More Business, Less Paper

Dakota Kitchen & Bath keeps its office and shop running efficiently, thanks to key software and machinery purchases.

By Sam Gazdziak

     
Dakota Kitchen & Bath Inc.

Sioux Falls, SD

www.dakotakitchen.com

Year Founded: 1989

Employees: 105

Shop Size: 78,000 square feet

FYI: Dakota’s efficient manufacturing process allows it to build an average of $37,000 to $38,000 worth of cabinets per day.

 
   
     

Just because a company increases sales by $2 million a year doesn’t mean it can’t find room for improvement. Dakota Kitchen & Bath Inc. of Sioux Falls, SD, has increased sales every year since its inception in 1989, thanks to a continued investment in new software and new machinery.

The company’s three owners all take an active role in the day-to-day operation. Steve Lenning oversees the production, while Karen Wegner and Don Miller oversee inside sales and outside sales, respectively. “We’ve got more of an interest making sure things are right than any plant manager or sales manager,” Miller says. “We’re making decisions with our money.”

The three owners met each other while they were all working for a competitor. They each decided it was time to leave and ended up forming Dakota Kitchen & Bath together, specializing in custom cabinetry. “We never worried about whether we’d fail or not,” says Wegner. “Our goal for the first year was $250,000 in sales, and we ended up doing $750,000.”

Since that first year, the company has grown along with its sales figures. It moved into its current building three years ago, which was the third move in 13 years. The 78,000-square-foot building is twice the size of the last one. Similarly, sales have increased every year. Last year’s sales figure of $9.5 million was 4 percent higher than 2000, which was the smallest growth the company has ever had.

     
 
Customers have the option of picking one of more than 50 available door styles in nine available wood species.  
     

“We were rolling right along until August and September,” Miller explains. “But December came back, and we’re doing great now. We’re 15 percent over where we were last year, so it’s starting out well.”

A simplified office

Dakota Kitchen is a rarity in that its sales come from direct and dealer business. The dealer business began four years ago and now covers an 11-state radius. “Once most companies get a dealer business built up, they bag the retail business because they don’t want to deal with it,” Miller says. Outside sales now account for approximately 45 percent of the total sales.

Dakota’s jobs average in the $7,500 to $12,000 range. “We do a lot of twin homes for builders, and those jobs are about $3,000,” Wegner says. “We also do jobs that are $150,000 to $175,000. Those are the $4 million homes.”

As busy as the company is, the process of scheduling and job tracking has become much easier over the last few years, thanks to the addition of key computer software. Dakota has designed cabinets on Cabinet Vision for nine years, but it upgraded to Cabinet Vision Solid about three years ago when it bought a CNC beam saw and point-to-point machining center from SCM Group USA.

Dakota also created software to handle all scheduling, work orders and data sheets. Before that software was added, work orders were all hand-written, and jobs were scheduled on one calendar that kept getting passed around by different employees. “Trying to keep track of everything with paper flying around didn’t work,” Lenning says. “The papers can get lost, and nobody would know what’s going on.”

Lenning says that the change has greatly reduced paperwork. Picking out cabinet options was made easier for the salespeople. Instead of hand-writing everything down on a job sheet, they can now select the wood, stain, finish and door styles on their computers by using a series of drop-down menus.

Another time-saving feature allows for the easy addition of various cabinet options, says Lenning. “We have a lot of accessory items that require special machining, which we would normally have to stop and do in the shop after the cabinet parts come off the machining center. Instead, we’ve gone into Solid and use the user-created standards,” he says. Lenning has created about 150 standards, from swing-out mixer shelves to spice racks. Those standards will automatically reconfigure the cabinet and alter the machining instructions for the point-to-point.

     
 
Along with kitchen and bathroom cabinets, Dakota Kitchen & Bath builds libraries, den cabinetry and entertainment centers.  
     

For example, a customer may request that a roll-out wooden wastebasket be added to a base cabinet. The salesperson drags a base cabinet from Dakota’s cabinet library into Cabinet Vision and sets the dimensions. A standard base cabinet may come with one shelf, and all the machining instructions are in place. By adding “WDWB” at the end of the cabinet name, Solid automatically adds parts for the wastebasket to the parts list. It also eliminates the shelf and the shelf holes and adds the mounting holes for the wastebasket drawer slide. Because the doors will be mounted to the wastebasket and won’t need to swing out, hinge mounting holes are eliminated. All the changes to the machining are done instantaneously, Lenning says.

