Slatwall Propels Wind Mill

Entering its third decade, Wind Mill Woodworking redefines not only its manufacturing operations but its business as well.

By Joseph Maffia

If you asked Wind Mill Woodworking president Jay Hogfeldt, who purchased the company in 1981, why the company is named Wind Mill, he will tell you that he doesn’t know.

However, if you ask him about slatwall, Hogfeldt could talk for hours.

Wind Mill Woodworking, of Sheboygan, WI, has produced slatwall for more than 20 years. “We are basically a slatwall job shop,” Hogfeldt says. In addition to making custom slatwall and store fixture components, the company also makes wood components for office furniture.

     
 
While Wind Mill’s customer base is mostly made up of large store fixture manufacturers, it also does a small amount of work with contractors and architects.  
     

For its slatwall, Wind Mill uses various thicknesses and sizes of MDF, which it has supplied from various sources, including Georgia Pacific and Uniboard. The company multi-sources its MDF boards because, “you never know when a shortage will occur,” Hogfeldt says.

Wind Mill also uses all types of laminates including post-impregnated paper for its slatwall. “We engineered our own laminating line,” says Hogfeldt. The company has a 5x8 Black Bros. PowerPod press with a 60-in. glue spreader for high-pressure laminates and a Black Bros. TB-60 for the post-impregnated paper line. The same panel cleaner and panel pusher are used for both lines, thus saving manufacturing space.

The slatwall panels can be made in any color or type of laminate that is requested. “We’ve made some very expensive panels where architects went nuts on the specifications,” Hogfeldt says.

Manufacturing Slatwall

A Biesse Selco WNT 200 panel saw is used to trim the boards down to a finish size before being machined. The 3/4-inch boards can be stacked six deep in the panel saw. “Unfortunately, we didn’t know that a man could not move six panels off the machine,” Hogfeldt says. “We had to engineer a device to move the stack off the machine.”

According to Hogfeldt, in 1982 it took one man one hour to make a 4-foot by 8-foot slatwall panel using hand routers. When the company purchased its first production machine, a Tyler 2400 panel router, it cut the time down to 2 1/2 minutes per panel. Wind Mill’s custom slatwall machine now cuts all the grooves in 35 seconds.

     
 
A Biesse Selco WNT panel saw is used to trim the boards down to a finish size before being machined. The 3/4-inch boards can be stacked six deep in the saw.  
     

“We’ve always been high on technology,” says Hogfeldt. “We bought our first CNC router in 1988. Everyone’s got them now, but back then it was very expensive and not as popular.”

Wind Mill currently uses a custom slatwall machine, which it had made 12 years ago, and three CNC routers, including a Komo VR 1605, a Komo VR 1005 and a Shoda CNC router.

The custom slatwall machine can cut as many as 17 grooves per board in one pass, and removes 21 pounds of material in 35 seconds. The Shoda router is used to cut grooves lengthwise across 8-foot and 10-foot long MDF panels while the Komo VR 1605 and Komo VR 1005 routers are used to cut slatwall across the width of 4-foot or 5-foot wide panels. The Komo VR 1605 was purchased at an auction in January.

The company also has a CMS Giotto CNC machining center with two 5-foot by 5-foot tables that is used primarily in the company’s component work. It has tool changing capabilities including edge-drilling and line-boring.

     
 
Wind Mill has produced slatwall for over 20 years and is a member of the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers and Architectural Woodwork Institute.  
     

For edge finishing Wind Mill has an SCMI 20 F edgebander, which it uses to apply all types of materials, including 3mm PVC and hardwood edgebanding. “We’re almost to the point where we have to upgrade it,” Hogfeldt says. “We’re doing more and more 3mm and we’d like to have the corner rounding capabilities.”

Last year, Wind Mill added 14,000 square feet to its existing facility. On the recommendation of a consultant, the company constructed a U-shaped flow to the shop, which created plenty of room for movement.

“Before, we had everything going in and out of the same door,” Hogfeldt says. “Trucks needed to be unloaded while we needed to be loading other trucks. Sometimes we had trucks lined up three or four deep.” An extra man was also hired just to handle the incoming and outgoing materials.

Target Markets

Since Wind Mill’s customer base is mostly made up of large store fixture manufacturers, its products can be seen in their projects. “We know our work is showing up in stores like TJ Maxx, Target, J.C. Penney and Harley Davidson to name a few,” Hogfeldt says.

     
Making Slatwall Keys 20 Years of Growth

Wind Mill Woodworking has grown from a one-man garage shop into a $10 million company with 70 employees and 65,000 square feet of shop space.

