A Hanover, PA, company prides itself on its unique projects throughout the house, as well as its customer service.

 

KOL Industries specializes in whole-house cabinet and other millwork projects.

Robert Shatz and Mark Schaub started KOL Industries in 1986. The two men had apprenticed together at a custom woodworking shop in Baltimore, MD. But after that company shifted its focus to the booming commercial industry, the two men decided to start their own company.

“The commercial market just didn’t hold our interest,” Schaub says. “We started our own company to set out doing what we like to do.”

What they liked to do was create truly custom projects like the work they did previously, including projects as on the palace of King Hussein of Jordan.

KOL was originally located in Baltimore. Although the company moved three times within the city to increase its space, in 2000, it moved to its current location in Hanover, PA.

According to Schaub, purchasing another building in Baltimore was tough, plus he had moved his residence 20 minutes from Hanover. So he wanted something closer. Their current plant is a little more than 30,000 square feet, significantly larger than their first building, which was 1,600 square feet.

KOL now has 27 employees — seven in the office and 20 in the shop.

“We have administrative assistants, project managers, two AutoCAD and two project managers,” says Michelle Mills, office manager.

“Project managers also work in AutoCAD; It’s a mandatory thing,” Schaub adds.

Nationwide Clientele

KOL specializes in high-end architectural millwork and cabinetry. So Schaub and Shatz are constantly working with architects, designers and construction firms all over the United States.

“Our work is typically in New York, Martha’s Vineyard, Florida, Colorado, California and New Jersey, more of the ‘escapes’ for owners of companies,” Mills says.

Adds Schaub, “We do a lot of residences up in New York and, like Michelle says, a lot of getaway places in many other parts of the country.”

Mills says that they have not traveled outside of the United States yet for work, but, “I’m willing to try it. If King Hussein wants another palace, I’m willing to find a way,” she laughs.

For their high-end projects, which tend to be second and third homes, KOL uses a lot of high-quality veneer.

“We will do everything, but our niche is high-end veneers,” says Mills, “the import/export — things that are difficult to find. We have the sources to locate the odd veneer or lumber. We do more unusual than common. We don’t do domestics too often.”

However, last year was unusual because all KOL’s projects were in domestic species, Schaub says. That may have a lot to do with the fact that the company prefers to do whole house, highly customized projects, which call take 12 to 18 months to complete. So that one project might require domestic veneer instead of the imported products that the company normally works with.

Mills says that the architects and designers with whom they work were the “launching pad” for the company developing a specialty in high-quality veneers. “They know of us and they bring that work to us,” she says.

Despite the company’s high level of customization, Mills says that they are also looking at developing a new semi-custom product line to help train its apprentices. The product line would be kitchen islands.

“We are trying to create a more streamlined repetitive task,” she explains. “We would like to open up kitchen islands so we could teach our apprentices.”

KOL brings in young students to learn the cabinetmaking trade. These students are taught the trade through repetitive work, she adds.

Filling a niche is another reason for creating this semi-custom line, Schaub says. “It’s training the apprentices, and we see a market niche for [kitchen islands] that has not been tapped yet.”

KOL Industries specializes in whole-house cabinet and other millwork projects.

High-Quality Service is Key

Customer service is an important aspect of any business and according to Schaub, it means everything for KOL.

“Anybody can provide a product. You can buy a product from China or Lowes,” says Mills, “but from the beginning to the end, we lay out the project and we prepare in advance on the front end.

It goes to the shop on time, we pay attention to essential details, and we keep the budget of the client in mind. We service it all the way through its completion, installation and after the fact.”

Schaub emphasizes the company’s customer service focus by explaining how they helped out a client in Colorado. “We have a builder that we do a lot of work for. He’ll call us and want moulding in three to four days, and we turn it around and get it to him.”

That same builder was also having an issue purchasing an oven from a company in New Jersey. “They would not sell to him because he’s in Colorado,” Mills says. “So he called and said, ‘Can you help me?’ I placed the order and ‘babysat’ the delivery of it. It was not being fast-tracked as required. I then called the vendor and complained and got it fast-tracked the way it was supposed to be.”

The oven was delivered and installed a day before the builder’s deadline. “That’s the type of service our clients demand and need,” adds Miller.

