Mid Canada Millwork Ltd. is about service. The Steinbach, Manitoba-based manufacturing business is known for its high-quality architectural millwork directed primarily at the commercial market. The projects Mid Canada Millwork works on take in a variety of markets, and to a large degree, says Darryl Friesen, president, that diversity is one of the key elements that drives the growth of the company.


"We do many lab and hospital projects, as well as office buildings, hotels, casinos, convention centers, courthouses and libraries," he says. Annual sales in 2005, as reported in the latest FDM 300, came in at $24 million.


Currently the majority of the work produced by Mid Canada Millwork is for the lab and hospital market. The rest is mostly office buildings, hotels and other hospitality industry work. Recent work has included projects for: Dartmouth Medical Center, Cedar Sinai Research Hospital, Bellagio Towers, Northwestern University, Calpers Headquarters and several United States Federal Courthouses and U.S. embassies.


Friesen describes the company as a plan and spec builder. "We strive to take the owner's and architect's vision, then we engineer it so it will be efficient for our shop and give them (the clients) the design and quality that is going to last." The company prides itself on the premium-grade architectural millwork and casework that it offers, along with its ability to work with a range of materials, including woods, veneers, plastic laminates and solid surface.


It's not so much a manufacturing business, although Mid Canada Millwork does manufacture a range of components. In fact it produces everything it sells in house with the exception of veneer lay-ups. It's the diversity of materials and manufacturing capabilities, combined with its relationships with contractors and architects it has developed, that are the real strength of the company.


Importance of service

"We believe the service that we provide is as important as the quality of our product," says Friesen. Mid Canada Millwork works closely with the general contractors and architects that are its customers. "Offering them service and teaming up with them is essential for us," he says. "We want them to be confident with the idea that we understand what they want on the outside so they don't have to worry what's on the inside."


Installation is the one area that the company outsources on a regular basis. "Finding qualified installation companies that can bring the type of quality that we expect to the projects we go after is probably the toughest problem we have," says Friesen. While there are many labor companies in the market, especially on the East and West coasts where Mid Canada Millwork has most of its contracts, there aren't enough good millwork installers to go around.


"Installation is one area where we would like to expand," says Friesen. The idea would be to add some installation crews to its own labor force to help supplement the work that contract installers already do. Its own labor force couldn't do all the work, but could provide some breathing room on projects.


Expanding its installation capabilities falls right in line with Mid Canada's business approach. When you work on projects in construction and you are at the end of the job, you not only need to be flexible, you also need to be exacting. "We deliver a high-quality product with good customer service at a competitive price," says Friesen. "To do that, we have to be proficient at what we do. You need to do it once and do it right."


The company has moved into the 21st century with some of its manufacturing equipment and now has a larger, more advanced Selco beam saw that has contributed to improved product flow. Also, a more updated, automated Holz-Her Triathlon edgebander has helped automate the production of casework for commercial customers.


A larger Busellato CNC router has increased capacity to produce custom components. The biggest change in manufacturing, however, is the company's recent effort to adapt the tenets of lean manufacturing. Management began its lean journey by attending some scheduling seminars, which proved fairly insightful in getting initial efforts off the ground.


A lean approach

Implementing a lean approach in a truly custom manufacturing environment is challenging, but not impossible. "There are some millworkers out there that have done it," says Friesen. No matter how custom your products might be, he says, you still cut it, drill it, screw it and glue it. "It is a matter of breaking down the simple things," he adds.


Initially the effort has concentrated on managers and supervisors, but now that focus has been expanded to include all employees.


People see the results from the day before and have started to internalize the data. They see how many parts were produced yesterday, and that becomes inspiration for ideas to produce even more parts.


"There are 150 people employed here," says Friesen. "Let's use 150 minds and make ourselves better." Plans call for ideas to be posted so that everyone becomes part of the process. "Not every idea can be implemented," says Friesen, "but every idea will be acknowledged."


More growth ahead

Friesen suggests that the outlook for Mid Canada is fairly strong moving into 2007 and even beyond. Sales in the current year, which ended last August, were somewhat flat, but that's largely because some projects being constructed were delayed and moved into 2007. That sort of project volatility is common in the construction business where schedules can be disrupted for a host of reasons.


A number of large projects are still pending and Friesen is optimistic that the sales growth will continue. He is particularly excited about the hospitality sector, where he anticipates a number of proposed projects for hotels and resorts, casinos and convention centers. "It looks like the growth can be sustained," says Friesen. "Right now we are bidding on projects into 2007, but a lot of those projects are starting to move into the later part of 2007 or even into 2008."


To maintain momentum in this evolving business, Friesen stresses communication. "You have to have the right people managing these projects, and you have to have good communications with your customers."

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