Adams Wood Products listens to customers and manufactures quality components in a timely manner. That approach, combined with the ability to adapt to a changing marketplace, has enabled the Morristown, Tenn., supplier to meet the needs of diverse industry segments for 30 years.

"Our goal isn't to have the cheapest price, although price is always a consideration," says Larry Swinson, who joined the company as vice president of manufacturing in 1983 and took over as owner and president in 1997. "We've found with our customers that quality is first, delivery is second and price is third."

The company produces unfinished solid wood furniture components, including bed posts, billiard table rails and legs, bun feet, cabinet onlays, corbels, chair and occasional table kits, legs, pedestals and turning squares. Popular species are soft maple, cherry, red oak and alder, although mahogany, walnut, hickory, knotty white pine and curly maple also are available. The percentage split between stock and custom products is about 60/40.

David Adams and his wife Evelyn started Adams Wood Products in a garage-size building in 1977. Business grew over time, as did its space, products and employees. In 1987 the company initiated a small-scale stocking program. "Lead times were always an issue with people," says Swinson, "so we started picking common items we made and started stocking them in different types of woods." The initial two-page catalog has grown to 46 pages of information about the company and its products and services. The company maintains a two-and-half month supply of stocked components.

Some customers mistakenly believe the company's capabilities are limited to its catalog offerings. "Craftsmen know us through our catalog, but our catalog grew out of our custom manufacturing. In the beginning we only made custom parts for our customers; we didn't have a product line of our own," Swinson says. "

Custom products, services

When a customer requests a specialized product, sales manager Doug Myers manually designs several versions to scale. His knowledge of wood, structure and manufacturing enables him to solve customer problems and give them the best product. Once the design is completed and approved, he uses AutoCAD to prepare it for manufacturing.

"We will work with customers in any way we possibly can in order to please them," Myers says. The company also offers, for a fee, custom machining on the products it sells.

Products for cabinet market

Since 2000, when imports starting decimating the furniture industry, the company has geared some products to the more stable cabinet market. Swinson says the cabinet industry is divided into custom manufacturers who design products using existing components, and semi-custom manufacturers who have more precise requirements. "That's what's important for Doug to discover what are the sizes that really help the semi-custom people?" Swinson says.

When cabinet makers started asking for simpler corbels, Myers designed a half-dozen and had them made into samples, which the company brought to the IWF Fair in Atlanta. "We got their feedback and we added the most popular ones to our line," Swinson says.

Myers also solicits feedback on new products and wood trends from regular customers. "We're not in the front lines, so we don't know what the end customer actually wants," he says. "We have to listen to what those guys out there are saying."

Impact of imports

Swinson says that Adams has worked with many different industries, so the company has seen the import impact, especially in pool tables and residential furniture.

"At one time, Thomasville was our largest customer," he says. "We were doing a million dollars a year with Thomasville. We do zero business now. And Cochran Furniture was another large customer. We were doing a million dollars a year with them. Now it's zero.

"(We were) doing a million dollars and it's gone, and yet we're still able to maintain the same level of sales because we've been able to replace that business, and the diversity is what allows us to do that."

"Now we're looking at the idea of doing exterior turnings for architectural products," Myers says. "Anything that's made out of wood, we're interested in."

The process begins when the rough mill brings in kiln-dried lumber from a storage shed behind the plant. It is cut on a Whirlwind chop saw, then graded and sorted according to color. Using Mattison 202 ripsaws, it is ripped and defected. The wood is glued using Franklin High Tack and laminated on Taylor clamp carriers.

Turnings are trimmed and moved to a Weinig 23A moulder, where they are moulded to S4S. The next step is turning on Mattison lathes, then sanding on the Locatelli ORK turning sander. Flats are polished on a Timesavers double-head polisher.

If a turning requires fluting, it goes to the Macchia fluting machine. An Automa CNC lathe does ropings and other tasks. A Bacci FC8 CNC shaper is used on both turnings and flat parts. "It opened a lot of doors for us," says Swinson. "We can make a large variety of components with it."

The latest purchase was an SCM Routech Record 132 CNC router, which has been used almost exclusively for detailed routing of two corbel styles. "We were so far behind and spending so much time on those that we had to have some help," Swinson says. The company ran the machine non-stop for six months to build up corbel stock.

Swinson spent four years shopping for the right router. He chose the Record 132 because people who owned it recommended it and SCM provided the support he wanted. He understands the value of support after installation. "That's where the real key is."

Other machinery includes a Bacci T4MO and Zuckerman copy lathes, a La Scolpritrice 16- and 20-spindle carver and Wood Mizer vacuum kilns for large oak squares. Another recent purchase is an IBM 400 mainframe.

"We know that we've got to continue adding new machinery," Swinson says, "and we've got to go toward high-technology CNC machines."

Quality control

"Everybody is a QC inspector," Swinson says. "We try to take care of all the little quality issues, and there's a huge interaction among employees because of this attitude." If an employee sees a potential problem, such as a small machining line, he'll take a sample to the sanding person and have it checked. Once the potential problem is assessed and corrected if necessary, he returns to his station and resumes production.

Management stresses the need for quality and accuracy. The lack of employee turnover the company has the same employees it had one year ago makes that easier. "You don't have to do that education process every day and every week," Swinson says. "We spend more time on the newer, custom stuff."

Morristown used to be a furniture factory town, and now there are only a few companies left. The employees see the importance of making people want their product.

To help instill a sense of pride, the company posts brochures and photographs of customers' finished products. "If that guy's proud enough to take a photograph of his project and send it back to somebody who supplied the legs for it, then he's obviously proud of it," Myers says. "Our people look at it and say, We helped that guy make a good-looking piece.' "

Adams Wood Products displays an American flag flying over Tennessee on its catalog cover. "We are a domestic manufacturer using primarily domestic woods with American craftsmen. I'm proud of that," says Swinson. "Everything is made right here in this factory."

Like a chameleon

The company's ability to shift to new products and new markets is perhaps its greatest strength. "We're versatile enough that we can be like a chameleon and change however we need to change," says Joe Frye, plant manager.

"We will continue to diversify. That has been our success," Swinson adds. "We will continue to keep our ears open to the customer and go where the customer demands are. They will change, and we will change with them."

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