Grow or get out. That was the view of office furniture maker  Tayco  five years ago.

"It was frightening to know that you are that small, and your competitors are that big," says company president Phil Philips. "We had to grow or get out."

Tayco's primary existing mid-market product, Panelink office partitions, was already growing at a healthy 30 percent a year, with strong demand in North America.

But to grow, Tayco needed an additional product line. The company's new Cosmopolitan line is described by Philips as being more flexible, and more high tech. It is built around modules that can be any material from fluted glass to perforated metal. Cosmopolitan is intended for the larger market of 100 to 500 workstations, and is designed to be reconfigured and expanded easily. Electrical capabilities are at desk height, and cable management can accommodate hundreds of wires, if needed.

The Toronto, Ontario, company deals primarily with mid-range dealers. Cosmopolitan will be giving these dealers a higher-quality line to compete against the major office furniture manufacturers. (Systems are usually ordered as a complete station with desks, and increasingly, with a chair.) A second line of mobile components called "Go" is also being offered.

Though smaller than the most recognized names, Tayco can do some things the majors can't. Working closely with the customer is emphasized. Tayco has 15 CAD people, and 20 full-time installers who fly all over North America. Bigger competitors would need hundreds of people to do the same thing, which wouldn't, Philips believes, be manageable.

"A lot of the majors can't compete effectively below a certain level, so the (major dealers) need an alternate product to compete," he says.

"There is a need for the kind of service we are offering. We hold people's hands from start to finish. Our market niche is very specialized compared to the larger manufacturers."

An important service for Tayco is providing rapid turnaround. Tayco maintains a large inventory of components, including hundreds of welded-steel partition frames, and has a "Quick Ship" program. A shipment of several hundred workstations can be put together in 72 hours, if needed. Tayco receives regular requests for this service.

"What happens is somebody fails," Philips says. "And the customer gets upset and looks for someone who can give them the product right away. This is very common. We overinventory so we're never late on any jobs. We're trying to rely more and more on our suppliers."

Outsourcing option

Outsourcing, especially larger quantities, has helped Tayco make its products more efficiently. Olon Industries is supplying v-grooved, one-piece miter-folded and RTA drawers that are delivered with dowels installed. Olon also provides all veneer, PVC and polyester edgebanding, and veneer-wrapped MDF profiles.

Tayco made these components in house in the past, but determined it was easier to outsource.

"It's a combination of quality, cost and delivery," Philips says. "If we can accomplish this outside favorably, we'll outsource. If it's a small run, then we'll just do it in house."

Philips says that Olon's prices on the v-grooved drawers have actually gone down 15 percent over the past five years.

"Their quality is always getting better," he says. "Olon has better capabilities. Their machines can do more operations on the same part at no extra cost. Tayco wouldn't be able to keep one of those sophisticated machines going full time."

Philips also credits a progressive working relationship between the two companies.

"By outsourcing, you're using outside expertise and capabilities, which is less costly. Otherwise, you have to learn everything from scratch in house."

Woodworking upgrades

Tayco has made a number of manufacturing upgrades, especially in woodworking equipment, in anticipation of producing Cosmopolitan.

Smaller panels are cut on a Selco EB120 panel saw, and a Selco WNT600 panel saw with back loading handles larger work. Cut pieces then go to one of two point-to-point machines, a Biesse Rover 336 or a Rover 346.

Tayco has a new Platinum series Shoda CNC router with two large (about 5 x 5 feet) twin tables that can be used individually or together for larger surfaces such as conference tables. The machine includes a programmable flip-pod system, 46-position drill bank for boring and an automatic tool height sensor. Routing is done with an 18-position ATC mounted on the front of the spindle for quick tool changes. Programming is done through AlphaCAM software.

Edgebanding is next, with two Homag banders and one SCM machine. A Homag Optimat edgebander is used with a Doucet CMS-36 return table. Tayco may add another bander to handle 3mm edgebanding, working with the new Shoda router. Other equipment includes an SCM SI16W sliding table saw.

A separate production area called woodworking specialties handles non-standard items such as odd-sized cabinets, doors with windows or other custom pieces. Philips says having this department, which bypasses the regular workflow, is a great selling point.

The finishing shop has three Novapro machines. One automatic sprayer applies lacquer, one applies stain and one does sanding.

Philips doesn't want Tayco to be too reliant on one machine. "That's always a concern here," he says. "We'd rather have two similar machines or some kind of backup." With that in mind, Tayco is looking at separate point-to-point machines and edgebanders rather than a combination machine.

Tayco uses Giza 2020 software, which customizes product libraries to simplify CAD operations. That's tied in to a bigger software package called Movex that produces shop orders.

Metal and upholstery

Metal fabrication takes place in a separate area of the Toronto plant. Press brakes, a roll former and stamping press make the metal frames used for office partitions. Philips says that Tayco has plans to add a laser cutting machine and new CNC machine.

Assembly and upholstery is the final function. In Tayco's panel assembly area, "fabric and trim" is done (fabric is glued onto the metal frames of office partitions). Products from panel assembly, metal fabrication, woodworking, work surface section and cabinet assembly all come together in the 200,000-square-foot main plant, arriving in shipping the same day.

Philips says that about 70 percent of sales are in the United States and 30 percent are in Canada. Generally speaking, the Canadian economy has held up better than the U.S. economy, but in the Canadian market, the mid-range products have dropped off, while the higher end has picked up. So Tayco is entering markets with different characteristics with Cosmopolitan.

Tayco plans to have 100 showrooms for Cosmopolitan set up by the end of October.

"In the market that Cosmopolitan is entering, we're going against the best that are out there," he says. "So we will constantly have to change. What they can do will be expected of us. So we'll have to keep up with the ever-changing requirements that are out there."

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