W&WP March 2004

 

Custom Products Drive Hurd Millwork

Home construction boom boosts demand for made-to-order vinyl and traditional wood and aluminum clad window packages and doors.

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

 

Hurd Millwork Co. Inc.

Medford, WI

Hurd Millwork sells windows and doors through 400 distributors worldwide. Hurd's products sell well in Mexico and the Pacific Rim. The company claims it is a market leader in mainland China, and that it faces some foreign competition for vinyl windows, but none for wood.

Keys to Success

1. The company blends old and new technology, staving off total automation. Not one window goes out the plant doors without being touched by a human.

2. Hurd has glass, wood window, door and vinyl plants in Merrill, WI. The company lays its own glass and customizes window packages with style and structure options, giving control back to the homeowner and builder.

3. A moulder and arch bender allow Hurd to make unique shapes for products, and new bidding software will handle an expanded, diverse product line.

 

Hurd Millwork Co. Inc. has evolved from its humble, small town beginnings to become a leading manufacturer of high-end windows and doors.

The company was founded in 1919 by brothers Harry and Henry Hurd in their hometown, Medford, WI.

Today, Hurd Millwork employs roughly 1,000 people. Operations are divided over four sites, including corporate headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Medford, and three manufacturing sites in Merrill, WI. The company is well-known for its windows and doors, available in all-wood, aluminium-clad wood and vinyl.

 

Hurd makes windows with special shapes, like the half-round in this window package. Other shapes offered include quarter-round, elliptical, trapezoid, pentagon and triangular.

Hurd Millwork has come a long way since 1919, when its main product was wooden cheese boxes - not too surprising since the company is in the heart of a state famous for dairy products.

Peter Lenar, marketing manager for Hurd, says the unique product focus was short lived. "By the mid-1920s, a population boom led to a building boom and the brothers converted their facilities to manufacture wood window frames. They soon expanded to include sash, doors and other millwork items."

Lenar says back then, the building products industry was not as specialized as it is today. "Hurd Millwork took on all kinds of jobs. In some towns, you could celebrate Saturday night at a fancy bar built by Hurd Millwork, then worship on Sunday morning at an altar made by Hurd. Chances are the windows in both places were built by Hurd, too."

During World War II, Hurd Millwork temporarily added another product - munitions boxes. The company grew steadily over the years and became known as a quality, regional wood window and patio door manufacturer.

New Beginnings

In 1964, Hurd was bought by United Industrial Syndicate (UIS Inc.), a privately held New Jersey-based company. Harry Hurd stepped down as president and the company continued, infused with the capital it needed to expand and innovate.

"The financial backing of UIS let the company grow in leaps and bounds in the '60s and '70s, and into the '80s," Lenar says.

In the early 1980s, the company developed a product called Heat Mirror, a glazing process that gave windows strong energy value performance numbers and protected against harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. "Heat Mirror was revolutionary for its time and put Hurd on the map as a technological leader in the industry," Lenar says.

 

Single-hung windows were used in this home. The windows have fingertip lifts at the top rail of the bottom sashes.

The company recorded a strong and rapid growth of 20 percent, generally attributed to the success of the Heat Mirror, Lenar says. Then the rest of the industry caught up with similar, high-performance window products.

Back on the Map

Since 2000, a new management team has worked to reinvigorate the company.

"Their goal has been to renew what Hurd means as a brand name, what we mean to our customers and to ourselves. We made a conscious effort to put Hurd back on the map. It has been a successful move," Lenar says.

The company has introduced a variety of new products, including its high-performance Low-E glazing, which is a second generation of Heat Mirror, and features a thermal coating on the interior pieces of glass.

Lenar says Hurd has a reputation of offering the heaviest windows in the market. "If you take a casemate here, compare it with our competition's window, we outweigh them, pound for pound, and that says something about the construction of our windows and integrity and tradition of quality. Ultimately, the homeowner and builder will benefit from a structurally sound window that is able to withstand the outside elements."

Lenar says as a result, Hurd is able to offer customers long warranties. Hurd offers 10-year warranties on the window components and 20 years on glass.

