became fashionable for corporations to do so. Yet, Weaver resists the tree-hugger label. Instead, he says he takes the practical approach and focuses on what makes sense from both business and environmental standpoints.
Canyon Creek's wood waste, for instance, is sent to a nearby co-generation plant, while a switch to water-based finishes eliminates solvents and reduces air pollutants. Revamping finishing processes allowed the company to take some gas ovens out of service, thereby reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds while also cutting energy costs.
"There are lots of green programs out there that companies can avail themselves of," Weaver says. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel."
For example, Weaver says his company's entire operation switched to energy-conserving lights last year. This move not only reduced electric bills, but earned Canyon Creek a rebate from the utility company.
In yet another example, Canyon Creek took advantage of the Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Wise program, which helped the company pay for the addition of a variable-frequency drive to simplify fan-speed changes in its dust collection system. The change improved efficiency and reduced electricity usage by 38%.
"It's a passage in discovery," Weaver says. "We're trying to figure out at what level we should be involved."
Efforts so far have focused on humane services, including becoming a major contributor to the local food bank and assisting the senior citizens' center and YMCA.
Joining the community emergency response program also fits that focus, and it grew out of seeing what services were already in place when designing the plant's emergency response plan. Canyon Creek employees participate in triage, first aid and search-and-rescue training. A 2001 Seattle earthquake provided a real-world test that not only aided Canyon Creek's neighbors, but also pinpointed areas for improvement.
Not every company initiative has borne success. For example, Weaver says he had hoped to expand the community focus on education with a WoodLINKS program to help train high school students in woodworking operations. He had to abandon that plan in the face of federal regulators who balked at allowing underage workers to operate nearly all of the company's equipment.
"We couldn't make it work," he laments. "We just dropped it so we wouldn't put other (similar) programs in the state in jeopardy."
The Human Element
"I don't know how we [maintain so dependable a workforce]," he says. "We don't have any edge on hiring. Our turnover is the same as anyone's."
Weaver does credit his company's work environment for helping shape a winning mindset. The tone of that environment is set in Canyon Creek's mission statement, which lists the following eight corporate core values:
"We take this seriously," Weaver says. "This is who we are."
Great effort is taken to give employees "a sense of belonging and being in it together instead of putting themselves first." Instilling pride and getting employees to work as a team affects how they treat each other and what they expect of each other, he adds.
"We've tried to create an atmosphere of accountability that's not threatening. It's a fine line to walk," he says. "I don't know how to translate it to anyone else, but this is how it works for us."
Canyon Creek has restructured its operations and management team to increase efficiency and prepare for future growth. Plant operations are now broken into four specialty areas:
A different manager oversees each area. These four department managers report to the manufacturing director, who synthesizes all of the information for smoother operations.
The new arrangement replaces having a single person responsible for overall plant operations, a system that became more arduous as the company grew in leaps and bounds. "Now we have specialists instead of generalists," Weaver says.
Quality control is at the forefront of the company's reorganization. In addition to having its products certified by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn., Canyon Creek has been ISO certified since early 2002. In September 2003, the company was accepted into the ISO 9001:2000 quality management system. The goal of ISO 9001:2000 is to help achieve customer satisfaction and to have a system to monitor continual improvement.
"We're almost two companies here because we build framed and frameless cabinets," Weaver says. The new ERP system should not only help the company better manage production, it will help boost production, currently at 940 cabinets a day.
It typically takes six days to manufacture an order, from the time it hits the production floor to shipping. Most of the three-week lead-time on orders goes to planning and office operations. Weaver says he hopes the new computer system and other changes will tighten that schedule.
To raise production efficiency even higher, the company has changed how material flows through the plant and how it processes orders. Where a production order once ran through as a single unit, whether for one cabinet or 100, Canyon Creek now builds a single cabinet at a time.
"The downside is we wind up with more open orders at the end of assembly than before," Weaver says, but the trade-off is removing order "bulges" on the production floor. Smoothing out the flow of orders far outweighs the need for warehouse space to hold orders while all components are produced, he adds.
Three "orphan bins" along the production route - at door and frame construction, the finishing department and the assembly area - push efficiency higher by setting aside specific places for cabinets to wait for missing pieces to catch up. Other recent productivity-enhancing additions include a Biesse Rover CNC machining center, a Dodds CNC dovetail machine and the addition of several automated sanding machines, including a Quickwood sander from Sand-Tech and a DMC orbital sander from SCM Group USA. The conversion of some finishing operations to UV coatings is also relatively new.
Greener Finishing System
Because UV finishes cure immediately after they are applied, their use helps speed production. "You feed it through and when it comes out the other end, you can handle it right away," Weaver says.
Canyon Creek is currently running UV materials on flat-panel stock, recently added vacuum coating equipment to extend UV coatings to mouldings and other lineal components. Plans call for an eventual expansion into doors and frames.
"There are some things it's not appropriate for, such as glazes," Weaver says. UV coatings will become an increasingly larger segment of the company's product line, he adds.
"I feel we could still double our volume in our markets and it would still only be a drop in the bucket," Weaver says. "The economy is just plain good. If you're in the building trades and your business is not doing well now, you're in the wrong trade."
Momentum also plays a role. One new customer leads to another, and soon "the market starts coming to you," Weaver says.
"But at the same time," Weaver says, "you can never take that for granted."
That is where internal momentum steps in to continuously improve quality and productivity.
"We're driven to keep doing better, which keeps us looking forward to explore new opportunities," he says.
On Being Green
Monroe-based Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.'s commitment to the environment is supported by the numerous awards it has received from federal, state and local agencies. They include:
1999 - Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence
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