"We're so used to jumping though flaming hoops backwards and blindfolded that we actually enjoy it," quips Gary Moody, vice president of store fixture manufacturer Competitive Edge Wood Specialties Inc., in Muskegon, Mich.

Moody's statement refers to the hectic pace of the store fixture business. But it is apt considering the company recently struck a deal with  Harley-Davidson Motor Co.  to be one of two Harley-Davidson approved cabinet manufacturers in the United States.

Approved-vendor status means the company has a shot at providing cabinet fabrication and installation services for all new and renovated Harley-Davidson dealerships. CEWSI must bid competitively for the jobs, but its approved-vendor status means it may provide a bid on all new and renovated Harley-Davidson dealerships.

CEWSI attracted corporate Harley-Davidson's attention with the completion of two local Harley dealerships in Hudsonville and Clinton Township, Mich. The quality craftsmanship and creativity of the store interiors caused the folks at Harley-Davidson's Milwaukee headquarters to take notice.

A meeting of passions

Harley-Davidson officials invited CEWSI to meet with them in Milwaukee. "It was a meeting of the passions," says Moody. "They're very passionate about their business and we're very passionate about ours."

The process of receiving approved-vendor status took roughly eight months and involved lengthy discussions between both parties, says Richard St. Denis, CEWSI sales manager. "A lot of things coincided fortuitously for us. Harley had a need for an additional cabinet manufacturer. That happened to come at the exact time we inquired as to the potential there and it was quite a process."

Receiving approved-vendor status from Harley-Davidson excited Fred Miller, CEWSI president. The store fixture business is fraught with peaks and valleys, he says. "Everybody in retail wants their store fixtures for the holidays. Quite honestly, it leaves some holes throughout the year."

Harley-Davidson's projects are ongoing throughout the year. "So there's always an abundance of potential work, which is good. It's up to us to win the jobs," says Miller.

Always going fast

"We asked Harley-Davidson, 'Is there a slow season? Or are you guys always going 100 miles per hour?' They told us if they do have a slow season, it's mid-summer when it's peak riding season," says Miller. This works out well for CEWSI because summer is a busy time for making retail store fixtures in time for the holidays.

Harley-Davidson averages about 125 ongoing retail projects per year. Last year it completed 95 new or renovated dealerships, says St. Denis. At present, North America is home to over 700 Harley-Davidson stores and 46 smaller secondary retail outlets.

Is there a standard look to the Harley-Davidson stores or is each unique? "They're all pretty unique," says Miller. "I just quoted a job in Montana that had branding on it with a real branding iron. The inside of the dealership is going to look like a barn with a lot of rough wood."

One other fixture company besides CEWSI has approved-vendor status. Harley-Davidson storeowners may use a local firm to build their fixtures or one of the two firms recommended by Harley-Davidson. "A lot of dealerships don't want to have that hassle of finding someone," says Miller. "They will get two quotes for their casework without having to lift a finger to get that rolling."

Employee response

The best part about receiving Harley-Davidson approved-vendor status is response from employees, says St. Denis. "The guys on the shop floor have just embraced this."

CEWSI is located in a 20,000-square-foot building. Moody and Miller started the business together in 1993. "We joked about naming the company Two Men and a Saw," says Moody. The company is now seeking a 50,000-square-foot building to accommodate its growth. Today, it employs 27, with 20 craftsmen in the shop working two shifts. Workers are split between the first and third shift and the company works four ten-hour days.

In addition to store fixtures, CEWSI's product mix includes institutional casework, architectural millwork, component parts for various segments of the fixture and casework industries and occasional specialized residential jobs.

CEWSI's manufacturing facility contains a CMS router, a Holz-Her sliding table saw, an Onsrud pin router, a Delta radial arm saw and band saw, a Porter Cable pocket machine, a Modease clip machine, an Oliver planer, an Evans Machinery slitter, a Tannowitz saw and a Holz-Her edgebander.

"The CNC router runs two shifts, but if it's overloaded, then we'll try to do things a little more old fashioned," says Moody.

Moody says he's very pleased with his edgebander. "Our edgebander will do up to one-half-inch solid woods, laminate and PVCs. It has a round-over unit on it that is very typical in the office furniture industry for radiusing edge work."

Production, construction vary

Production flow in the facility varies a bit from job to job, says Moody. "Once things are sawn or CNC routed and the machining is complete, many times the next step in the process is to bring the parts through the edgebander," he says.

Then parts head to assembly. Some components must be laminated after assembly, so parts move from assembly into the laminate department. "Then many times they come back for some final process and then we trim things," says Moody. "We define trim as doors and drawers and glass. Then we stage products in our warehouse area and load them on a truck. Installers take it from there."

Box construction method also varies by product, says Moody. The company uses modular fasteners on its institutional line. Construction for custom work depends on the glue and the finish application. "We use a lot of rabbets and dados and we use some dowels. I don't think a gardener would use a hoe for every application, just like we wouldn't use a single construction method for all the different things we do around here."

Finishing is done in CEWSI's 17-foot spray booth by a "very talented finisher," says Moody. "Our finisher is very good at matching existing finishes."

CEWSI employs two engineers. They create 3-D sales drawings of interiors for customers and potential customers. The company's ability to produce realistic drawings of what a store, financial institution or health care facility will look like upon completion is a helpful tool to win jobs, says Moody.

The engineers also spend time with customers moving them through the approval process for the jobs CEWSI completes. "We want the owner's okay on what we're doing," says Moody. "We worry about the details together. No unpleasant surprises for either party that way." 

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.