Texas startup off to a fast start

MasterCraft Wood Products is a new company, but its management team has more than 200 years of experience in the cabinet business.

"We're a startup, but we're not a startup," says Gene Ponder, chairman and CEO.

"We knew how to do it, but we just didn't know how hard it was going to be."

Ponder started  Republic Industries in 1974, and sold the company in the early 2000s. He had a non-compete agreement with Republic until Jan. 1, 2008.

He could build a factory but couldn't sell cabinets before that date. The new company was started in November 2005, and after spending two years building its new plant, its first cabinet was made Jan. 9, 2008. (Republic is a large manufacturer of cabinets and countertops with several divisions and a plant in Marshall.)

MasterCraft's goal is to make cost-effective kitchen cabinets, counters and components, mostly for multi-family housing, apartments and condos.

Ponder's goal is to build a $45 to $55-million company. "The whole company has been built to achieve that," he says.

"Nothing has to be expanded once we put in the second finishing line." When 2008 is wrapped up, the company expects $15 to $20 million in sales with 160 employees.

"Our customers know us, and that counts for a lot," says Jim Walls, executive vice president of sales/service. "We know this business."

Ponder found plenty of cabinet experience in his own family. Wife Patsy is chief financial officer. Son Kenny is senior vice president and general manager of manufacturing at the new company. Son Alan is senior vice president, order, scheduling and customer relations.

He developed software and systems before the plant went into operation. Daughter Anita Windham is vice president, administration. In addition to Walls, Randy Owens is vice president, general operations.

Originally, Ponder wanted to build a cabinet door and component factory, but late in 2007 Walls made the case for competing with the half-dozen companies that make cabinets for multifamily housing.

Walls says the company is serving an area from Colorado to Florida. The market is strong in Texas, especially in the Dallas area.

MasterCraft's advantage, Walls believes, is quality in its multifamily product, along with knowledgeable and experienced salespeople. Having its own trucks can be a big plus for customers because of the ability to deliver a truckload at a time, usually about 20 kitchens.

"Having our own trucks helps us give an exact delivery time, critical for a multifamily project that is dealing with multiple deadlines," he says.

Information the salesman enters goes out to the factory floor, says Patsy Ponder. Everything is keyed from that original sales information.

When the job is completed, it shows how the company actually did on that job, and the salesman's commission is based on that ending analysis.

Cabinet Vision is used, with enhancement that MasterCraft has added, including a bridge to accounting software.

Mastercraft's operations in Marshall are divided into a half-dozen major buildings on a 90-acre site north of town. MasterCraft bought seven Pneumafil Pulse Jet dust collection systems used in different buildings from three furniture factories.

Rough mill

In the rough mill, ripping is first with a Mereen Johnson 32-inch ripsaw with feeder. Two Dimter Opticuts are used for crosscut and optimization. A new Omga saw cuts face frame components. Weinig Unimat 23, Hydromat 22B and Hydromat 23C handle the moulding. A tool room is also on site.

MasterCraft uses poplar, maple and beech for its solid wood face frames and doors. (Laminate and thermofoil doors are also available.) Ponder especially likes the German beech from Pollmeier because of its appearance and high yield.

In this area, MasterCraft has an almost-new Taylor clamp carrier, Timesavers 300 planers and a Butfering widebelt sander, Accu-Systems machine to make arched doors and panels, Fletcher edgebanders with Ligmatech return conveyor, a Giben panel saw and three Holzma panel saws, one angular and two rear-load.

Doormaking includes miter doors and five-piece-doors with pieces made on a Friulmac Contourmat, Fletcher and Celaschi double-end tenoners. Another Fletcher shapes door sides and lengths. A Costa K3 widebelt sander is used in the door area.

In a separate building, raised-panel particleboard doors are made on a Heian router with glue spreader and Wemhoener press applying veneer.

No waiting for countertops

Ponder says he doesn't want to hold up delivery of a whole kitchen for one countertop, so a complete Midwest Automation line in a separate building makes tops in three nose styles and in 8-, 10- and 12-foot lengths.

The countertop line includes a Holzma HPL 11 rear-load panel saw and a Midwest Automation core builder line (ends are cut off, spun around and glued to the bottom). Contact cement is applied, an oven is used to dry the cement and an index table joins the surface and board. Backsplashes are also postformed here. A Weeke BP 85 Optimat makes contoured splashes.

In a separate laminating area, MasterCraft uses larger 5 x 12 pieces of particleboard, laminating two sides at one time in two Monco laminators.

Nearby, a nested-based manufacturing operation cuts the doors and sprays glue; surfaces are applied on a Wemhoener press and a Gottschild CRS 3800 machine trims the back of thermoformed doors.

A large assembly operation has one assembly line running, with a second set up and ready to go. The company is making 900 cabinets a day, including many larger sizes. Ponder says the goal is to make 2,000 cabinets a day.

Ponder says two machines are the heart of the operation in this building. A  Homag Profiline BOF 511 twin-table router for nested-based manufacturing cuts 5 x 12 laminated sheets. The other key machine is the  Weeke Optimat BP 85, which cuts many pieces to create a truckload order while optimizing.

MasterCraft makes both face frame and frameless cabinets. A European frameless area accounts for about 18 percent of business, and has a  Holzma angular saw and Weeke Optimat BHC 350 machine. A Weeke BP 85 is used to drill holes.

Homag and Fletcher edgebanders, Koch dowel inserter and Gannomat double-sided dowel inserter are also used here.

The goal in the face frame area is to produce 1,675 face frames a day, using Ritter assembly tables and a Costa sander to sand the frames.

The large all water-based finishing operation includes a Giardina GST system with Superfici sanders. A new Cefla line applies stain, sealer and topcoat and includes a Cefla orbital stain system and ovens, and a Cefla clear coat reciprocal system that achieves better finishes on beech, maple and poplar.

Also, a new automated Superfici line is used for longer mouldings and parts. MasterCraft has used both Becker and Valspar finishes.

A showroom in Marshall has kitchen displays of MasterCraft cabinets and also  Wellborn Forest Products.

"Since I've gone so far back in the business I've learned how to make everything myself," Ponder says. "It has made us successful by controlling our own destiny.

"We tried diversification and didn't like it. It's important to know who you are and what you do."

After 47 years, the Ponder family definitely knows the cabinet business.

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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at [email protected].