When Jay Hogfeldt took on a job helping a friend’s garage slatwall business in 1980, he had no idea where it was headed. A former industrial arts teacher, Hogfeldt was doing cabinet work at the time. “The sawdust got tracked into my friend’s house and his wife told him you have to get it out of here. So he moved into a 1,000-square-foot truck maintenance facility,” says Hogfeldt.

But when his friend wanted to get out of the industry in 1981, Hogfeldt saw an opportunity. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” he says. “We were probably the third one coming out on the scene to specialize in manufacturing slatwall for retail display.” Hogfeldt purchased the business and is now president of the company.

“Back then slatwall was produced primarily by store fixture manufacturers,” says Hogfeldt. “They had to make it up themselves. It was a very labor-intensive, two-piece stapling process. There was a need out there.”

Hogfeldt credits the continued popularity of slatwall for Wind Mill’s growth. In 1983, the company moved to a 5,000-square-foot building in Sheboygan, WI. The company has continued to expand, building a 30,000-square-foot building and subsequently adding on twice, including a 14,000-square-foot addition last year, for a total of 65,000 square feet.

In 1987 Wind Mill ranked number 282 in the Inc. Magazine list of 500 fastest growing privately held companies in the United States. “Over a five-year period we had nearly 1,300 percent growth,” says Hogfeldt.

Wind Mill was also a member of Wood & Wood Products annual WOOD 100 report six out of seven years from 1990 to 1996.

–– Joseph Maffia

 
   
     

The company also sells to many store fixture dealers who service smaller “mom and pop” stores. It does a small amount of work with contractors and architects. The company is a member of the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers and Architectural Woodwork Institute and does a large amount of business with other members.Hogfeldt says he believes that the company’s wide customer base has helped it grow. “We still have a dozen if not more of our original customers from back in the early ’80s,” says Hogfeldt. “Our relationships go way back.”

Wind Mill is also becoming involved in international markets, with a stocking distributor in Tel Aviv, Israel. Wind Mill is also the co-owner of a small business in Guadalajara, Mexico. “Our original Tyler 2400 is down there making slatwall in Mexico,” Hogfeldt says. He hopes that the company will expand farther into international business in the future.

Over the last five years, Wind Mill has started a diversification process so that its products now include office furniture components along with slatwall. This change was brought about because of the seasonal nature of the store fixture industry.

“Nobody remodels over the holiday season because stores want to be up and running,” says Hogfeldt. “Construction is also down over half the country during the winter season. We’re always looking for some other type of market to do work in during that slow period to balance things out.”

This diversification has led to the company’s larger use of thermofused melamine panels. “That has been a challenge in getting them and the custom colors in the short lead times,” says Hogfeldt.

Strengths

Hogfeldt says that the most instrumental factor in Wind Mill’s success has been “the gift of hiring the right people and those people taking ownership. I’m not a micromanager. You hire people to do a job and you let them do it.”

According to Hogfeldt, Wind Mill has very little turnover in both the office and the shop. “I consider the culture we’ve developed here over the years a success,” he says.

“We have monthly meetings where we share our financials,” says Hogfeldt of Wind Mill’s profit-sharing program. “Our employees can figure out on an ongoing basis what their share of the profits is.”

Wind Mill also treats all the employees to lunch once a month. “We had a senior management corn-roast. Four of us roasted 15 dozen ears of corn, and we just took a break and everyone had two or three ears of corn,” says Hogfeldt.

Safety is another aspect that is stressed at Wind Mill. The company has a safety committee that meets and inspects the shop on a regular basis. “Any employee can fill out and submit a safety concern on anything, and it will be investigated by the safety committee.

“Our biggest problem used to be back strain, so we invested in lift-tables,” says Hogfeldt. “Rather than having to lift a panel off the stack we have a lift-table that brings everything to the right height so that they can slide the panel, rather than having to lift it on the machine.”

The company also purchased a Schmalz JumboErgo vacuum lifter to help with dual-sided laminating. Rather then having two people lift a 5-foot by 8-foot panel. The Schmalz can lift the panel and position it where it is needed.

Future Plans

Wind Mill is currently working on three new display panels to be premiered at the GlobalShop show in Chicago next March. Two of the designs came from within Wind Mill while the third is a patented product that an outside source brought to the company for production and marketing.

“We hope to bring those to the industry and present them to the designers and some of the major retailers,” says Hogfeldt.

While Hogfeldt is pleased with where the company is currently at, he plans on continuing to update machinery in the shop for the best possible production. “We just keep investing back in technology and equipment.”

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