The clock is always running on high-end millwork projects in the entertainment business. And there's work for companies such as Powell Cabinet and Fixture Co. that can provide high-end quality in that window.

"What we do is faster and larger than what most architectural millwork companies do," says Bill Powell, president of the Sparks, Nev., company. "That is all this company has ever known.

"It's a cliche to say fast track, because everyone wants to say fast track today, but for a shop this size, we're able to push out and coordinate a lot of work."

"We've been good at getting the work done and meeting schedules," says Roger Powell, company founder and chairman. "We're used to the fast track, and that's where a lot of people just can't perform.

"The decisions aren't made when they should be, and by the time they decide, the completion date never changes," Roger says. "We actually bail out other companies because the other guys left. One way or another, it comes around."

Nearly all (90 to 95 percent) of Powell's business is casinos, and most of that is in Las Vegas.

"We've been busy with the higher-end work," Bill says. "That's where we focus most of our attention. We're recognized as one of the big players, especially in the Las Vegas area."

Roger, who started the business 50 years ago, says there isn't that much current activity in the Reno area, especially when compared to Las Vegas.

Manning up

Handling large projects means changes in the work force. Powell may have anywhere from 50 to 100-plus employees in the shop and the field.

"Being able to man up' is a challenge for the whole industry," Bill says. "We've had to take on the training ourselves. We can't depend on anyone else to do that. It's an ongoing process."

Powell makes executive desks, reception areas and ceiling fixtures.

"We do public spaces for casinos: meeting rooms, ballrooms and registration areas," Bill says.

"We also do a lot of retail space in casinos. We don't do a rollout of a number of stores with a lot of repetitive design work. We're doing one-of-a-kind, jewelry shop, art gallery, men's clothing."

Roger sees attention to detail in engineering in the early phases of a project as important because that allows Powell to coordinate well with the other trades in advance.

"That's probably the biggest strength," he says. "Also important is our commitment to our client, the general contractor, and his client."

Powell has long-standing relationships with general contractors.

"The higher level of work, the more competitive we are," he says.

Powell has three connected buildings in Sparks, including one for wood cutting and machining, a second for assembly and a third for storage.

The company recently added a large Northwood machining center with a 5 x 20 foot table for big panels and mouldings. The shop in Sparks also has a Morbidelli Author 70 CNC machining center, Komo VR 512Q CNC machining center, Scheer PA 7000 panel saw and Heesemann widebelt sander.

Powell handles various materials, including brass, art glass railings and anodized aluminum. "There isn't much that we can't do," Roger says.

Faux, specialized and marine-type finishes are offered. The company uses mostly a lacquer-based product. Special inserts, such as macassar or zebrawood, must be finished separately before the piece is assembled.

Contrasting finishes

"It's similar to when someone puts marquetry in a cabinet door so they get a contrast of finishes," Bill says. "If you finish everything at one time, it all blends together and you spend a lot of money on detail that you can't see.

"I think our strength is our finishes. Plastic laminate doesn't require any level of expertise in the shop, but someone who is going to match a sequence-matched veneer has to be skilled."

Powell stores wood products for months because of Reno's dryness.

"When you bring in lumber that has been kiln dried where there's higher humidity and it comes to Reno, you have to acclimate it," Bill says. "Most of our competition doesn't do that."

"We've heard horror stories from competitors about mouldings peeling off the wall," says Roger.

Import challenges

Bill says that NAFTA and Asian imports are increasingly affecting architectural millwork.

"We're such a small industry, we don't rate a lot of political clout," he says. "Competition from Canada and Mexico is tough.

"In five years, I don't think there will be a hotel/casino tower that will be done domestically. Typical rooms, including armoires and night stands, will be made in Asia."

He thinks China will increase its millwork penetration, including moving into the hotel and casino public areas. "It can happen with affiliations with Canadian and Mexican firms."

Despite the challenges, Bill sees a good future for the market. He says the worst slowdown in the casino industry was 9/11. "Short of that kind of catastrophic impact on an industry, I don't see the entertainment sector slowing down," he says.

Hurricane recovery

Speaking of catastrophes, Bill says Hurricane Katrina wiped out the Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos, but those companies are already back with big plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

"I just can't see it slowing down. Nationally, and even in the state of Nevada, it's going to continue to grow. Las Vegas is becoming the New York City of the West Coast, with shopping and maybe even Broadway shows."

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