Dick Terry, owner of Terry Manufacturing in Palestine, Tex., doesn't believe in relying on what's worked in the past. Instead, he has incorporated new machines and ideas into his business and in the process developed new markets and opportunities.

"We've had a lot of good and bad years," says Terry. "The bad years will force you to look at other things instead of just being in a tunnel."

Terry's story is one of adaptation. Since 1950 the company, owned by Terry's father, had been manufacturing metal coin-operated newspaper racks. When Terry joined the business in 1979, the shop had just begun doing cabinet doors. In 1984 the company sold off the metalworking part of the business and Terry's father retired.

The door business was strong because, at that time, there were a limited number of door suppliers in the area. About half of the business is still doors. But Terry wasn't satisfied with just doing cabinet doors he also added custom cabinets into the mix. Now Terry Mfg. does medium to high-end custom cabinets, all plywood, face-frame construction.

Between 1990 and 1993, Terry bought a second plant in San Antonio that produced a stock cabinetry line. And though he subsequently sold that plant, he says that it gave him an education in the manufacturing of modular type cabinets that he may use to develop a stock cabinet line.

Improving processes

Often Terry found opportunity to develop new offerings in equipment he purchased to improve flow in the plant. In 1996, for example, Terry bought an SCM Superset 23 moulder, not to do mouldings but to efficiently produce stiles and rails for the doors the shop made.

Before he purchased the moulder, parts were cut to size after they came off a Diehl SL 52 rip saw and then cut to size at one of the shop's SCM shapers. "It's faster to run one part through the moulder than to run four or five parts through the shaper," says Terry.

The shop runs all the S4S material through the moulder as well as the rails and moulding. "If somebody wants to match a profile in an old house and nobody's got that moulding, most of the time we can run what they're looking for."

Terry sells only stain-grade wood moulding, not paint-grade. He says that he can usually compete with other sources on stain-grade moulding, if they're comparing the same product.

Putting CNC in the mix

Terry says there were multiple reasons for buying an SCM Routech 130 CNC router in 2000. "The primary reason for buying the CNC wasn't just to increase production, but to allow me to build the cabinets in a different manner," says Terry. The company built face frames that were attached to the boxes with nails, leaving exposed holes to fill. But Terry knew that this wasn't the way the bigger companies did it and he wanted to create a better-looking product.

"Having the CNC allowed me to do the machining. With the moulder I can run the face-frame material with a groove and then rabbet the sides with the CNC when we're cutting out parts," says Terry.

"The real motivation for buying CNC is because of the lack of skilled labor to be able to safely run the table saw," he says. Terry believes that the router has almost eliminated the safety issue.

The router has also worked to improve the flow of the shop. Before, plywood was stacked next to the table saw and then moved to another saw to dado it and then to the line boring machine. "Now we don't have to move it around anymore and that's where the real savings were," says Terry. The shop uses Cabnetware software that it upgraded to work with the router. The shop uses nesting to lay out all its cabinets.

The router also enabled the company to do solid MDF doors, to add that to the choices it offered of doors.

Adding finishing

Terry's biggest customers are new home builders, but he wanted to get into the remodeling market. In Texas that meant adding finishing to the equation. In Texas, builders are accustomed to painters doing the work onsite. And it's an entrenched system that is difficult to change.

"Our purpose wasn't to force anyone to buy prefinished cabinetry, but to open up the remodel market for it," says Terry. Remodelers buy prefinished cabinetry because it's a better system for them, avoiding spraying or painting in a home that people are occupying. "It opened up that market better for us."

Terry added a Sata spray gun and pump, solvent recycle unit and paint booth to his operation. The entire cabinet is assembled before it's finished and hardware is prefit to make sure everything fits. The hardware is removed before spraying and put back on after the finish is applied. Finishing is done in a separate building adjacent to the shop.

Adding finishing helped the shop go from doing very little in the remodeling market to where the shop is today with about 35 to 40 percent of the cabinetry business in remodels.

What's ahead?

In the past, Terry has stayed away from manufacturing low-end stock cabinets because he couldn't compete. Now he's getting inquiries from some of his high-end customers who are very unhappy with the low-end cabinets they're getting for other areas of the house.

"So I'm looking right now to see if I can readjust for that market, to build the same type product but a little better quality," says Terry. "I know how to make that product because I had that plant in San Antonio."

Terry says he could do a number of things such as use a cheaper, thinner material, or use hardware other than brand-name varieties. "Unless you're going to do it in a big way or as a big percentage of your business, it's not worth it for one job to change your method of building something," he says. So right now, Terry is really studying the possibility.

Recently, Terry also took on a small job of cutting treated timbers to cradle pipes that are being shipped. The parts are cut using a bandsaw and template and must be accurate. Although the job wasn't all that appealing to Terry, he's getting a good price for the work. It's become a significant job, and he's now doing similar work for a second company.

"I think our biggest strength is our potential for growth. I have a basic core of employees who could be the core for greatly increased production," says Terry.

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