COVID crisis crashes Concepts in Millwork’s 40th anniversary party

Editor’s note: The 2020 Executive Briefing Conference will take place Nov. 8-10 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. The annual woodworking leadership event will include a plant tour to Concepts in Millwork. Read how the architectural woodworking company has weathered the novel coronavirus pandemic.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Concepts in Millwork is observing its 40th year of crafting high-quality architectural woodwork for commercial and institutional environments. But instead of planning a party to celebrate, owners Scott and Stephanie Robinson have focused on managing their business through a global pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has not only tested the couple’s management and business mettle, but their resourcefulness as well. For example, protective masks were in short supply at the onset of the state lockdown. As Scott put it, the company “improvised.” Stephanie procured masks from a friend in Florida, who was making and donating them to hospitals. Additional masks were sourced from friends and family of Concept in Millwork employees, plus whatever the company could scrounge online.

Scott said Concepts in Millwork has also found its memberships in the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) and Association of General Contractors (AGC) as “invaluable” for receiving best practice guidance to navigate the pandemic.  “We participated in the entire series of townhall webinars put on by the AWI. We’re reminded that we are not alone. We get a pulse about what is going on with what ideas people have. I’ve never had a second thought about AWI and the dues that we pay.”

Similarly, the AGC presented an eight-part webinar series dedicated to “Navigating the Outbreak” that covered topics like providing paid versus unpaid leave to employees, how to protect employees and projects and insurance coverage and claims. AGC also provided regular updates on Occupational Safety and Health Administration reporting requirements related to COVID-19 and understanding the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, including how to qualify for loan forgiveness.

One of the biggest challenges the Robinsons’ faced after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a stay-at-home order on March 10 to counter the spread of COVID-19, was accommodating customer requests to move up their installation schedules. As a result, the company has had to recalibrate its production timelines while simultaneously implementing workplace health and safety measures to protect its 95 employees.

“We’re doing a lot of local school work based on bond initiatives that passed the last couple of years,” Scott said, noting the projects include manufacturing casework, circulation desks and display cases. “Some projects were slated to be installed in August. But with schools vacant because kids are staying home, we’ve been asked to move up some of our schedules. So, we’re really up against it this summer and we’re still receiving new orders.”

While Concepts in Millwork takes on work throughout the United States, including helping to restore the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks, the bulk of its projects come from up and down the front range of the Rocky Mountains. The company is a licensed member of the Architectural Woodwork Institute’s Quality Certification Program. Its handiwork can be seen in hospitals, universities, offices and hotels, including the iconic Broadmoor. 

The Robinsons are thankful that they operate in a state that recognized their operation as a “critical business.” Whereas the pandemic forced millions of Americans out of work, Concepts in Millwork has not laid off any of its team members. In fact, the company, bolstered by a PPP loan, has actually hired employees to help take on the increased workload, Scott said.

“We’ve never skipped a beat,” he said. “We’ve been busy as can be ever since this started. That’s been fortunate us and for our people.”

Implementing COVID-19 safety protocols
The governor’s stay-at-home order included mandates requiring manufacturers to comply with directives issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education (CDPHE) to maintain a clean and safe work environment to stymie the virus’ spread.

Scott did an accounting of some of the coronavirus abatement actions Concepts in Millwork has taken, including requiring employees to wear masks and gloves. The company also put strict limits on who can enter its 29,000-square-foot facility. “We don’t allow customers or vendors to come in,” he said. “We put a doorbell out in our receiving dock for delivers to ring so that our warehousemen can facilitate getting products off their trucks and into the building.”

The Robinsons have also been extra cautious of letting employees into the factory. Before entering the building each day, employees have their temperatures taken with an infrared thermometer and are required to answer a COVID-19 screening survey developed by Rhynel Evans, director of human resources. Employees are asked if they have experienced COVID symptoms such as dry cough, chills, shortness of breath, as well as if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Answering yes to any of the questions or developing any of the symptoms during the workday will result in the employee being sent home.

“We have plant-wide safety meetings every week to remind people to take precautions and to get their ideas for making the workplace even safer because this is new to all of us,” Stephanie said. “In addition to identifying the immediate need for masks and gloves, our employees said they wanted Clorox wipes for various equipment in the plant. We also gave them styluses for touching keypads and for punching in and out of jobs. We’re doing what we can to go above and beyond the criteria that has been set by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and state of Colorado.”

“About half of our office staff has been working from home and we’re really working hard to keep employees as socially distanced as we can.” Scott said. “We’ve been successful to this point. We’ve had four employees who were quarantined because they either might have been exposed or showed symptoms but none of them got sick. We’ve also had jobsites temporarily shut down but overall, we fortunately haven’t had any major issues.”

Internship program with the MiLL continues
Since 2016, Concepts in Millwork has partnered with nearby Peyton School District and the acclaimed MiLL (Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab) on an annual summer internship program. The program has proven to be a great win-win for all concerned. Some of the district’s most advanced woodworking students have gotten the chance to gain real-world experience working in high-tech manufacturing environment that uses CNC routers, panel saws, edgebanders and a Bargstedt Intellistore. Each intern is assigned an adult mentor and gets a taste of working in each of Concept in Millwork’s key areas: shop floor, casework, solid surface/countertops and millwork. In turn, several of the student interns, including two of the five young men and women who participated last year, have taken full-time positions with the company after graduating.

In spite of the pandemic, the internship program is moving forward again this summer, Scott said. “We have three interns, two young me and one young lady. In addition, one of our interns from last summer just graduated from high school and is back working with us this summer until she heads to college this fall.”

“We’ve had a strong relationship with the MiLL since it began,” Scott added. “They want to know the types of individuals and skills we are looking for. We regularly host tours for students from Peyton High School and the MiLL and have folks from our company go down and visit to speak to the kids about our woodworking business. We also donate leftover supplies to their programs. Having the MiLL only five miles away has been a blessing.”

“The MiLL is a wonderful facility,” Stephanie said. “They’ve done a great job partnering with different machinery manufacturers and woodworking manufacturers like ourselves to expand their capabilities.”

Moving ahead in uncertain times
The Robinsons greatly look forward to a return to normalcy and the opportunity to celebrate their company’s 40th anniversary in full. But for the time being, they are taking a cautiously optimistic approach to running their business.

“We’re still getting bid requests but things are definitely going to be tough,” Scott said. “I’ve heard there are some projects that could very well get shelved. There is a lot of anxiety about what the future holds. It seems like every election year things tighten up until we see who are president is. With this COVID situation, there is just much more uncertainty.”

“You got to plan,” Scott added. “You got to have goals. It seems like the more difficult times you go through is where you tend to learn. Under the circumstances, I’m very proud of our team and our organization. Things change every day and it would be easy to get down but by and large we’ve managed to keep a level head and focus. This is a time none of us will forget.”

Learn more about Concepts in Millwork.



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About the author
Rich Christianson | President/Owner/C-Level

Rich Christianson is the owner of Richson Media LLC, a Chicago-based communications firm focused on the industrial woodworking sector. Rich is the former long-time editorial director and associate publisher of Woodworking Network. During his nearly 35-year career, Rich has toured more than 250 woodworking operations throughout North America, Europe and Asia and has written extensively on woodworking technology, design and supply trends. He has also directed and promoted dozens of woodworking trade shows, conferences and seminars including the Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo and the Woodworking Machinery & Supply Conference & Expo, Canada’s largest woodworking show.