At Kansas City, KS-based Laminate Works Inc., the message is simple: “We make parts, only parts.” The company, which has a second location in Dallas, fabricates laminated panels and component parts for the woodworking industry and beyond.

“There aren’t many industries that we aren’t serving,” says Bert Clothier, president. “But there’s always more out there. If it’s flat and it’s got laminate on it, it’s a potential customer.”

Between the company’s two locations — 100,000 square feet in Kansas City, 55,000 square feet in Dallas and 62 employees overall — it has the capability of laying up 400 panels per facility, per shift. Yet it does not make any finished products. The panels and component parts are packed and shipped off to manufacturers without any kind of assembly. This business model puts Laminate Works in a unique position in the industry.

Because the company only makes parts, it serves as an extension of its customers, instead of being considered as a potential competitor, Clothier says. This has opened the door to a broad spectrum of customers.

“I could rattle off names all day long where I know my products are used, but at the same token, we don’t sell to any of those customers. We only sell to the manufacturers that make the restaurant fixturing, store fixturing, commercial casework, whatever,” says Clothier.

In addition to woodworking companies that need panels or components, there are specialized niche markets that the company is able to provide parts to. Clothier refers to these as “wizbits.” A prime example of one of the company’s “wizbits” is a small wooden part for a manufacturer of hospital beds that otherwise include no wooden parts.

Whatever the customer and component, Clothier says Laminate Works has positioned itself as a “solutions company.”

“We look for relationships, partnerships and programs,” Clothier explains. “We like to walk potential customers’ plant floors and offer up solutions to possible bottlenecks, as opposed to selling a defined product line.”

And because the company has invested heavily in technology, it is able to offer a variety of solutions, such as contour banding, T-moulding, postforming, machining and slatwall. Technology also has been a key factor in maintaining the levels of quality and consistency for which the company is known.

At Laminate Works, each employee plays an important role in the quality control process. President Bert Clothier says the people that work for him are one of the most important parts of the company.
Both facilities feature cutting-edge technology, such as this Gabbiani rear load beam saw from SCM Group USA. Thanks to technology, the company can keep customers happy with high-quality and repeatability.

Not Satisfied with “Satisfied”

According to Clothier, Laminate Works’ customers are its best form of advertising. Therefore, he takes a strong stance on customer satisfaction and quality.

“I can’t stand the word ‘satisfied.’ To me, satisfied is a ‘C student,’ average, medium, okay, lukewarm, all of those words I don’t like. I want our customers to be elated. I want them to be excited.”

Clothier’s approach to customer satisfaction is a sure step toward success. Despite the troubled economy, Laminate Works’ sales have been up the last few months when compared to the prior year period.

“In our industry, as well as most industries, they say that there’s three things that control the decision: price, service and quality,” Clothier explains. “Those are the three things that can make the decision and you can only pick two. For us, we chose to pick service and quality, and focused less on price.

“That was kind of dangerous in that you’ve got to be competitive, and I think we are, but typically we’re not the cheapest resource,” Clothier adds. “We’re much more service and quality driven.”

It comes as no surprise that maintaining high expectations of quality is a key part of that strategy.

“We have the same quality issues everybody else has,” Clothier explains. “Being quality driven doesn’t mean you have a perfect product. It means that you respond to it when it happens.”

Everyone that works on a part or panel has responsibility in the quality control process. If there is an error, it is used as an opportunity for everyone to learn from it.

“For me, if we make a mistake, I’ve got to look at that as a good thing, because you’ve learned something,” Clothier remarks. “In our organization, you’ve got to say ‘Well what are you going to do the next time so you don’t make that same mistake again?’ That’s the single best quality measure we’ve ever put in.”

Technology is another strong component of quality — and consistency — at Laminate Works. The company has remained on the forefront of technology.

“We have invested heavily in machinery, both in Kansas City and Dallas. Pretty much everything we have is cutting-edge technology,” Clothier remarks.

Both facilities utilize automated glue lines from Black Bros. to laminate the panels. In the Kansas City facility, panels are cut on either a Schelling rear load beam saw or Holzma (Stiles Machinery) beam saw. Also from Stiles, is a Homag BAZ contour edgebander/machining center and a Homag KAL straight line edgebander. The Kansas City facility also utilizes a CMS nested-based machining center, a Topmaster PLC T-moulding machine and a Midwest Automation throughfeed postformer. Most recently, the company purchased two slatwall machines for its Kansas City facility.

In addition to the Black Bros. glue line, the Dallas facility features a Morbidelli Author machining center, Gabbiani Galaxy rear load beam saw and Stefani straight line edgebander, all from SCM Group USA Inc.

“A customer might request a handful of parts one month, and then order more of the same two years later. The right equipment can mean that the parts fabricated years from now will look just the same as the parts made today,” he adds. “That’s where the automation really pulls together.”

Blue and Black and Seen All Over
Over the years, Laminate Works has tried many avenues for advertising to varying degrees of success. The strongest form of advertising has been the customers.

Clothier says the company’s sales force also has been instrumental in building the business. The company’s sales force, strategically located throughout the Midwest, has helped to build the company’s brand in the woodworking industry and beyond.

Additionally, trade shows have provided the company with good opportunities to tell its story to specific market segments. “Going to the trade shows makes it easier for the sales people, and I think the customers gain confidence in us in that we are supporting those different trade shows,” Clothier explains.

It does not hurt that the company has a striking logo that stands out and is recognizable.

“Everything is blue and black; our logo is very strong. When we’re doing our trade show booth it’s all blue, black and white,” Clothier says. “I think we’ve done a good job of communicating who we are, and at the same time built some visual identity recognition.
“We’ve not only developed a company, we’ve created a brand, and I think we’ve worked pretty hard to brand Laminate Works so that as we go into other markets, we don’t have to define ourselves every time,” Clothier adds.

About Laminate Works
Kansas City, KS
Founded in 1999, the company produces laminated panels and component parts. As a “solutions company,” Laminate Works partners with its customers to eliminate bottlenecks.

Three Keys
1. Laminate Works makes only components and no finished products, opening it up to a wider range of customers.
2. Company President Bert Clothier does not want his customers to be satisfied; he wants them to be “elated.”
3. The company uses state-of-the-art technology to ensure quality and consistency every time.

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