Door Manufacturer Hopes to make a Grand Entrance in a New Venture
Creative Woodworks plans to double output while cutting lead times in half with engineered wood doors.
By Sam Gazdziak
Most people would be content with having turned a woodworking hobby into a million-dollar wood working business within five years. Tommy Hepler, owner of Creative Woodworks, Canton, GA, has not only done that, but he also has plans to more than double his sales next year.
Creative Woodworks is a wholesaler of solid wood entry doors. The company receives requests for about 75 to 100 quotes per day, and every door is made custom. âWe never know from one order to the next, so we canât build up 500 of this and 100 of that,â says Hepler. âWe just build them as we get orders.â He estimates Creative Woodworks builds about 200 to 250 doors per month.
The doors are primarily made for residences, although the company has made doors for banks, hotels and churches as well. As a wholesaler, Hepler says he does not always know exactly where the doors go once they leave the building.
Doors can be made either with radiuses or without, with glass or with multiple panels. Style and size can also vary considerably. While the company does many panel or true radius doors, it also made a set of Gothic-style doors for a church in Duluth, GA. The largest door Creative Woodworks ever made is a 7-foot by 11-foot fixed door with insulated glass in it.
Prior to starting Creative Woodworks, Hepler had a 20-year career in trucking, doing woodworking on the side. Almost six years ago, after enough people told him that he should sell his pieces, he quit trucking and leased a building to start a wood working business.
âI got hooked up with Steve Lavin, whoâs got about 22 years of millwork experience, primarily building custom entry doors,â Hepler says. âHe and I have been together since.â Lavin is Creative Woodworksâ general manager and oversees all the production work.
Creative Woodworks has about a dozen customers that request quotes regularly. Hepler reviews them and sends back a price. If the customers accept the price, they fax back an order. Two of his primary customers are Precision Millwork and Georgia Flush Door Sales, both based in Georgia, and they distribute the doors on a nationwide level.
âWithout them, I would probably be still struggling with a two- or three-man shop,â says Hepler, who has 10 employees in a 7,500-square-foot shop. âThings are going very well, and theyâre a big part of it.â
Currently, Creative Woodworks offers only solid wood doors. But while solid wood doors will always be part of the companyâs product line, Hepler is planning to add 5,000 square feet to his shop, hire four more employees and also start producing an engineered stile-and-rail door. The expansion is scheduled to be completed by early next year. Already, he has set up an agreement to market the doors through South American Lumber Imports, the company that is Creative Woodworksâ mahogany supplier.
The current lead time for an order of solid wood doors is four weeks, although that sometimes needs to be stretched to five or six weeks. Using engineered wood, he says he can cut his lead time in half.
A lack of quality wood is a major problem in keeping to a production schedule. Hepler says that one of the most difficult parts of the wood working business is trying to find lumber that is usable for the door industry.
âItâs frustrating to see a board that has a bad bow to it, and you canât straighten it,â he says. âIf you could cut it up into shorter pieces like cabinet companies can do, then itâs much easier. Itâs real hard to find a clear, straight 8-foot piece that will make a stile.â
Even when employees use lumber that initially looks fine, problems may still occur.
âIn our process, we run the door through our sander, and we take approximately 1/32 of an inch off when we sand. There are occasions when a blemish or a bad spot will come up after we put the door together and start sanding it out. Then we have to start the whole thing over, and there goes our schedule,â he says.
When the company starts using engineered wood, workers will be able to simply pull parts from a rack. âThey donât have to wait on somebody to mill and process the lumber and say, âI lost this piece because of a knot or sap pocket.â They already have a piece of wood thatâs flat and to their dimensions,â Hepler says. âAll they have to do is profile it and put it together. It will cut my labor in more than half.â
Hepler says that mahogany is the most popular solid wood Creative Woodworks uses, so it will definitely be offered as a veneer choice when the company starts making engineered wood doors. He will also offer red oak, cherry, walnut and white oak â species where it is difficult to find good lumber.
Along with the new production process, Hepler is adding new machinery to the shop floor. Creative Woodworks already has a full complement of machinery for its solid wood doors. Much of the companyâs machinery has come from SCM Group USA, distributed through Southeastern Machinery, including an SCMI gang ripsaw, a Superset 23 six-headed moulder, a Sandya three-headed 52-inch widebelt sander and four T130 shapers. Employees also use a Powermatic shaper and planer and an Oliver 12-inch table saw.
Hepler has already purchased the new machinery for his expansion. One of the main pieces will be a Wintersteiger frame sash saw from Ogden Enterprises. He says that he saw it on display at IWF and was impressed with its efficiency. He also bought a Rosenquist radio-frequency edge gluer that can glue up to 10-inch-thick materials. It also takes less than a minute to dry the glue â currently, employees leave doors clamped up overnight.
Hepler is estimating sales for Creative Woodworks to be at around $3 million next year, with the new wood working business fully operational. He adds that he will also finally be able to keep up with the number of requests for quotes he receives. âThatâs been my frustration for five years,â he says. âI get a lot of requests for quotes, but I canât do them, simply because I canât do them fast enough to get to them. By doing this expansion, I know I can double my output, and I can be a whole lot more competitive with the big door manufacturers.â
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