Custom focus keeps company competitive
By Linda Ohm, Managing Editor
October 15, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

Jenkins Manufacturing, located in Anniston, Ala., is all about service, and to the company, service comes down to people.

"The key thing we offer is service and you get that through people. You don't get that through machines," says Chuck Wheat, sales manager. The business is very labor-intensive, relying on skilled workers and more traditional equipment. "We're profitable, we do a very good job and we employ a lot of people," says Wheat.

"From a manufacturing standpoint, part of the service is diversification," says Felix Winston, vice president of operations. "We have a more complex product line. Most of our competitors that have the same complexity of product lines are four or five times our size."

More commonly known as Monarch Windows and Doors, Jenkins has been in business since 1888. Over time the company evolved from a lumber supply company to a millwork manufacturer of commodity windows. It survived a fire that destroyed the plant in 1962 and went on to build a new plant and expand at least four more times.

Changing energy codes led Monarch to transform itself into a custom window and door manufacturer in 1992. Energy code changes required a certain thermal value that made the type of window Monarch had been making virtually obsolete. "There were other people who went out of business because of the change," says Winston.

Focusing on custom

Most major window manufacturers don't want to take on specialized projects, says Wheat. Other companies build a stock product and have big inventories. "Their machines are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's a very efficient way of doing things. But that's mass production and volume. If we tried to compete in that, we'd get blown away.

"The more value we can add to a product, the more attractive we get."

The wood Monarch window has more than 110,000 different variations per size, says Wheat. "We're doing a lot of work in the historical district in Jacksonville, mainly because of the look of our windows. We pay a lot of attention to aesthetics."

Monarch produces an aluminum-clad window and door, a primed wood window and a composite window made out of cellular PVC.

The plant setup

On the front end, the company uses Delphi for order entry along with Systec. "We have a lot of Visual Basic programs that run the background production board information and spec sheets," says Winston. "We develop a CAD drawing if the Visual Basic software won't do it for us." Monarch is also working to develop its own software program to replace outside vendors and put more control into the company's hands.

Some mouldings are a commodity item and are outsourced and cut to length in the plant. Two Weinig moulders cut the stiles and the Challoner tenoners do the tenoning. A MultiCam router is used to bore hundreds of complex routing patterns in exterior doors.

Four assembly lines are set up to do different windows or parts. One line is for casements and awnings, one for double-hung windows, one for fixed-sash and transoms, and the balance for batch assembly. "They're set up in sequences but they don't have a conveyor belt. We've used conveyor belts on a few applications and found it more efficient to shuffle parts from one station to the next rather than put it on a belt," says Winston.

The company is not a capital-intensive investor, says Winston. Acquiring more automation would require a higher-level maintenance staff.

One of the newest products in the Monarch window line is a high-temperature cellular PVC unit. The company can use existing equipment to machine it.

"It machines just like wood," says Winston. "You don't have to have any specialized equipment to fabricate it. About the worst thing we had to do when we got into composite windows is we had to change some of our saw blades to negative hook angle."

Short lead times

"We have speed, service and innovation. That's the only thing that differentiates us from our competitors. Everybody else has got pricing," says Wheat.

The company operates on five- to 10-day lead times. Production on an order isn't started until the week before it needs to be finished. The shipping date is what kicks the order into the production process.

The one thing that affects productivity and the bottom line is rush orders. "Sometimes it doesn't interfere in the productivity of the plant and sometimes it does big time," says Wheat. If someone has an emergency and needs help, the company tries to do what it can. "We can sneak in an emergency job, but it kills the sales per man per hour every time you do that."

"We have a target dollar amount per man-hour and overtime does affect the bottom line. We have budgets and budgets of manpower based on sales and we'll adjust those budgets and those productivity numbers based on what the actual sales are," says Winston. "We track daily dollars per man-hour."

The customer

Monarch's core market is the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama. The company sells to sales representatives in lumber yards, who service builders.

Monarch is not trying to reach the walk-in, retail market, since the big box stores have plenty of products to offer. It has also sharpened its focus on its accounts. Before, the philosophy was to sell to anybody who'd buy a window, which diluted the effectiveness of its sales resources, says Wheat. The company closed a lot of small accounts so that the salesman could be seeking new opportunities and builders, he says.

Monarch also stresses the importance of proper installation and how that can affect a window's performance. "Our angle is to try to make the person installing that window extremely pleased with us. And if we do that, then word-of-mouth goes a long way," says Wheat.

"If we were to explode in business, it might affect our service to our existing customers. That's not what we want. We want to be virtually invisible with no problem." s

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