In 2003, countertop fabricator Bollock Industries Inc. in Lafayette, Ind., scored a sweet deal it became the primary countertop supplier of two brands of countertops for a home improvement 'big box' store. Two years later, the shop signed a similar agreement with another branch of the store in Kokomo, Ind., about 40 miles away.

However, the deals created a challenge for the shop. It didn't want to overtly compete with their big box customers or other long-established local kitchen dealers and customers, yet they wanted to keep growing their bottom line. So after much research, the company decided to add a new product to its offerings, one that could be made using existing materials and machinery.

And that is how Bollock Industries started designing and fabricating custom closet systems.

Good timing

In retrospect, the contracts came at just the right time for the shop. In 1999, the shop had brought in a consultant to review the business and make recommendations to better its operations. Ultimately the shop combined the suggestions of the consultant with its own long-term plans, and in May 2003 purchased a Northwood CNC router with a vacuum lift to improve the shop's efficiency in its countertop work.

In order to help fill downtime, which was one of the consultant's original concerns, Steve Young, general manager and son-in-law of shop owner Tony Bollock, decided to use the router for the shop's commercial jobs, which include cabinets. According to Young, moving from commercial cabinets to closets was a logical one.

"Closet systems use all the same products that we already use drawer slides, panels, edgebanding all of those things we already had, and now we could cut them out fairly quickly with the CNC."

The router is also used to cut out solid surface thresholds, soap dishes, shower seats and cutting boards, the latter for countertop customers so they can gain familiarity with the material. These jobs serve a dual purpose: CNC router time is filled and scrap material is used up.

Early challenges

Recognizing that they had the capability to build closet systems was just the beginning of the shop's efforts to bring the product to the public. Since the shop was used to building countertops and commercial cabinetry and shipping them fully built and ready to install, the first time they prepared a set of closet systems for a house, they loaded up the pieces, took them to the site, and then realized that without a guide, they basically had a jig saw puzzle on their hands.

The closets were installed (albeit with a longer install time than originally planned), but the experience was a valuable lesson. Now, all components are numbered, labeled and wrapped in the shop, so that on-site installers or the homeowner know what goes where.

A further challenge has been getting Bollock Industries' established customers to think of them for products beyond just countertops. "When you've already got an established business, trying to introduce new product is always difficult because people are coming to you for one specific thing," Young observes.

In the shop

Work in the Bollock Industries shop flows in a "U" shape, with material pulled, cut and assembled in a logical sequence. The shop uses TradeSoft software for creating its job estimates, job tracking and invoicing, and KCDw software is used for designing its closet system jobs.

After an order has been given the go-ahead in the front office, the job is drawn up and sent to the Northwood CNC router. Materials are ordered on a per-job basis. For custom laminate countertops, flakeboard and laminate are sprayed up and run through an Evans pinch roller. From there they go to the CNC router for cutting. Backsplashes and simple, straight countertops go through a nearby Brandt edgebander. On occasion, laminate sheets are cut on a Putsch-Meniconi panel saw.

For solid surface countertops, slabs are received in the back of the shop, near the CNC router, where they are cut. They then go to an Edgetech countertop saw for miter cuts. Melamine board, which is used for the shop's closet systems and most commercial projects, is also received in the back of the shop.

For all jobs, cut pieces are loaded on to carts and then moved to the appropriate section of the shop for assembly and completion. All work is labeled with its job number, and clipboards with color-coded paper are used for quick identification of jobs as they move around.

Once an order is complete, it is moved to the far end of the shop for pick-up or delivery.

A promising future

Although closet systems have not made a significant contribution to Bollock Industries' bottom line to date, that is soon expected to change. "We were one of the sponsors of a local home show this past winter, and we had a large display of our closet system there," Stuart Bollock, marketing manager says. "And we were also a sponsor of a recent parade of homes, and in one of the homes of a long-respected local builder we did all the closets."

"We're really just now starting to aggressively market our closet systems," Sharon Bollock, finance manager, says. "I think there's a large market to tap into. Granted, you can get on the Internet and purchase closet systems very easily. But we can offer it made right here."

"Customer service has always been our hallmark and always will be," Stuart Bollock adds. "As my Dad says, If we give them good service in a prompt manner and show concern for the customer, making each of them feel special, like they are our only customer, they'll be back.'"

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