Shop Equipment Supports Its Mission

Because of the special request for custom mouldings, the company bought a Powermat 1000 moulder from Weinig to facilitate its needs.

“We used to sub out certain things, but we had to bring them in-house because of things like the builder wanting mouldings in three days,” says Schaub.

Other equipment in the shop includes a Komo CNC router, a James L. Taylor door clamp and a Holz-Her Sprint 1310 edgebander. The CNC was purchased in 2002. There were some growing pains with the new machine, as well as a lot of resistance in the shop, Schaub notes.

“The guys in the shop are ‘old school,’” Mills adds.

“They are used to using the antique machinery to do it their way.”

According to Schaub, some of the guys in the shop felt threatened. They were concerned about the machine replacing them. Now the employees have come to appreciate the CNC.

“They now demand its services,” laughs Mills. “They are now secure in their jobs.”

Initially the machine only ran about 10 hours a week in true run time, Schaub says. And approximately 30% of that was remakes. Now, the CNC runs about 50 to 60 hours a week.

KOL has had its moulder for about one year, and it runs approximately 10 hours a week.

“There are certain jobs that we run a lot, but it has been more of a convenience issue so that we can meet deadlines,” Schaub says. “[Mouldings] are one of the few things we used to subcontract out, because we can’t control deadlines. We had no issue with quality. It was always deadline driven.”

The moulder was purchased for its quick changeover, “because we don’t do large runs of repetitive things,” he says. “We’ll run 300 feet of this and 800 feet of that.” The up-charge for an outside company to set up runs like that for the company would have been significant, he adds.

Mark Schaub says that the company built up its mill area buy purchasing the Holz-Her Sprint 1310 edgebander and Weinig Powermat 1000 moulder, for custom jobs.

Apprenticeships Focus on Skills

The average worker for KOL has been there six to 12 years, and the company does not have a lot of turn over, Mills says, “People that don’t last don’t make it the first three months. Once they get here, they love it and they stay.

“One thing we do is if we have a question that they many not meet our expectations,” he adds, “we bring them in, pay them for a day or two and let them test it out to see how it goes. We give them work we expect them to do, so if they’re not going to make it they don’t lose their other jobs.”

Schaub adds that they have had a lot of people come in “who have worked in a cabinet shop for 20 years, but they just can’t cut it at the level we’re working at. We’re very high skilled and finicky.”

High quality is extremely important to the company. One reason for that is the distance many of their projects have to travel.

“The problem is, you send something 2,000 miles away, it costs you a lot to get it back and fix it,” says Schaub.

KOL puts special emphasis on all the skills needed to build its level of quality cabinetry. The program places them with a cabinetmaker who they shadow for three to four years. The cabinetmaker teaches the apprentice the basics of how to cut, how to measure and how to read the drawings.

“If they choose to leave us, they are marketable,” Mills says.

“It seems like it’s easier to find more people in the higher tech fields than cabinetmaking. You can hire someone out of school for AutoCAD, but then you have to teach the cabinetry end of things,” notes Schaub. “For someone to operate a CNC, they have courses to teach that in high school. Our operator learned at high school. It was a machine shop, not woodworking.”

Unique Projects

KOL’s projects are so custom that everyone is constantly learning something new. A few of KOL’s unusual projects have included coming up with a method to cut logs for a project in Colorado.

“We had to set up a machine to angle it at a precise angle in order to make it a tongue and groove, dovetailed oversized log,” Mills says. “It happened one time in 20 years and we had machinery set up just to make it work.”

Another unique project involved using a specialty glass. Eight 3-foot by 7-foot pieces cost $40,000. The glass is museum quality for a display case for very expensive artifacts. Mills says she has been working on this project since 2004 to have it properly installed with the correct hardware.

KOL Industries is also getting involved with the “green” movement by becoming FSC-certified for LEED projects.

“What forced us into that — we’re learning on purpose. There is a job in New York that we are bidding on that requires FSC certification,” says Mills. “So we started the process last October. We received the paperwork for FSC to come in and do the certification for us, so we expect to be on board by April or May.”

Being truly custom can be both rewarding and challenging. Schaub and Mills agree that the key is to have fun with what they do.

“We love what we do, even with the challenges,” Mills says.

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