A Proud Heritage
A fervent second-generation woodworker continues to grow his father's millwork business.
By Lisa Whitcomb
Joseph Hirsch has been working with wood since he was big enough to hold a hammer for his dad, Marcus Hirsch. It is in his blood. Today, he is the proud owner of his father's high-end architectural millwork company, MARCwoodworking Inc. of Indianapolis.
The company has been in business in Indiana since 1972, just four years after Marcus immigrated with his family to the United States from Israel. "My dad built cabinets for people out of his carport, and eventually, when he had enough money, he bought his own shop (a two-car garage) in '72," Joe recalls.
Marcus, who passed away in 1996, was held captive as a child in a WWII concentration camp with his parents. Sadly, his father was killed at the camp. When Marcus and his mother were liberated, they moved to Israel in 1948. There, he took a job in a wood shop as an apprentice to help support his mother.
Over the years, Marcus honed his skills and opened a shop in Jerusalem. As a small child, Joe would go to the shop often, where he learned the finer points of woodworking. When Marcus first arrived in the States, he took a job as a union carpenter and moonlighted, building room additions and finishing out basements, until he could establish his own woodworking shop.
Building a bright future
MARCwoodworking has been growing at a steady rate ever since, due to repeat clientele and word-of-mouth references. In 2004, the company realized $7 million in gross annual sales. Currently, it employs 85 people with 10 people in the office, 50 people in the shop and 25 people in the field installing projects.
The facility is 70,000 square feet and includes offices, shop space and an impressive all-wood conference room that used to be Marcus' office, but now serves to greet clients, designers and architects.
Joe, who left woodworking for awhile to pursue higher education after high school, returned to the trade after deciding not to pursue medical school. "My dad always said I could be anything I want, provided I became a doctor or a lawyer," Hirsch recalls, laughing.
"I've always been strong in math, science and physics, so I thought it would be fun to be pre-med. When I was ready to take my MCATs, though, I started thinking about how many more years it would take to finish school, and then intern and specialize before I could have my own practice. I had a nice long heart-to-heart chat with my dad and said '[Working with you] is what I want to do. And I love working with wood,'" Hirsch says.
Joe has since moved out of the shop and into the office, where he manages the business, oversees projects and helps direct workflow into the shop. "I regard the people that work here as cream of the crop. They are all excellent people," he says.
The shop still produces cabinetry for residential applications (about 10 percent of its clientele), but its main focus is high-end architectural millwork for commercial applications. Several noteworthy projects include Aon's world headquarters in Chicago, Anhaeuser-Busch's boardroom, Eli Lily's boardroom, Anthem's (Blue Cross/Blue Shield's) headquarters, the Indiana Historical Society and the Chicago Transit Authority (see sidebar below). The shop is well known for its wide portfolio of complex millwork projects, including conference tables, executive furniture, columns, paneling, arches, coffered ceilings, radius work and more.
New equipment leads to new opportunities
Over the past five years, the company has invested more than $2 million to update its equipment. Some recent purchases include: a Fisher & Ruckle Omnimaster 2 veneer splicer, a Holzma Profline HPP 510 CNC beam saw, Pattern Systems optimizing software, a Homag edgebander and a Jet 6000XL Busellato CNC point-to-point machine. With the help of this new equipment, the company, which already laid up its own veneers, expanded its forte to include laminate casework.
"We used to do classic laminate casework as a convenience for the contractor or owner giving us the job so they would only have one person to deal with. But we have bought a fair amount of equipment and software to make us more competitive on plastic laminate casework," Hirsch says.
"This has made us a more diversified company," he adds. Plastic laminate casework now consists of 30 to 40 percent of the company's business, while high-end architectural woodworking retains 60 to 70 percent of the volume. Hirsch notes that laminate colors specified range from solid colors to woodgrains and everything in between, while wood species range from domestic choices like oak and walnut, to exotics like anigre, makore and etimoe. Laminates and veneers are laid up on MDF, particleboard and honeycomb with a solid wood frame.
Other equipment in the shop include: an A & S Machinery V-groover; Costa widebelt sander; Diehl rip saw; EMA planer, joiner and shaper; Schmidt multi-moulder; H+ÃÆÃÆÃâÃâÃÆÃâÃâÃÂ¦fer veneer cutter and presses; Osama layup table and gluing system; and a Josting fully computerized double knife veneer guillotine.
"My dad was the first person to bring H+ÃÆÃÆÃâÃâÃÆÃâÃâÃÂ¦fer into the United States. He went to Austria in 1976 to buy the press equipment because you couldn't get it here," Hirsch recalls. "Now the company is well known."
In the shop, production is cell-oriented and "somewhere between lean and just-in-time," Hirsch says. Projects are first sent to a staging area and then to panel processing, lumber processing, hot pressing, assembly, finishing and a drying room. Hirsch says he likes to do most everything in house, but will outsource mouldings if more than 200 linear feet is needed.
The shop runs about 35 jobs at a time that range in price from $50 for the smallest piece of millwork to $3.5 million for a corporate job.
Millwork is produced for a wide-ranging area of the country, from New York to California, with the bulk of the projects, 90 percent, fabricated for midwest locations. "We don't have any active marketing out of the area. But people from other states stumble upon our work and ask us to do something for them, so we will," Hirsch says, noting that, as a general rule, the company delivers and installs its own projects to every location. The shop owns three trucks.
The family tradition continues in the company with Hirsch's brother-in-law, Avi Shmoel, a cabinetmaker from Israel, who now serves as plant manager at MARCwoodworking. Shmoel's son, Yanive, works in the shop as well as an apprentice. Hirsch has five boys and two girls of his own and says he doesn't know if any of them will be interested in woodworking or taking over the business in the future.
"They all like wood now, but are still quite young. If they don't like it later, that's fine. Besides, it doesn't matter to me. I will never be biased. I will always make my decisions about what will be best for the future of the company and not base them on who has the closest bloodline," he notes.
For now, he plans on growing the company as as much as it can stand. "There is no reason we can't be a $15 million company. We are always striving to do better," he adds.
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