Camilo Lopez III is living proof that the American Dream is still achievable. He and his family fled Cuba without a penny when Fidel Castro came into power.

They left behind ownership of a large, thriving furniture manufacturing company and started with nothing when they settled in Miami. Today, Lopez and his family are successful beyond their dreams, producing high-end office furnishings for south Florida.

Camilo Office Furniture Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., is blessed, says Lopez, with many highly skilled craftsmen. So when the subject of buying CNC equipment came up, the family deliberated for a long time.

Eyes opened to CNC

"At first we were debating what CNC would do for us," says Lopez. "When we got the first CNC machine and saw what we could do, and how we could control production, it just opened our eyes. It was incredible."

The CNC machinery in Lopez's 75,000-square-foot facility includes a Homag Optimat KAL 310 CNC edgebander and two Weeke CNC point to points.

"Without them we couldn't produce what we're producing," says Lopez. The machines allowed the lower-skilled portion of his workforce to do things that would be impossible for them to do with a jig.

Other machines Camilo Office Furniture relies on include Black Bros. glue spreading equipment and a cold press, a Dodds dovetailer and a Martin profiler.

In addition to manufacturing desks, conference tables, credenzas, bookcases and reception desks, Camilo also produces leather and upholstery office chairs and a unique addition to the office environment Cuban rocking chairs. All furniture is displayed in a 6,000-square-foot showroom a few miles from Camilo's manufacturing facility.

A fly in the ear

When Lopez compares his company to the major office furniture manufacturers such as Herman Miller and Steelcase, he calls his company "a minute dot in the scheme of things. We're just like a little fly bugging them in the ear."

His assessment is humble. With 100 employees, his company may be on the diminutive side relative to the big office furniture manufacturers, but he sees his company's size as one of its major advantages.

Camilo caters mostly to designers, architects and specifiers. But it also has many large law firms and banks in south Florida that is has worked with for years. The company sells through dealers and directly to customers. Its size enables the company to be flexible with the types of customers it can handle.

Small is good

Lopez says another advantage of working with Camilo is the company's commitment to creating product that can be refurbished in years to come. "We don't create product obsolescence. We try to create a product that has longevity and will last through the installation for a long period of time."

Using catalyzed lacquer from Sherwin Williams is one way Lopez enables the company's furniture to be refurbished. He says the company is staying away from UV-cured finishes because they make a product more difficult to refinish. "That helps clients in the serviceability and durability of the product to give it more longevity."

Adaptability is another advantage of working with Camilo, says Lopez. The company's size makes it as easy to produce custom product as it is to produce standard product. Its customers rely on Camilo to be adaptable to customization, says Lopez.

Many times, says Lopez, a customer will come to Camilo with an idea about a custom piece that he or she will have difficulty articulating. Camilo's size gives it the ability to work with a customer to make his or her vision a reality, he says. "Our biggest strength is our capacity to come up with different designs and new things quickly, or adapt to different customers' needs."

Weathering the slump

The office furniture industry took a painful nosedive a few years back and has had difficulty recovering. Camilo was not immune to the industry-wide slump. The biggest blow to Camilo's bottom line came from the business it did regularly with many local law firms. One way the company weathered the slump, and even managed to thrive, was to focus more on the custom aspect of the business an area where most large office furniture manufacturers aren't nimble enough to compete.

"We have filled in the voids with more customization," says Lopez. The company branched into doing millwork for its clients who want millwork to match their office furniture.

Business has rebounded somewhat, says Lopez. But, "it's different, it's sporadic and very competitive." Camilo has not raised its prices in three years. "We just try to maintain it and make ourselves more efficient and more productive in the way we do things and that's the only way we've been able to keep up."

The addition of the CNC machines has helped Camilo be more efficient and productive and control production, says Lopez. As business gradually returns to its pre-9/11 state, the company is also contemplating the purchase of machinery that would further help control production, efficiency and quality veneer processing equipment.

With the purchase of the new equipment, "we could definitely control the thickness of the veneer better. We can sand it better and have more chances to rework a piece if it's needed," says Lopez.

Quality top priority

Lopez's search for ways to control quality is consistent with Camilo's goal of not scrimping on quality. Whether the product is solid wood or plastic laminate, quality is foremost. "We don't skimp on quality. If you get a plastic laminate item from us, all the drawers are going to have full extension slides, it's going to have the best locks, we're not going to scrimp on it." Camilo uses Accuride slides and Timberline locks.

Lopez is baffled that any furniture manufacturer would skimp on materials. "Man-hours are the thing. People sometimes scrimp on materials, but materials are really not a big factor of the cost of a product, it's the labor."

Another hallmark of Camilo's commitment to quality: It uses the same wood species for its chairs as it does for its desks and casegoods. If a customer orders a mahogany desk, the chair also will be mahogany. Camilo doesn't stain a less-expensive species to match.

"You have the grain consistency of both products when you put them together. They match correctly," says Lopez.

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