Quality, service, innovation pay off for Windham Millwork
October 7, 2013 | 7:00 pm CDT

Windham Millwork Inc. has been developing its recipe for success over three generations, so it’s hard to sum it up in a line or two. The recipe includes a fair measure of quality ingredients, including excellent workmanship, a mixture of traditional craftsmanship and state-of-the-art technology, and seasoned with a fine focus on details. But at its core, one gets the strong sense that this New England chowder of a business model relies as much on the talented people in the kitchen and caring about always meeting the tastes and expectations of customers as it does on raw ingredients.

“We will go out of our way to make every customer happy at the end of the job,” says Scott Gordan, COO. “We want to have exceeded expectations.”

Still, many companies can talk about delivering high quality, but in challenging economic times, Windham Millwork has managed to use improved production efficiency to make delivering on their promises fuel for growth as well.

Technology tools

With customers throughout the Northeast and demanding projects that range from hospitals to hotels, Windham couldn’t begin to meet, let alone exceed, customer expectations without a strong measure of technology in the 65,000 square-foot shop just north of Portland, Me. But in challenging economic times, Windham is no different than other companies that struggled with upgrade decisions.

“We always try to be a little ahead of the curve on technology,” says Gordan, noting that even going back decades they were one of the first companies in the area to adopt line boring. Most recently, the company added a Holz-Her Dynestic CNC router with automated infeed and outfeed systems for faster and more efficient throughput. But the upgrade decision was still not easy.

“In this economy, it is difficult to upgrade,” says Gordan. “But if you see you are lagging behind you need to act. And if you wait too long, it can be too costly.”

Complementary machines

One thing the company has done to get more value out of upgrades is that in some cases it integrates newer equipment with older machines rather than jumping to replace one complete system with another. In the case of adding the Holz-Her CNC, the company did not abandon its previous Busellato CNC machining center. The Busellato was set up with pods for work holding offers both an alternative and backup to the new Holz-Her machine, expanding the company’s capabilities.

Similarly, a Giben panel saw still gets heavy use when particular projects’ parts requirements are more efficiently cut on the panel saw than on a CNC router.

Edgebanding is handled by a IMA edgebander that is coupled to a Doucet return system to facilitate single operator feeding and unloading. The roller return system on the edgebander is just a small part of the huge use of roller conveyors throughout the plant for efficient transport of parts and even loading finished assemblies right on the truck.

High tech meets craftsmanship

On the design side, Windham is heavily invested in computer design, with five people on AutoCAD in the front office and producing AutoDesk Innovator 3D renderings. The CAD work in the office interfaces seamlessly with manufacturing through the use of CADCode software, which also handles the nested based optimization for both the Busellato and Holz-Her CNC machines. Some design work is also done in Pattern Systems. All of the installers are equipped with iPads.

But with all of that computer power, not everything is electronic. Because of the requirements of the very custom work Windham does, they use a 48-inch wide printer frequently to produce custom full-size drawings for use in their custom shop. There, skilled teams handle the one-off designs while the automated side of the plant produces more conventional work. “We were born as a custom manufacturer,” says Gordan. “Everything is made for each project.”

People power

Recognition of the contribution that dedicated and skilled workers make is also an important part of Windham’s recipe for success. The company is proud to have a solid track record of longevity with many employees.

“We’ve always tried to have folks be comfortable,” says Gordan. “You don’t hire a $10-an-hour worker to run a $100,000 machine.”

The company has also been quick to pick up talented and experienced workers when other companies in the region shed staff because of the economy. Currently Windham has a staff of about 80 employees, of which on any given day 25 are likely to be in the field working on installations. The company keeps to one shift and some overtime as necessary rather than trying to manage multiple shifts.

Quality on time

A key advantage for Windham Millwork is its reputation not only for delivering top quality work, but also for doing so on or ahead of schedule. Windham practices the philosophy of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), which encourages a collaborative approach to project management. Rather than just working from finished architectural drawings, Windham’s staff likes to be involved right from the start, helping to design and engineer a job from the beginning. Gordan says that helps avoid communication problems, allows the company to use the most efficient materials and methods, and makes it possible to deliver on time or ahead of schedule. 

IPD also makes it more feasible for Windham to tackle really big projects. Currently, the shop is working on the massive Westin Portland Harborview Hotel project, which involves the complete renovation of the former Eastland Park Hotel in Portland, Me. The 86-year-old 206-room hotel will be transformed into a modern 289-room facility with 16,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space, making it the largest hotel in the state.
Staff and management at Windham Millwork are very aware that the company cannot afford to rest on its laurels. “You are only as good as your last job,” says Gordan. “We value our reputation. We’re not a low bid company, but we’re a high value company.”

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.