Vertical integration is the key at WoodCrafters. The Weslaco, Texas, company depends on vertical integration to deliver products to the some of the biggest remodeling centers. Countertops, sinks, solid wood doors and parts, and cabinet boxes are made on both sides of the border, brought together and assembled in a matter of days or even hours.

"We believe in vertical integration, and have expanded that capability," says Abraham Tanus, WoodCrafters' president and CEO. "One of the main benefits is time to market. We can respond with new products, promotions and surges in demand because we control our own destiny through vertical integration. That's been a big company philosophy.

"We can also create opportunities for our associates," he says. "With vertical integration we expand capabilities and end up with more opportunities we can provide for growth and advancement."

WoodCrafters makes furniture and storage products for bathrooms, laundry rooms and bookcases that are distributed to some of the world's largest home improvement retailers. Most of its business is remodeling. About 90 percent of retail business is in the United States and 10 percent in Mexico.

The company was started in 1983 by Tanus in Weslaco, a city in the Rio Grande Valley, a region that is home to more than a million people. Weslaco is WoodCrafters' headquarters and center for cabinet manufacturing and distribution. The company started serving home centers in the early 1990s and has recorded steady growth and expansion since.

"Our evolution has been through what customers need. We have had growth through diversity, complexity and different product segments," Tanus says.

Strategic partner

WoodCrafters is a strategic partner with its big box customers, and greatly understands what these customers need.

"We stress innovation, and we think it's critical to bring ideas and solutions to our retail partners," says Steve Strasevicz, executive vice president, sales and marketing.

"We invest heavily in R&D and have an attitude that we cannot take any prior successes for granted. We have to continue to stress new product development, and we want to be a resource for customers, not just a supplier."

Strasevicz says that orders come in, are processed within a prescribed lead time and sent out the door with high fill rates on a consistent basis, along with marketing and merchandising support to help the product sell through.

"Just getting it out the door is when our responsibility begins," he says. "We feel the responsibility doesn't end until we get it off their shelf. It's a comprehensive sell-through philosophy.

"It's easy to say no, but it's a lot more gratifying to be able to solve that need. We work hard at responding. That type of flexibility and ability to move quickly is our model, and we work hard to maintain it."

WoodCrafters markets its own brands of WoodCrafters, Domani and Total Bath Solutions. Private label products sold under the Glacier Bay, Pegasus, and Allen + Roth names are also made by the company.

Strasevicz says that bathroom remodeling products are becoming more fashion oriented, with more furniture design elements. "People are looking for a lot more than utilitarian benefits from remodeling a bath," he says. "Higher price point bathroom furniture with design elements continues to show strength in the market."

Plant locations

WoodCrafters started with Plant 1 in Weslaco, where particleboard is laminated, and cabinet boxes are made and assembled. Plant 2 builds solid surface tops and Plant 3 makes cabinets and bookcases. Weslaco is also the main shipping point.

Weslaco concentrates on making the boxes as efficiently as possible. Doors and tops are brought from outside and assembled in Weslaco. A plant in Valle Hermoso, Mexico, makes and finishes doors and solid wood components for a variety of products, which are brought to Weslaco for assembly.

A factory in Rio Bravo, Mexico, makes composite countertops for the freestanding vanity top market segment. They are placed on a vanity in what's called a combo. This location makes 8,000 marble products a day.

Another location in Gomez Palacio, Mexico, is farther from Weslaco and makes solid wood bathroom vanities and bathroom furniture with design elements. About 1,000 finished goods are produced here each day.

Panel processing plant

In the main Weslaco Plant, 1,360 employees make 6,000 products per day on four assembly lines and in four primary work areas: lamination, sawing, edgebanding, and drilling and doweling. There is no finish capability here.

A visitor to Weslaco notes that every machine is running: two laminating machines, two panel saws, three edgebanders, two drill and dowel inserters, a profile wrapper and cutoff saw, and case clamps.

Large monitor screens over each work area and all four assembly lines show the progress of jobs and production broken down into hour-long groups. Shop Floor Control software was developed in-house to manage manufacturing flow. The process starts with laminating particleboard on either a Monco or Premelters machine.

Pete Magallanes, WoodCrafters' plant manager in Weslaco, says that 4,000 sheets can be laminated a day, primarily in several stock colors. This operation supplies laminate for three different plants.

Next, laminated pieces go to one of two Holzma panel saws that use CutRite software. From this point, the plant works in batches of 60 cut pieces. A work order is created at this time to handle subsequent work on each of these batches.

Three IDM Idimatic 44 edgebanders handle the edgebanding. Drilling and doweling is the next stop, and two Koch drill and dowel inserters are used here.

In a separate operation, a Barberan profile wrapping machine completely wraps particleboard pieces and is connected to a cutoff saw equipped with TigerStop that cuts those wrapped pieces to length.

Magallanes says that about 50,000 individual pieces come out of these processes every day ready for assembly.

On the four assembly lines, each work station's task takes 15 seconds or less. A skill matrix chart shows each person's progress in training and mastering different skills, and the ability to train others. This encourages people to learn other skills.

An automatic drawer machine makes two standard drawer sizes, 6 x 11 and 10 x 11. Tops from Rio Bravo are delivered directly to the assembly line on a skid. They are then removed from their box, put together with a vanity and reboxed for final shipping.

Working together

Carlos Garcia, operations manager in Weslaco, says that an integrated system shows what has been shipped from plants in Mexico and what is in transit. Each plant does what it does well; its work is well-defined.

Garcia says that Woodcrafters is looking for improvements in any area, so many processes are 15 seconds or less.

"We've established parameters that allow us to measure efficiencies, and we're looking forward to becoming more efficient," he says. "We want to become better at every single part of the process. We want to be more efficient as a whole."

"We design products depending on where it's made, because the manufacturing capability is so different," Magallanes says. "By doing that we can achieve that quality day in and day out. There is that collaborative effort."

Even management people work occasionally on an assembly line for a day to get a feel for the process.

Magallanes says WoodCrafters spends a lot of effort in evaluation and training. "One of the most important is the leadership development program, which has produced many of the leaders we have today. We always promote from within," he says.

Company vision

"We're dedicated to the development of our people. We select our people real well," Abraham Tanus says. "We introduce them to the vision of the company, the goals and objectives. We share with them where we're going. Everyone in the organization has to understand what we're trying to achieve. We hire people to understand that we are here to develop leaders in the organization and the community.

"If you're a customer, the reason you get the best cabinets with the best designs with the best value is because we have people who are committed to doing that for a living."

Growth for WoodCrafters has been consistently strong in recent years, despite fluctuations in the economy.

"We all know the economy's soft and that new construction is down. This started in the middle of 2006," Tanus says.

"I look at the future very positively, and we're planning to grow very aggressively. We're after more market share. We believe the next three to five years will be very promising.

"We're budgeting about 10 percent growth in 2007 and 2008. We'll see a strong bump in 2009 and 2010, including additional market share.

"We want to become the number one manufacturer in America in the products and categories that we select to make," Tanus adds.

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