People Come First>
Building a customer- and employee-friendly atmosphere has brought continued growth and expansion to Madsen Fixture & Millwork.>
By Sam Gazdziak>
With more than 50 years' combined experience in the woodworking industry, Jeff Trippe and Chet Morgan understand what makes a happy employee. They know that having a varied workload with state-of-the art machinery is important, but so is being able to leave early and see a son's grade-school play. So when they decided to start their own company, they also made the decision to treat their employees the way they always wanted to be treated.> "We had all worked for other companies," says Trippe. "Basically, we didn't like the way people got treated at most of the places where we worked, and we felt we could do a better job at that and make people want to come to work."
Trippe and Morgan, who serve as owners and project managers, started Madsen Fixture & Millwork in Forest Lake, MN, on January 1, 1998. They give their employees tremendous freedom, working under the assumption that "a highly motivated crew can do a great job," Trippe says.
"We have very flexible hours; we've never had that in other places where we worked," he adds. "There may be times where we'll ask the guys to make the time up if we're really busy, but if it's important to somebody, then they should go."
Madsen employs 45 people between the office and shop. Not surprisingly, finding employees hasn't been a problem. Neither has finding work; the company has been expanding steadily ever since it opened.
"We started with 4,000 square feet, just in a little corner [of the building]," Trippe says. "Within two years we had the whole building. It was in the third year that we bought the building. A little over a year ago we added a 10,000-square-foot addition, and we're contemplating another one."
The company's sales have likewise grown. Madsen's $6 million in sales in 2003 represented a 43 percent growth, which ranked it at Number 26 in Wood & Wood Products' annual WOOD 100 report on the fastest-growing woodworking companies in North America.
Whatever It Takes
"We aren't just one niche," says Kristyn Murray, Madsen's controller. "We can do a wide variety of anything. Pretty much anything that's been asked of us, we've somehow managed to get done."
One thing Madsen offers its employees is a variety of work. The shop can be busy working on fixtures that incorporate wood, laminate, metal, glass, solid surface material and more. Some of the manufacturing of those materials is outsourced, but the task of final assembly falls to Madsen. The company also works on prototyping new fixtures and figuring out how to efficiently manufacture a custom product with production methods.
Trippe says that value engineering is a specialty of the company's employees. Customers come in with anything from a napkin sketch to a set of architectural drawings, and the project managers proceed from there. "We make it work," he says. "We have a good understanding of what our customer needs, and we make it a point to get into what the function of the piece is, what they want it to do. Then we try to make it work better for them."
One of the company's largest customer is women's clothing retailer Christopher & Banks and C.J. Banks. While Madsen's project managers have several accounts, C&B is large enough that it is Morgan's sole account. "I work on everything, from ordering materials to new prototypes and making sure the trucks are here to pick up our shipments and deliveries, all facets of it," he says.
"We do their storefronts, all the millwork and trim within the stores, fitting rooms and benches, cash wraps and back wrap signage," Morgan says. "We also provide for the store front signage if it's located inside a mall."
Another large client, Select Comfort, has several traditional fixture items like cash wraps and dump bin units, but the company also incorporates electronics into its units to demonstrate its Sleep Number beds. Madsen installs the electronics into its display headboards and other units and even has a static-free room in its 36,000-square-foot facility to test each unit. Trippe has been working with Select Comfort since 1993, when the company first launched its retail portion.
New Machines for Production
The company's project managers are largely responsible for getting the project to the shop. If it is a prototype, there are meetings to make sure that everyone involved is on the same page.
"That's something we're doing more and more of, getting more people involved in what is the best way to take a particular custom piece and make it a production run," Trippe says.
Madsen also takes a lead role in the installation of the product, as part of its customer service. "We line up the shipping and deal with the general contractors that come in," Murray says. "Our customer doesn't have to be the middle person. It takes a little step away from them, so they've got more time to spend on their end."
Madsen's employees are equally adept at working on a run of 250 units or a set of prototype fixtures. In either case, the company is aware of the deadlines involved in the fixture industry and strives to deliver the product in time.> The company recently completed a series of fixtures for the gift shop of a new dinosaur-themed restaurant. "They came in about a week before they set up and said, 'We need fixtures that look like dinosaurs,'" recalls Paul Munson, one of Madsen's project managers. "We scoured the Web for pictures, brought them into Adobe and traced them out. It all went over really well."
"I think we had six working days to turn the thing around," Trippe adds. "It was at the last minute where they asked us to do a of couple things, and it ended up being a whole store's worth of fixtures."
One of the company's current projects is building glass fixtures for a prototype store. "With most of our stores, we can knock something out in a week. But with something like this, with glass cubes and new types of items, it's going to be a challenge," Trippe says, "but we'll get it done."
Along with meeting its own deadlines, Madsen has occasionally had to step in to meet other company's deadlines. "I've been asked by our customers to step in for competitors to replace parts or complete projects on job sites because they were unable to complete them on time," Morgan says.
Trippe adds that cooperation between all parties is important for the success of its projects. Madsen's owners like to show their appreciation to employees, customers and vendors alike by hosting events like an annual golf tournament, in keeping with its people-friendly image.
"We've got a great crew and have had great cooperation," says Trippe. "We really take care of people, and I think our customers will tell you we try to make it fun."
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