Old City Millwork is ready to move to a new location and start emphasizing new semi-custom products. But to stay busy during the recession, it is staying flexible and responding to what customers need.

Despite the name, the Memphis company doesn’t have a long history. It started as a partnership between Posey Hedges and Jason Johns. Hedges had a background in the music business, high-end woodwork and home remodeling. Johns in furniture manufacturing and high-end woodworking.

In 2005, Hedges was woodworking hobbyist who admired a local millworker’s sense of craftsmanship and its application in the Queen Annes and bungalows in Midtown Memphis. When that man retired, Hedges and his associates bought the equipment and started a woodworking business.

Today, Johns estimates Old City’s market to be about 75 percent high-end residential, and 25 percent commercial, which tends to be higher quality with hardwoods, mouldings, and matched finishes. The company's eight employees make mouldings, entry doors, shutters and window sashes. The company recently renovated 100-year-old entry doors and a transom for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

Earlier, Hedges was in the music business working in recording studios as a producer and engineer. He sees parallels between music and woodworking and the collaborative effort needed to produce a finished product. In music, there’s a record label, an executive producer, the team that works in the studio, and the studio musicians. In woodworking, architects have the vision, the house owner is the record label, and the woodworkers are the studio pros.

Old City also makes solid wood subcomponents for a major guitar manufacturer. To complete the music tie-in, Old City shares its current shop space with an audio speaker manufacturer.

“More technical jobs are our specialty,” Johns says. “We are a capable shop with highly trained people that can do jobs that are a little more difficult than the average casework job.

“Our biggest improvement has been capturing project information up front, and we’re able to do that with software we have written and especially Microvellum,” Johns says. “Once a job is measured we’re able to capture the cutlist for the casework, drawer sizes and get all the information up front.”

Moving and upgrading 

A new Biesse Artech Skill 300 machining center is fairly new and easier to program. Johns wants to expand capabilities with the new Biesse. “We want to go from just cutting out casegoods to being able to produce more technical pieces on it,” he says. “That ties into being able to create shutters and related parts.”

The Memphis shop also has a Maggi boring system, Striebig vertical saw, Omga FP4000TN cutoff saw, and small Brandt edgebander.

“The high tech equipment gets all the notice, but more traditional machines like the Mini Max Formula planer with Tersa heads is running all the time,” Hedges says. “And a Weinig Quattromat moulder is also a necessary tool.”

A line boring machine may be replaced. “Shop floor space is at a premium, so I’m thinking of releasing it back into the wild,” Hedges says.

Some equipment has already been moved into the new larger space nearby, finishing is done in that location. Old City offers a variety of clear and opaque finishes and techniques, including Graco air assisted-airless pumps for each coating. The overall goal is to create a more efficient manufacturing flow, but that will be addressed in the new location.

Keeping busy 

“We’d like to work more efficiently within our existing systems, but we’d also like to be more responsive to what the architects need, maintain and improve these relationships,” Hedges says.

“When you diversify it takes a lot of organization to stay on track. As the market improves, I anticipate our strategy will be to narrow our focus to concentrate on the more profitable items. “One of our goals was to take certain pieces of furniture that we do well and are unique, and replicate them. Right now, we’re staying open and available to anyone that comes in.”

“When a customer asks if you can you do a job on the cheap, it’s a careful balance of thanking them but turning down the job diplomatically.” Hedges also appreciated the CabinetMaker Pricing Survey, which helped get a handle on correctly pricing jobs.

“We’re looking at some product lines, and it would be nice to add more,” Johns says. “The idea of having something that is semi custom compared to fully custom is very attractive to us.

“We hope to become a wholesale manufacturer of shutters, using equipment we have set up for cabinetmaking.”

“We’re doing a lot of different things now to keep busy,” Hedges says. “But when things pick up, we will concentrate on what they do best.”

“We are adaptable, and we are able to attack the jobs that are a little more challenging,” Johns says. “There’s always going to be a need for high quality millwork.”

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