Straight Path to the Commercial Market
Meyer and Lundahl of Phoenix, AZ, has focused exclusively on the commercial market since it started more than 50 years ago.
By Helen Kuhl
Although there have been some minor adjustments made along the way, architectural millwork company Meyer and Lundahl has had a singular sense of direction ever since it began in 1948. That’s the year that George Meyer, a journeyman cabinetmaker from Germany, decided to settle in Phoenix, AZ, and start a business with Ernie Ludwig, another woodworker. They purchased a war-era quonset hut and began doing work for local businesses.
Ludwig and Meyer parted ways not too long afterwards, and by 1957 Meyer had taken on and bought out several subsequent partners as the business kept growing. But later that same year, when Meyer’s somewhat reluctant son-in-law W.R. “Bud” Lundahl joined him for “a couple of years,” it turned out to be the one partnership that stuck. Today, Lundahl continues as CEO and owner of Meyer and Lundahl, with his son, Matt, serving as COO. The company has stayed true to its roots by consistently providing high-quality architectural woodwork to the local commercial market.
“Grandpa had a saying he was famous for, regarding the quality of his company’s work,” says Matt Lundahl, who started working in the shop at the age of 11. “He said, ‘I’ll build whatever anyone wants, as long as it’s out of wood, but it must be high quality. If I’m going to build you an outhouse, it’s going to be a first-class outhouse, whether you want it or not.’”
Through the years and three generations, the company has continued to build a reputation for such quality, Lundahl says, which helped it survive in the challenging commercial market. The majority of its work today comes from five or six general contractors. Projects include a lot of Class A tenant improvements, plus work on high-end golf course clubhouses, resorts, spas, hotels and offices. About 85 percent of that work is hard bid, mostly by invitation.
The company keeps itself a favored supplier by working hard to establish relationships and provide outstanding service to its customers, Lundahl says. When it comes to service for the GCs, that translates primarily into meeting deadlines, he adds.
“We strive incredibly hard to communicate our schedules,” he says. “We help the contractors to understand our needs so that we can get the information we need in time. One of our slogans is, ‘No surprises.’ We want people to know what’s going on throughout the entire project and what to expect from us.
“We try to accommodate each general contractor in meeting his schedule,” Lundahl adds. “That appears to be what they will remember most and what they are willing to pay more for.”
Although its actual customers are the GCs, the company directs most of its marketing efforts towards designers and architects. “The contractors appreciate the timeliness of the work; the design community appreciates the quality,” Lundahl says.
One of the company’s primary marketing efforts is a samples program it offers to architects and designers, where it supplies finish and species samples and helps them write specifications before the job is put out to bid.
“They make an appointment and come to our office and we spend time with them, going through their projects and evaluating what their needs are,” Lundahl says. “They look at the samples we have on hand so we can get a close idea of what they want, and then we create samples for them. We’ll help them write specs and develop their drawings. We also will help them learn about the wood species they are going to use and bring in flitches to show them. This is all for projects that we will still have to bid.
“If we do this several times for somebody and we don’t get their work, we politely figure out a way to curb that,” Lundahl adds. “But with the designers who give us a lot of their work, we will call them and ask, ‘What projects are you working on? What can we help you with?’”
In addition, Lundahl is active in the local chapter of the Architectural Woodwork Institute and uses AWI’s Design Pro modules program, which provides architects with AIA learning credits, to present lunchbox seminars. The chapter as a whole puts on an educational seminar for the design community every two years, which is well-received.
“We did a hands-on finishing seminar last year where we brought in a rep from Sherwin-Williams and literally went through everything from the sanding and staining to topcoating processes,” Lundahl says. “Then we had the designers go through a shop in teams, doing one job in the basic “just-get-it-done” style and one the right way. At the end of the program they could see the difference between a shop that just gets the job done and one that provides them with an AWI Premium Quality job. The designers love the education.”
Making adjustments, branching out
“That division was born out of providing architectural flush doors for our millwork projects,” Lundahl says. “We were tired of being at the mercy of the frame suppliers, when they were aluminum or hollow metal, and the hardware suppliers. The information we would get to machine our doors or frames did not work, and when we got to the install, it didn’t go together. And since we were the installing party, we bore the brunt of coordinating it and trying to make it work.
“We saw an opportunity to help ourselves and the GCs by providing them with an entire package. So we opened the new division, and when somebody asked us to bid the doors, we said we would bid the doors, frames, hardware and install it,” he adds. ”We fought people for about three or four years, because they kept wanting us to break things out. But we stuck to our guns and it finally took off. Now we even write the hardware specs for openings, because architects today don’t do it themselves.”
Meyer and Lundahl’s Architectural Woodwork Division finishes all doors for the Openings Division and also builds all the wood frames and custom stile-and-rail doors for it.
Most recently, the Openings Division and door work spawned further expansion into the security arena, with the creation of what’s called the Integrated Division. It started about four years ago, because along with doors and hardware there was a need to integrate access control into doors for some customers. At that time, it was mostly access control for hotel rooms, which involved “credit card” keys and swiping. It grew into automatic door closers and full security systems, including closed circuit TVs, video cameras, hand readers, keypads and other devices for hotels, commercial buildings and airports — with a big burst in business since 9/11.
“We design the security system, install it, monitor it and service it,” Lundahl says. “Again, it’s another extension of the openings, those which are security-controlled. It’s part of providing the entire product and service for our customers.”
He estimates that the Integrated Division alone will do about $1 million worth of work in 2002. That’s in comparison with an expected $6.5 million for the Woodwork Division and $5 million in Openings, and down about 20 percent from the company’s record year.
