Fixture maker fine-tunes process
October 15, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

Fleetwood Fixtures is obsessed with improving every aspect of the company. To do this, Fleetwood examines and reexamines opportunities to improve sales, project management, manufacturing and engineering. As a result, the high-end retail interior fixture manufacturer is aggressively growing.

Fleetwood creates custom environments for boutiques, including Calvin Klein, Puma, Yankee Candle and Urban Outfitters. The company provides everything from complete retail interiors to customized clothing racks from its ready-to-ship custom fixture line.

Expansion equals growth

To be able to grow, the Leesport, Pa., company expanded its capacity and moved its manufacturing operation to a 300,000-square-foot plant. Fleetwood now has total square footage of more than 450,000 square feet. "We're a sales-driven organization," Darrell Helms, Fleetwood's president of operations, says. "By expanding our manufacturing we now offer more services and increased our efficiencies."

"Approximately 70 percent of our business is custom," Helms says. "The other 30 percent is from our high-end internally designed catalog items and furniture we design and manufacture for retailers under different brands."

In the highly competitive retail industry, stores are distinguishing themselves through design. "We have a design team in Chicago that focuses on creating environments and customized fixtures," Helms says. "Our manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania can manufacture just about anything our clients can creatively come up with."

Because every customer is essentially a new product line, Fleetwood expanded its project management capabilities to help clients move through the process. "We help clients realize, design, design engineer and manufacture fixtures with lead times as long as 15 weeks to as short as five days," Helms says.

Process improvements

As technology and equipment improves, the manufacturer is continually fine tuning all processes to produce more at a faster pace. Fleetwood improved its engineering process with new software and standardization. New design software allows for final concepts to be downloaded into the manufacturing phase. On the manufacturing side, scheduling software was added, which helped cut lead times in half, Helms notes.

The company also has invested in finishing, machining, and assembly equipment, which has helped grow the wood and metal side of the business. "We're always continuing to explore and add in every area necessary to make us viable," Helms says.

Even though Fleetwood is expanding its manufacturing capabilities, it does outsource certain custom processes, such as chrome plating, powder coating wood or metal fixtures. "We're always looking to add expertise through strategic partners," says Helms.

People are what make a company a success, and Helms believes one of his greatest challenges will be finding the right people to grow the company. "Finding expertise in project management, sales engineering and wood and metal working is difficult," says Helms.

Future growth

While consumer spending is holding up in the face of the housing recession, the manufacturer is diversifying its customer base. "Right now, 75 percent of our sales come from the retail industry," Helms observes. "As we sell for 2008, we're looking at new clients and opportunities in different industries."

However, this doesn't mean Helms is pessimistic going into 2008. "We see great growth opportunities in the retail fixture industry. As long as we continue to provide customers with innovative solutions to their problems, we'll grow as a company."

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About the author
Kathleen McClaughlin

Kathleen McLaughlin was an associate editor and contributor to CabinetMaker and FDM magazines for a number of years. She is currently social media/SEO editor and custom publications editor at WATT Global Media.