Artifex Millwork crafts custom commercial furniture, retail store fixtures and architectural millwork, such as the lobby/reception area for Marshall BankFirst in Minneapolis, MN.

 

Wyoming, MN-based Artifex Millwork Inc. manufactures custom commercial furniture, architectural millwork and retail store fixtures at its 34,000-square-foot facility. The company, which currently employs 30, was started in 1990 by President Brian Miller, who manufactured mainly residential work including kitchens, entertainment centers and bars, out of his garage.

The company used to concentrate more on retail store fixtures, but has since shifted its focus, in part because of current economic conditions. "It has changed dramatically, where I would say we are lucky if we are doing 10 percent store fixtures and the rest being architectural millwork and corporate spaces," says General Manager Greg Richels. "And even back when we were heavy into store fixtures -- that was a big part of our growth and success -- but even at that time, we were still diverse enough with our office staff and employees that we kept our fingers wet in both store fixtures and millwork. I think that is a big part of why we are diverse enough to adapt to what the market is bearing and what our strength and reputation plays off of -- being high-end millwork and providing quality product and service."

"We have always tried not to have all our eggs in one basket," adds Miller. "We have a lot of repeat customers, but we don’t necessarily assume that it is always going to be there."

Artifex enjoys taking on work for charity causes such as St. Jude’s Target House, where they are manufacturing a celebrity-themed room based on country singer Brad Paisley funded by Target.

The Right Attitude

Miller says the company’s attitude toward customer service helps differentiate it from its competitors. "I think the main thing that sets us apart from our competition is our service and attention to detail," he says. "We try hard to partner with architects and designers to work through details up front. We have been told by several general contractors and customers that they look forward to working with us because our product shows up on time, without mistakes and offers outstanding quality. We also work hard to react to changes on the fly to maintain schedules."

The company does 60 to 70 percent of its work for out-of state-clients, thanks to relationships fostered with general contractors and architectural firms in New York by Richels. Miller says this has really helped to fill the voids that Artifex is feeling in the Midwest. "We have a great customer base," says Miller. "We work very closely with a lot of architectural firms and general contractors, which has led us to a lot of repeat business. We also have a lot of repeat business with a handful of large corporations, including Target and Boston Scientific."

Charity work is also special to Artifex. In the past, the company has partnered with architects to build a maze for the annual Skyway Golf Open, which benefits the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, and it is currently working on a project funded by Target for St. Jude's Childrens Hospital. "We do a lot of work for St. Jude’s Target House," says Miller. "They have theme rooms with celebrities and we are currently doing a Brad Paisley room. That is always kind of fun. You try to capture the celebrity and expound on what they are known for."

Artifex Millwork has 30 employees at its 34,000-square-foot facility in Wyoming, MN. The company is consistently working towards streamlining its processes and efficiencies, including using lean manufacturing and cross-training its workers.

 

Green Intentions

The company says it is always open to using sustainable materials. "We recently had the opportunity to partner with Ellerbe Becket in the renovation of their space, in which we refurbished three floors of solid oak worktops, utilizing them in feature walls, file tops and cafe millwork," says Miller. "It was very rewarding knowing that all of this material was being effectively re-used instead of ending up in a landfill. In this instance, Ellerbe Becket was able to save significant costs in addition to being good stewards of our planet."

Richels adds that Artifex has seen a rise in requests for LEED-certified projects. "Unfortunately, with the reality of our current economy, the additional costs are not always feasible, so LEED projects are sometimes scaled down or eliminated altogether. The best scenario as we move ahead is that the additional material costs for LEED-certified material will continue to be more affordable."

Working Smarter

Like most companies, Artifex is very aware of the downturn in the economy. "We have noticed that there are a lot more companies bidding on fewer projects," says Miller. "This has forced us to work even smarter than we have in the past. We have introduced some lean manufacturing techniques and worked even harder on the front end to eliminate mistakes in engineering so that there is better flow when projects hit the manufacturing floor. By moving our casework division closer to machining and setting up our clamping and doweling cells right next to each other we have reduced our production times by 30 percent. In addition, we have always been fiscally prudent, working hard prior to the economic downturn to pay down debt."

To aid in reducing production times and working smarter, Artifex uses equipment in its facility that includes a Casadei SX 105 beam saw, an Anderson America Exxact 51/RAN CNC router, a Wadkin FSP 220 S4S moulder, a Bütfering Classic widebelt sander, a Holz-Her Triathlon 420 edgebander and a Gannomat Elite 25 automated doweling machine.

Artifex has also continually expanded its estimating and job costing software. "One of our short-term goals is to continue our work towards streamlining our processes and efficiencies," says Miller. "I think improvement is always ongoing. As things change in the industry, you need to evolve with them."

 

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