The programs have saved the salespeople time, along with being easier to use. “We can drop all the options right into the cabinets from here in the office. It has eliminated mistakes that way, where something may have gotten missed in the past. It’s another double check for us,” says Wegner.

Once the job has been approved by the clients, the cabinet design is uploaded to Dakota’s server, where employees in the plan room download it, verify everything with the salespeople, and schedule the machining in the computer’s calendar, which was developed by Dakota.

The scheduling is done based on how many thousands of dollars of work Dakota can do a day. “We tend to stay in the $37,000 to $38,000 a day range,” Lenning says. “At our busiest, we’ve been at $44,000.” That averages from five to seven jobs per day. Large jobs, which can top the $100,000 price, are broken into several smaller pieces.

When a job is scheduled, employees run the designs through the Artist optimizer program from Euro Soft. They try to batch jobs that use the same wood species to cut down on waste. Once optimized, the code is converted to machining instructions via CADCode, and the program is uploaded back onto the server.

From their computers, any of the employees can view the calendar and see when every job is scheduled to be completed and shipped. Any jobs that are pulled off the schedule for some reason will show up in a separate part of the calendar and remain there until they are rescheduled. Anyone can also monitor a job’s progress through the shop. Touch-screen computers are located in the assembly, finishing, quality control and shipping departments. As a job moves through each department, it’s checked off on the computer. “If it doesn’t get touched off in the finishing area on the day that it should, it will be in my report the next day,” Lenning says.

Streamlined production

Along with the front office, the production floor has also benefited from new technology and efficiency. Parts are produced in a morning and afternoon shift. Whatever is cut in the morning is machined in the afternoon. Those parts are then assembled the next morning, and the assembled cabinets are sanded and prepared for finishing that afternoon. Finishing is done the next morning.

Parts are cut on an SCM Sigma 115 Evolution beam saw. It generates bar code labels as parts are cut. Because several jobs are run at once, parts are sorted into several different carts. From there, parts are machined on an SCM Morbidelli Author 600K point-to-point machine. Dakota recently bought a second Morbidelli for MDF routed doors, flutings and curved and crown mouldings. It can also serve as a backup in case the first machine needs service or gets behind schedule. Any parts that need to be edgebanded are run through an SCMI Selecta edgebander.

     
 
Almost all of Dakota’s sales comes from wood residential projects. Sales are split between direct retail clients and a 11-state dealer network.  
     

At the same time that the cabinetry is being assembled, the door and drawer departments are working on the same job. The doors, drawers and casework all meet up in the finishing department, where everything is stained and matched for color.

All finishing is done on a Rhodes Machinery line. Cabinetry is loaded on a cart and sent on a tow line through several booths. A finisher sprays a coat of sealer, and the product is air dried before entering the second booth. A second coat of sealer is then applied, and it is run through a flash tunnel, which pulls the fumes out of the building. The tunnel connects to an oven for heating, and the cabinet is then seal sanded and cleaned. The first coat of catalyzed finish is then sprayed, and it’s sent through another flash tunnel and oven. The cabinets get a second coat of finish and are sent through another flash tunnel and oven. The process takes about two hours.

The entire orderly process was laid out when Dakota planned to move into the building three years ago. “I laid out all the machinery and worked out how the flow was going to go, plus I allowed for future machinery and dust collection,” Lenning says.

Maintaining strong service

One of the company’s goals is to maintain a steady, controlled growth of about 15 percent a year. The company has enough land to double the size of the plant, but none of the owners want to move again. “We’ll grow until we fill up this land, then we’ll be set,” Lenning says. The company has also started to get involved with frameless cabinetry and commercial laminate casework, thanks to its machinery. Laminate work is less than 5 percent of Dakota’s overall sales, but it does open up a new market.

Along with opening new markets, Dakota’s technology and efficiency helps keep customers happy. The company promises a four- to six-week delivery, and it can ship replacement parts as quickly as five days. That service has helped the dealer network grow so quickly.

“In our dealer business, people aren’t used to a vendor like us doing the things we do as far as custom capabilities,” Miller says. “We do a lot of designing for our dealers that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to figure out, because they don’t know how far we can go with manufacturing.” Dakota has been a vendor of the Floor to Ceiling chain for 2-1/2 and has received the vendor of the year award for two years. “It’s not that we go for an award; we just think our service has to be at a certain level,” Miller says. “If that gets us an award, so be it.”

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