When the two partners who own H&N Enterprises in Santa Ana, Calif., had the chance to move to larger quarters practically next door, they leapt at the opportunity. However, they quickly learned that even such a short-distance move creates huge challenges for an active custom operation, none the least of which are business interruption, logistics of moving big equipment, and security in transition. But rather than letting just those issues overwhelm the operation, they looked to the move as an opportunity to reinvent the business.

Chance to grow

Joe Harnetiaux and Peter Nilausen have operated H&N since 1997, growing the business right along with the dramatic and dynamic growth in the surrounding Orange County area. With 14 employees cranking out $1.6 million in annual sales in just 3,200 square feet of shop space, they were definitely feeling growing pains. So, they were very excited when shop space opened up in another building that was practically next door to their existing facility. The new space had 6,000 square feet of shop space plus an 8,400-square-foot yard for additional outdoor storage, and the price was right.

"It was the same lease price for the building as we had been paying," says Nilausen.

Rather than just getting some more elbow room for existing staff and equipment, the partners saw the move as a growth vehicle. "We hope to double our total output," says Nilausen. That expansion includes plans to automate by adding a Biesse CNC to complement existing conventional machines mostly from Laguna Tools, including a Robland sliding table saw (with TigerStop fence), Laguna band saw, jointer and planer, and a TigerStop setup with a Whirlwind chop saw for cutting face-frame parts and the like.

Scaled mockup

One of the first steps they took to make the change was to develop a large-scale planning board with a 2x2-inch grid for the new shop. Using a hardboard backing and pieces of wood cut to scale to match the footprints of existing and planned machinery, the owners and staff experimented with different shop layouts. Everybody had a chance to move the pieces on the board and discuss options until they found the layout that seemed to work best.

Nilausen said this planning step was particularly important in saving on the costs for dust collection and electrical work. "You've got to know where the machines are setting," he says.

The layout also brought about some slightly unconventional solutions. Rather than investing in an elaborate centralized dust collection system, they opted for a plan to place four independent dust systems in the shop. Currently there are two 5 hp collectors and one 10 hp collector. An additional 10 hp collector will be added to service the CNC machine. All the collectors are from Grizzly Industrial.

By going with the smaller separate units, not only does the shop save on ductwork, but says Nilausen, "We save on electrical, too."

Also somewhat related to dust, the new shop included the addition of a supply room separated from the shop. Rather than a door, it has a clear plastic curtain door that keeps dust and a surprising amount of sound out but allows easier passage even with hands full than a conventional door.

Solid wood vs. panel work

Harnetiaux says the shop does about a 50-50 mix of solid wood projects and panel processing. Reflecting that division, the new layout features one area that emphasizes panel processing and a separate space on the other side of the shop for solid wood production.

The two sides both connect to the assembly area where tables are bolted down to the floor for extra stability and are all at the same height so extra large work can span more than one table easily.

Handling shop disruption

Moving a shop means unavoidable down time while machines are relocated. To minimize that disruption, the shop was able to schedule some jobs that were predominantly trim carpentry and job-site based to cover the shop while machines were moved and set up in the new shop.

One big disruption the partners didn't plan on was a major theft of tools (see sidebar on page 38). Another was how the move raised the shop's profile with everybody who wanted to make money off the shop, from government to businesses to less ethical opportunists. "People see the expansion and they're all out there with their hands out," says Nilausen.

Harnetiaux and Nilausen are still making changes and improvements related to the move, but despite any headaches along the way they feel it really has gone well. "We've just been lucky," says Nilausen. "It was the right move at the right time. It really was just one good event after another."

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