Machinery offsets labor shortage
October 15, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

For Walter Siegordner, president of Salon Interiors, buying machinery to automate his fixture manufacturing business is a viable answer to the labor shortage.


The company which employs 30 people in its 30,000-square-foot South Hackensack, N.J., facility started in 1979 as a distributor of beauty salon furniture. Four years later it moved into manufacturing because it couldn't find subcontractors to build the cabinets it needed. "It just kept growing from that point forward," Siegordner says. Today, the company is one of the most automated operations in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, he says.


Roughly 50 percent of its business is designing and building beauty salons. Various products for banks, doctors' offices, schools, food services and other customers account for the rest. The company occasionally ventures into residential work. "We do a little here and there, but we try to stay away from it," Siegordner says.


Most work is concentrated within, but not limited to, a 150-mile radius. "We go anywhere there's money to be made, as long as [the customer] is willing to pay for transportation and overhead costs to do a job somewhere," he says.


Labor crisis

Three employees have worked for Salon Interiors for 18 to 20 years; several others have been with the company about 12 years.


"We've got a good group of people here," Siegordner says. Teamwork is the bottom line and egos aren't tolerated. "We're here to do a project. If you've got ideas on how to make it happen better, quicker, I want to hear about it."


Problems arise when it's time to replace or add employees. "It used to be if you wanted an A' kind of guy, you had to pay an A' kind of price. That's understandable," Siegordner says. "Now you can't find them at any price.


"We've gotten to the point where we hire almost everybody. We give them the opportunity. We see what kind of skill sets they have how they're thinking and if they have hands.' " Employees who demonstrate the required skills are trained and brought along as needed.


New machinery

Because experienced employees are scarce, Salon Interiors keeps buying automated equipment a Brandt straight-line edgebander, a Homag panel saw and a Weeke CNC point-to-point machine that don't require highly skilled operators. Four months ago they also purchased a Homag BAZ processing center, the first of its kind operating in the tri-state area.


The BAZ's capabilities include routing, horizontal and vertical drilling, v grooving and edgebanding with 3 mm, laminate, wood and other materials. "It will edgeband the curved surface, then it will trim it, bevel or radius it depending on the material you're using," Siegordner says. It also features a large tool changer that can handle various routers and a small conveyor that hauls away waste.


"The learning curve part of it is completed and all the bugs are out of it," Siegordner says. "We can do things now a heck of a lot faster than the average guy can do. It's the latest/greatest and that's where we need to be." The machine also provides the accuracy and consistency required for trouble-free assembly.


Subcontract work

In addition to its regular jobs, the BAZ enables Salon Interiors to do subcontract work. A recent project was to edgeband round table tops. "You put the piece of wood in there, it cuts it out and slaps the edge on," he says. "It takes a bit of tweaking, but once you've got it tweaked, it's so nice."


Salon Interiors runs the BAZ two to three hours daily. "As we find more and more ways to put it to use, I suspect it will get up to about five, six hours a day, and that would be just wonderful," Siegordner says.


Prior to the BAZ purchase, all curved-surface edgebanding had to be done by hand. "Now being able to do curves automatically, that's . . . what sets us apart from our competition," he says. "Now we can do all sorts of kookie, crazy curve things and do them efficiently and quickly."


The next step in automation is laminating equipment. "Right now we're just spraying glue and laying laminate down to panels," Siegordner says. "We have a press also, so we can do PVA glues that way, but we're looking at a little more automated process so we can push more material through."


Also on the wish list are a wood hog to break down waste and a furnace that burns particleboard waste while generating heat and energy.


Material flow

Most projects follow a prescribed sequence. First, the company uses Cabinet Vision, Wood Design and WoodWOP software to design and engineer the products.


Most of the materials used are laminates; the rest are melamine over particleboard panels. If the order specifies custom lamination, that process usually precedes cutting.


The panels are cut on the Homag panel saw, and bar codes are created and attached to the cut pieces. Next is the Weeke CNC point-to-point machine, which completes the routing, drilling and other specified operations. After edgebanding, the panels move to assembly. If the product was completely laminated beforehand, it's a finished product after assembly. If not, the outside is laminated at this stage.


When assembly is completed, employees build the drawers, hang the doors and install the hardware. Then the product is put on a skid, packaged and stored until delivery.


Key attributes

Two attributes distinguish Salon Interiors in the fixtures market. First, there are no limitations to the salon work it can do. "We're a very custom-oriented, design/build firm, where a lot of our competitors are not that way," Siegordner says. "They are very regimented in what they have to offer as far as a catalog of items."


Second, it guarantees delivery deadlines and backs that up with a commitment to pay $500 for each day it's late. "I hate delays. If someone tells me it's going to be there Tuesday, I expect it to be there Tuesday," Siegordner says. "I want to give that same respect to my customers."


Understanding its capabilities enables Salon Interiors to meet those deadlines. "Manufacturing is a science, but yet it's not a science; in some cases, it's an art," he says. "You know a guy is going to produce x amount of dollars per year, per month or per week for you. And we always leave ourselves enough latitude. The idea is to not get overly greedy and to stick to your principles."


Service beats imports

Salon Interiors counters low-cost imports by providing "service, service, service, service," says Siegordner. "When it comes to salons, we take it from the start to the end, and we're there the whole way through. It's not just, Here's a catalog ­ pick two of item B and two of item C and have a nice day.'


"It's about how that product is going to work for them," he says. "Is this the right choice? Is this going to help you make back your investment?"


Siegordner knows the Asian influence will continue to be a factor in the fixture market. "You have to keep looking at different areas where you can do things they can't," he says. "What's the value you're going to offer? We can spin around on a dime where they can't."


Key suppliers: Planit Solutions, Inc., Stiles Machinery Inc.

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About the author

George Lausch was a staff writer and editor for FDM and CabinetMaker magazines. He wrote feature and news stories for the magazines.