Custom and customer are the key words at JSI Store Fixtures. "We love custom, and we love customers changing what they need," says Terry Awalt, JSI president and CEO. "We're very custom and very price competitive. Customer service is key to our success."

The Milo, Maine, company makes produce, bakery, grocery, wine, floral and pharmacy displays for large supermarket chains. A typical store may have 50 or 60 displays, perhaps 12 to 15 different types.

"We give customers what they are looking for," says Jeff Demers, engineering/drafting manager. "We can adapt to short lead times, everything from design to getting it set up in the store."

To differentiate themselves from their competitors, a lot of customers are looking for new and more upscale merchandising ideas and designs, says Terry Awalt. "They're trying to differentiate themselves from Wal-Mart."

JSI's Mark Awalt, vice president of finance, says consumers shop at big box stores for many goods, including food. "Many of the traditional supermarket chains are re-inventing themselves in order to differentiate their stores from the box-store format. As a result, many of our customers are making changes to their stores, including new merchandising formats, which usually mean new fixtures."

According to Terry Awalt, the Chinese are starting to penetrate the store fixture industry. "If we didn't have our custom capability, they would take a lot of business from us," he says. "We can design and build for a customer in a couple of weeks. The customers are looking for speed and quality."

The Chinese are gaining ground with the big box companies that want to standardize, says Terry Awalt. But as merchandising ideas change, so do the fixtures. Customers have to tolerate a long lead time. "In our industry, the customers aren't willing to wait."

JSI Store Fixtures Inc. started in 1991 in the family basement. Today, the company employs 100 in a 60,000-square-foot plant in Milo, in central Maine. Annual sales for 2005 will be between $12 and $13 million. The U.S. Small Business Administration named JSI Maine's Small Business of the Year in 2004. The company has two patents on the trademarked Banana Bed, a foam merchandising display used for bananas by about 75 supermarket chains.

"We've grown about 100 percent in the past two years," Terry Awalt says. "We've found it to be a very strong market. We've increased market share, and increased the variety of store displays."

Software enhancements

JSI uses SmartMachining, made by Progressive Wood Works, to apply boring patterns in AutoCAD solids. It can also be used in conjunction with SmartLister, a MillLister Inc. product that inserts preset parameters for frequently used milling patterns. If the part is reshaped, the software knows where to put drill holes and other joinery.

SmartLister measures and stretches 3D solids, generates CSV and MDB files for import into optimizers and accounting systems, sorts and filters cutlists and performs other functions.

MillLister Inc. software allows the user to turn AutoCAD 3D models into a parametric that permits stretching and reshaping parts and reconstructs cutlists to fit the new dimensions for all parts in the assembly. (JSI worked with the software developer, suggesting changes and was the early user of the package of Smart Machining and MillLister.)

SmartLister has six-sided 3D solid feature recognition, and includes bill of materials, cutlist/mill list and feature-recognition detailing software. It measures and recognizes the graphics on the screen, so the object can be drawn in 3D as it would be built in the shop, and SmartLister generates the manufacturing data.

SmartModeling, bundled with SmartLister, allows the user to stretch multiple 3D solids and assemblies in one operation, as well as move, copy, erase, mirror, array and copy-rotate multiple holes in multiple solids in one operation.

Jeff Demers says Progressive Wood Works and MillLister software work on top of AutoCAD as an enhancement.

"When we went from a drawing to a cutlist without software integrating the two together, there could be a lot of human error," Demers says. "If you're trying to get the length of a board in AutoCAD and you have a complicated fixture with a lot of lines, it's very easy to snap to a wrong dimension. Those were the kind of errors that were plaguing us.

"Other than drawing itself, getting it ready for CNC machining was the most time-consuming part."

Before this year, says Demers, JSI was taking SmartLister data and retyping it in Excel. Now, it's working on an Access database that will accept the SmartLister output. The database will provide data for the cutlist, a list of materials and whether work begins on the CNC machining center or the beam saw. Information is in a grid, including a list of materials.

"We've built a library that includes all the parts that are bought, such as casters, handles and hardware. Once the library is created, that's tagged onto that part. All that information is there," says Demers.

Everything is done with the assembled drawing. Once the part is stretched, the SmartLister grid provides new sizes of parts it automatically has changed, the parts have already been resized.

"My goal is that once we do the drawing, it's pretty much automated. We're trying to take the human intervention out of it," says Demers. "It requires you to be very technical on the drawings. But in doing so, the output is just phenomenal."

Solid wood preferred

A significant part of what JSI makes is solid wood. Many customers want a high-end look, especially oak, maple and some ash, says Demers. Foam with a wood structure is replacing vinyl-padded wood. Foam products are 10 percent and growing, especially in the company's Banana Bed.

JSI uses its own factory to make its high-end products and outsources some standard items like steel parts, which account for about 20 percent of volume. Just about everything else is made at the Milo plant.

There are two departments in the Milo plant: custom products and volume production. The volume department makes displays that have been made before. New products go through research and development. JSI can make one fixture in a matter of days. A recent large order from a major chain required 50 pieces to be delivered to six stores simultaneously.

In the shop, JSI has a Selco EB 100 beam saw and a Polymac LATO 38 edgebander, which is increasingly used for ABS edgebanding. A Biesse Rover 37 CNC machining center with a 12-foot bed can run on both ends for smaller parts. It runs 16 hours a day. Demers says that JSI has just gotten into nesting in the last year or so, and is using the Rover to cut "B" parts at the same time on the same sheet during the main job.

Individual pieces are also cut in another area with Whirlwind and Pistorius cutoff saws and a Holytek rip saw. A Maggi 32mm vertical and horizontal boring machine is also used here. A small building station makes large tables and orchard bins. Much of the laminating is done by hand, increasingly using ABS laminates. Some laminating is done after assembly. An Edge-Sweets foam band saw is used for foam fabrication.

JSI has three spray booths for finishing, mostly using clear coats. Final assembly is the last step in the process. Metal parts are powder coated by an outside company.

Terry Awalt sees more growth for JSI, maybe at a 15 percent rate, while keeping the company's customer base and keeping sight of what got them here, which is total customer service. "Our intention isn't to grow at a rate we can't handle," he says.

"I believe the strongest point is the culture of the company and the sharing of information with all the employees," Terry Awalt says. "That makes them feel as strong a part of the company as the owners."

Mark Awalt says that JSI's success is due to competitive pricing, superior quality and outstanding customer service.

"The supermarket industry is highly competitive and many of the chains have downsized many of their support departments like purchasing and, as a result, expect more from vendors such as JSI," he says. "We've embraced this change and are more than happy to do whatever is necessary to satisfy our customers."

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