Keeping up with technology
Modernization began full-force around 1980, when Bud Lundahl started a program to adopt the European method of manufacture. “Mr. Meyer was rather skeptical. Even though he was European, he just thought that the U.S. was ahead of Europe in most everything,” he says. “But in about 1985 or ‘86, he walked into the office and told me, ‘You’re right, we’re doing better work than we used to.’ That made me feel pretty good.”
Lundahl says that the main improvement was that production became more uniform. The new systems did not necessarily make products better, because the quality was always good, but more consistent.
Meyer and Lundahl was the first company in Arizona to have an edgebander, Bud Lundahl says. “And we pioneered factory finishing of woodwork in the town. We were the first ones to do plastic clad casework here, too,” he adds.
Lundahl says he also worked to establish the practice of a woodworker furnishing the hardware on cabinets; at the time, it was common for cabinet hardware to be furnished by a hardware supplier. “I remember many a time when the hardware was delivered here and it didn’t fit the details of the cabinets,” he says. “If you have flush doors and you get overlay hardware, it’s of no value.”
Just as the Openings and Integrated Divisions were established to bring more control in-house and reduce headaches (as well as generate new sales venues), Lundahl says that he always tried to expand the scope of the woodworker from early on. “In those days we took the attitude of ‘Let’s bring the glass work in, the hardware, the metal products and get as much of the interior finish work as we can,’” he says. “In today’s market, the bid nature of the business is the opposite. On bigger projects, the pressure is to do as little as possible in order to keep the price down and get the job.”
The company’s production area reflects the wide variety of services it provides. The shop still includes some of the “tried-and-true” machinery used in George Meyer’s time, alongside high-tech panel processing equipment. The facility, spread across several buildings, has more than 50,000 square feet devoted to manufacturing, 23,000 square feet for warehousing and roughly 7,500 square feet for offices. It is divided into two areas, which Matt Lundahl refers to as the production shop and the “job shop,” where solid mill and custom work are done.
The production side includes a Holzma HPP11 beam saw, Homag SE 7400 edgebander, a 13- to 14-year-old Weeke BP15 point-to-point boring machine, an Italpresse SP case clamp and an Accu-Systems boring and dowel insertion machine. Meyer and Lundahl’s case bodies are all dowel construction. The Accu-Systems machine was custom-made to insert 8mm dowels for casework and also 12-inch dowels for stile-and-rail entry doors. It has a 9-1/2-foot bed and uses preglued dowels.
The company uses Keytrix’ Woodwork 2000 software, which downloads information from the office to the panel saw for optimization. The software also is used for estimating and generating cutlists.
The fine woodworking “job shop” area houses a Diehl ripsaw, Oliver planer, IIDA Model 181 six-head moulder, SAC TS125 shaper, an old Martin sliding table saw and a Wintersteiger frame saw. The latter is used to cut thick veneer to keep the core material well sealed in making engineered stiles for interior doors.
Producing a fine finish is another priority for Meyer and Lundahl, Matt Lundahl says. “The quality of our finish sells most of our jobs. We are known for it.”
The company purchased a BÃÆÃÂ¼tfering Classic widebelt sander about 1-1/2 years ago and switched its processes so that most work is finished flat and then assembled. The sander is located in a finishing prep area outside the 2,200-square-foot finishing room. The shop uses Binks HVLP spray guns and conversion varnish from Sherwin-Williams.
There is little storage space for finished products, so most projects are scheduled to be assembled and shipped quickly. The company does all its own installation and although the shop itself is not unionized, all the installation work is union.
The original quonset hut purchased by Meyer and Ludwig is still put to good use, dedicated to preparation and layup of laminates and veneers and production of miterfolded drawers and countertops. The laminate line is set up for operation by one person and includes a Black Bros. dual-sided glue spreader, a Tyler cold press and an Orma Macchine hot press, fitted with new steam platens from Veneer Systems.
The company miterfolds all its drawers using a V-groover from Auto V Grooving Inc. and 3M’s Jet Weld 2 glue gun and adhesive system. “For drawer boxes we use 1/2-inch material, which means a 1/2-inch integral bottom,” Lundahl says. “It’s a great way to make drawers. We have had no failure in any drawer boxes, and we have been doing it this way for about eight years.”
The countertops are miterfolded using a silicone-based adhesive and Art Betterley routers.
People are the backbone
“We are heavy into engineering. It makes our shop one of the most efficient,” Lundahl says. “We keep most of the production time in the office instead of on the shop floor.”
Lundahl credits all employees for a lot of the company’s success. “I believe that a tremendous amount of the success of our business is due to the people who work for us,” he says. “We really try to hire and keep quality people. We pay a little more than our competition, but we feel we are compensated for it, and our customers benefit.”
Meyer and Lundahl offers several benefits to retain good employees, he adds. There is 401k and 401k matching, a gainsharing program to share 25 percent of annual profits, an annual profit-sharing program and health care.
When health care insurance costs began to rise dramatically, the company created a task force of employees to put together a program that would fit their needs. “We said, ‘Here’s what we are dealing with. Help us discern what it is that you really want from us,’” Lundahl says. “We opened the books to them and said, ‘This is what we have been paying. We realize it is going to go up and we are willing to pay this.’”
The task force brought in three different companies and interviewed them to decide which program worked best for them.
There are many employees with long tenure, and Lundahl says that he thinks people stay with them so long not just because of the benefits, but also because of the pride they are able to take in their work. This applies not just to the craftsmen, but to employees in the field as well.
“We have many people who have worked other places, for companies that don’t care about their customers and don’t meet their expectations. As a person who works for that company, you always feel downtrodden and like you can’t really satisfy anybody,” he says. “We try to support our main personnel who are out there in the market, to provide them with the resources and the opportunities to be successful. We back them and try to provide a quality product to our customers.”
It seems that more than 50 years later and throughout the company’s growth, George Meyer’s original dedication to quality still prevails.
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