Lenar says the Medford and Merrill plants are blends of old and new technology. "While others believe in automation, Hurd boasts that not one window goes out of the plants that a human has not touched," he says.

The company markets its products with the advertisement, "Some manufacturers tend to rely on robots. Geez, remind us not to go to the company picnic."

Lenar says Hurd employs some of the industry's best engineers and product developers, as well as third- and fourth-generation craftsmen.

"That foundation of tradition goes into every window we make," Lenar says. "We let Anderson, Marvin and Pella produce a window every 24 seconds, but when it comes to us, we put a little more craftsmanship and pride in quality."

Variety of Woods Popular

Sixty percent to 70 percent of what Hurd makes is the traditional wood clad window, with a low-maintenance aluminum clad exterior and a wood interior. About 10 percent of Hurd's products are entirely made of wood and the remainder are vinyl. Vinyl represents the growth area for the window industry as a whole, but Hurd customers prefer the clad windows, Lenar says.

 

A Hurd employee stands in front of wood strands that have been machined with a Tech PT 6 bender. Strands are laminated, heated, stretched and bent to the desired shape for use in windows.

Interiors of wood clad windows are usually Ponderosa pine or red oak, although Lenar says it is a sign of the times that customers are asking for a variety of other woods, such as mahogany, alder, cypress and maple. Hurd is customer-oriented and will work with builders and homeowners to craft windows in most any wood, he adds.

Lenar says the custom home and high-end customer markets like exotic species, styles and accessories, like ornate grille patterns. Hurd offers a wide range of trim options, along with a long list of clad colors, with grilles available in wood or aluminum clads.

Grilles can also be featured in airspace or a custom option designed by the client, builder or architect. "We like being known as the company that turns ideas into reality," Lenar says.

Lenar says he also sees a growth market for windows made with green products, featuring composite materials like cellular PVCs and wood flour similar to the Trex decking material.

"Green building products are big," Lenar says. "Being able to manufacture a home with reclaimed products is taking hold, but I don't think a wood window will ever go away. There's something about the warmth of wood and the structural and architectural beauty of the material that can't be captured with anything else, in addition to (its) performance."

Custom Window Packages

About 10 percent to 15 percent of Hurd's windows and doors go into the light commercial market, such as libraries, dormitories, churches and one-story business structures. Approximately 80 percent go into new home construction.

Hurd is able to work with customers to give them exactly what they are looking for, partly because the company lays its own glass. "We create the glass 'sandwich' and put it into our windows," Lenar says. "The competition offers ready-made, insulated glass windows. The whole structure of our future is to customize products based on more than just where a client lives."

For example, Lenar says two families could be living across the street from each other in Kenosha, WI. But because there are style and structure options, they could have completely different window packages."Hurd is giving the control back to the homeowner and the builder to design the ultimate window package," he says.

New Equipment

Lenar says the company has a nice variety of new machines on its production floor in Medford. The three-story facility has everything from standard woodworking shop routers, jointers, rippers and Mereen-Johnson ripsaws to a Stetson-Ross bandsaw and new CNC equipment.

New machinery includes CNC moulders by Weinig and a Tech PT-6 bender designed to do radius styles. "The whole customization angle and going to unique shapes is taking a foothold in our production," Lenar says. "The new PT6 bender offers us ease of manufacturing for the range of radiuses we can offer."

Hurd's idea brochure displays a wide array of shapes, from half-rounds to quarter-rounds, arches with equal or unequal sides, chords, full circles, ovals, octagons, triangles, trapezoids, ellipticals and more, with the option to design a custom shape in a non-standard configuration.

The Weinig moulders take stock and cuts it to any programmed size. "We have more than a million SKUs," Lenar says.

The moulders also cut the shapes that will allow the blending of aluminum with wood.

Hurd recently developed new bidding software to handle the diverse product line and is working with distributors to make sure they are current with new products and processes. All this marks an exciting future for Hurd, as it celebrates its 85th year.

"We are opening a new door for Hurd," Lenar says.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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