When Patriotism Came Knocking at the Door
A Rochester, NY, custom door and millwork shop answered the “knock” by fabricating several new bullet-resistant doors to replace those that were damaged at the Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
By Lisa Whitcomb
Sometimes the call for patriotism comes to Americans in unexpected ways. Such was the case for John and Annie Yetter of Oakwood Classic and Custom Woodworks in Rochester, NY.
Oakwood specializes in custom solid wood stile-and-rail doors, frames, moulding and trim. The “call” happened the morning after a routine “fax blast” in June of last year when the shop received the door request of a lifetime. The bid request came from Jefferson Millwork in Sterling, VA, to manufacture more than 20 Kevlar-reinforced, bullet-resistant doors for the Pentagon to replace those that were damaged during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in 2001, when American Airlines Flight 77 hit and damaged the outer E-ring offices.
“Jefferson called on Friday and wanted our quote by Monday morning at the very latest,” recalls Annie Yetter, Oakwood’s CEO and co-owner. “It was a tough job to price because we had never made bullet-resistant doors before.” Diligence in this situation paid off — Oakwood won the bid, and it was the only shop to return a bid to Jefferson Millwork by the Monday deadline as requested.
“We really wanted to do it,” says co-owner and president John Yetter. “It is the type of job that makes you pleased to say, ‘I did something like that.’ It is our way of helping rebuild America,” he adds proudly.
The Pentagon provided specs for desired door properties to the shop. Although the Pentagon requested that details be kept confidential, in general, the doors are made from quarter-sawn white oak stiles and rails with plain-sliced white oak panels. A reinforced man-made organic fiber was sandwiched in between two solid oak panels. The wood panels were laminated to the material and filled in with wood strips to mask the core, leaving a flush finish. Quarter-sawn white oak mouldings were used to hold the door panels.
Building these doors to protect the heart of the nation was not without challenges. Oakwood had to research the hardened material to understand how to quote the job and how to work cohesively with the material and integrate it with wood. Annie adds that some of the doors built were outfitted with bullet-resistant glass panels or had decorative raised panels on them. All of the doors were difficult to move because of their extreme weight. Each door weighed between 350 and 400 pounds and required several men to carry and install it. “They are extremely heavy doors,” notes Annie. “It took four men just to move one, and they were groaning the whole time.”
In addition, due to the intense deadline, precise door measurements were never provided to the shop. Doors were final-fitted and trimmed to size on-site. “There was an incredible urgency to get them finished and installed by Sept. 11, 2002, so the building would be completed in time for the America’s Hero Memorial dedication ceremony,” says Annie.
Niche Opportunity Opens Up
John Yetter learned the woodworking trade while working at a woodworker’s shop the late ‘80s. “I was in this guy’s shop making wooden muttons on a small Foley Belsaw planer/moulder. I would run a piece through the machine, profiling both sides until it was perfect. It was then that I thought, ‘This is what I have to do,’” he recalls. “As time went on, I decided that I would only focus on what I did best and that is doors and mouldings,” he adds.
He took an inheritance from his grandfather, bought a few tools and went into business with his wife Annie in 1990. They rented a 900-square-foot shop and shared the space with a sign painter. At the time, Annie was running her own cleaning business that she says was quickly put to the side, after John placed an advertisement in Fine Home Building magazine. “Within our first year we had 3,000 requests for our catalog,” Annie says.
“It started with just John, his vision and a pile of sawdust,” she adds. “It has been hard, and there were times when we just wanted to say we were done but couldn’t because we were in so deep.”
“But there were also many days when we couldn’t get to sleep at night because we were so excited about a new project, and we wanted to get back into the shop,” John adds. “It worked because we did what we had to do to make the business grow.”
Today they own a 30,000-square-foot facility and employ 37 people. The shop is scheduled to gross $3.5 million at the close of the 2002 fiscal year, which is up from the $2.6 million the company grossed last year. This figure has continually grown since the company’s inception. In 2001, Oakwood ranked 55 in Wood & Wood Products’ annual Wood 100 report, which highlights the country’s fastest-growing shops. Last year the company ranked 13.
“It’s a blessing that we hung in there, and it has finally come to fruition. We still have our challenges, though. We have grown so much that it really makes me stop to take pause and think, ‘That is why it is so hard, because we are growing so fast,’” says Annie. However, she is often told by job applicants that it is nice to see a business growing in this tough economy, she adds, which is gratifying.
“We have great resources, people, machinery and materials, and we have the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Period,” adds John.
Annie is 51% owner, which qualifies Oakwood as a New York State-certified WBE, Woman Owned Business Enterprise. The company is also a Small Business Administration federally-certified Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB). This status allows the company to compete against larger contractors on jobs that they would not otherwise have access to. (To learn how to qualify as an SDB, Annie recommends shop owners visit www.sba.gov, contact their local SBA district office or call (202) 619-1850.)
Outsourcing and recycling help build profits
Oakwood often partners with cabinet shops on jobs and outsources its services to smaller shops in the area that have a need for pieces like wood blanks, which the shop can produce on a large scale. “We will sell cabinet companies stile, rail and face-frame material. We will also make and sell them scribe moulding, crown, shoe and cove mouldings,” says John. “This is an area that we are trying to grow in the company. The company keeps a catalog of all the profile knives it has ever made.”
In addition to word-of-mouth and repeat business, it sells doors and mouldings to lumberyards. “We look for volume and repeatability because that is what we are best at,” adds John. An average exterior solid wood door unit with moulding can cost between $5,000 and $20,000, depending on its styling and glasswork.
Doors and mouldings are drafted in AutoCAD and machined on shop equipment that includes a Weinig Unimat 23E and Profimat moulders, a Diehl 750 straight line ripsaw, a Raimann gang ripsaw, a Cantec 24-in. double-sided planer, two SAC shapers, three Delta Unisaws, two 237-2 Timesavers sanders and three SCMI T130 shapers.
Another market that the company has been actively pursuing is to find buyers for its residual lumber that has “less-than-perfect” color, Annie says. “It is lumber that is well suited for medium to dark stain. It has many secondary uses, such as flooring and raised blanks for cabinet doors. We can sell it at a good price, and the real plus is that it is on our floor bought and paid for. All we have to do is put our labor into it.
“The material doesn’t do us any good just sitting here, and we want to turn it into something useful. We have not had the time to really do any marketing to cabinet companies, but plan on growing this area of our company, as well as penetrating deeper into our current markets,” says Annie, adding that the shop already recycles its saw dust to a local farm.
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