A Tale of Two Woodcrafts, or: A Story of Expansion Success

This midwest architectural millwork firm has broadened its market by operating out of two branches -- one in Kansas and one in Iowa.

By Ann Gurley Rogers



Woodcraft built the reception desk for the corporate headquarters of the Perishable Distributors Inc., a food distributor in Ankeny, IA. The desk is done in particleboard with a clear finish and is designed to look like a box that is being opened to reflect the company's business.

Woodcraft Architectural Millwork just completed its sixth year of business in suburban Kansas City, KS, and grossed over $3.5 million in that market. Division president Grant Taylor gives a great deal of credit for these performance results to the fact that this 24,000-square-foot facility is a branch of Woodcraft Architectural Millwork of Des Moines, IA -- a firm that has provided corporate clients with custom millwork, prefinished reception area furnishings, conference tables and cabinetry since 1971. The Des Moines facility covers 26,000 square feet and grossed $4.5 million in sales in 1999.

The two facilities are about two hundred miles from each other. Taylor says that the idea to open a branch facility came from an interest in expansion. "Woodcraft investigated several markets, and Kansas City looked like the one with the most potential and the best fit for us. Also, Kansas City was a natural for us because of its proximity to Des Moines," he says.

Woodcraft's clients in both locations include churches, restaurants, clubs, banks, casinos and hospitals. David Bahr, division president of the Des Moines branch, says that over the years, his facility has developed a strong relationship with the area's contractors and architects, building a reputation for customer service and delivering a high-quality product. Both facilities obtain most of their contracts from competitive bids. The remaining business comes from referrals from previous customers, facility owners and interior designers.

In addition to the two production facilities, the company employs a sales representative in Omaha, NE. Bahr says that position was established because the company wanted to take advantage of the booming construction industry and develop a market presence in the Omaha area, which is about two hours west of Des Moines and three hours north of Kansas City. Jobs generated in the Nebraska market are built either in Des Moines or Kansas City, depending on production schedules.


Both Woodcraft branches contributed to this project, done for a law firm in Des Moines, IA. The Des Moines branch built the conference table, while the Kansas City branch did the wall paneling. The project features mahogany and ash.

Both facilities make a point of offering a complete package to their clients. If a job calls for upholstered pieces, glass or countertops, Woodcraft handles the outsourcing of those aspects. When it comes to electrical work, which is often needed for installations like bank teller lines, Woodcraft employees can do simple electrical work. But if wiring is involved, they hire an electrician, says Bahr. "By presenting a complete package, we can save the contractor or architect both time and money," adds Taylor.

In the area of production, each facility is set up as an independent unit. However, members from both management teams get together monthly to share ideas. When one branch is overloaded with work and the other can pick up the slack, projects flow back and forth along Interstate 35. Between the two facilities, Woodcraft employees about 60 craftsmen. There is one administrative department which provides services for payroll, human resources, accounts payable, receivables and legal matters for the two facilities.

Bahr says that the most useful tool in making this cooperative effort succeed has been the company's work order system. The production work order is a form that standardizes all of the basic information relating to a job, including job name, contract number, labor codes, hours of work available to complete the job and the completion deadline. Job plans are attached to this form.

"It organizes a lot of bits and pieces of information about a job in one place and helps each craftsman know what to do, regardless of where the work originated," Bahr says. "Before we had this form, work happened, but we stumbled through it. Now we consistently get things right the first time, and our craftsmen can be more focused."

Another synergy that developed when the facility in Kansas City opened was that the managers and craftsmen there were able to share the production experience that the Des Moines operation had with its CNC machinery. Bahr says that the CNC equipment has contributed both to the shops' efficiency and accuracy.

"Computer-controlled machinery improves production quality because it can eliminate one more venue for human error," he says.

At the Des Moines facility, CNC equipment includes a Homag panel saw and a Komo router. Other machinery includes a Biesse radius edgebander, a Holz-Her Triathlon 420 edgebander, a Weinig moulder and a 144 MCF-153 dust collector from MAC Equipment.

In Kansas City, there is a Delta 38D panel saw and a Morbidelli Author 504 CNC routing and boring machine, plus an IDM Idimatic 49-20 edgebander, a Ritter case clamp, a Torit cyclone dust collector and an SCMI shaper. Both branches use R14 AutoCAD software.


The secretarial stations were part of the work done for a Des Moines, IA, law firm. They are quarter-sawn ash; part of the ash is stained black for contrast.

Also, the two shops each have finishing booths equipped with Kremlin sprayers. They only do the finish work on about 5 to 10 percent of their projects. But Taylor says that having the ability to do finishing in-house is important in obtaining certain contracts. "If we were not able to do the finish work in-house, we probably would not get those contracts," he says.

During the past few years, Woodcraft has expanded its presence beyond the Midwest. It works with local contractors who work nationally for hospitals and assisted-living facilities. The company has won bids for projects in New Orleans and Detroit. It also has built curved laminate benches for the statehouse in California and has done some fixture work for J.C. Penney, Banana Republic, Target and Baby Gap stores.

Both the Des Moines and the Kansas City facilities see the fixtures market as a key vehicle for future expansion. Bahr says that the company feels its "complete package" approach is well suited to the national fixtures market, and it has joined the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers in order to become better acquainted with that segment.

In the future, Woodcraft also plans to use the capabilities of its CNC equipment to produce tables for the bar and restaurant industry. "This will not only expand our business, but it also will enhance our ability to offer a complete package and a consistent look for our customer," says Bahr.

When reflecting on the development of Woodcraft and its potential for growth, Taylor says that the best feature of the relationship between the facilities is their enhanced potential to accept additional work.

"You don't ever want to say GÇÿno' to work or customers. We know that we can back each other up, and it gives us the confidence to seek additional work, knowing that we can meet deadlines and deliver a quality product that will exceed our customer's expectations," he says.


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