Closet America is expanding its manufacturing capabilities and adding a new showroom after increasing its floorspace four-fold.
The company’s manufacturing is in the same Landover, Maryland, building, just outside Washington, D.C., as before. They had occupied space in the warehouse of a window supplier, and had the opportunity to increase shop space from 6,000 to 24,000 square feet with the expansion.
They also added 11,000 square feet of office and showroom space, and consolidated all offices, workspaces and collaborative areas in this location for the company’s 90 plus employees.
On the shop floor, Closet America added a dovetail drawer cell, nested-based router, and plans to purchase a second edgebander. The closet maker also added six packout sections for outgoing jobs, and took advantage of the additional space to streamline workflow. “It’s made our flow easier, and it allows us to add equipment and capabilities," Skip LaBella said.
Closet America had the opportunity to increase shop space from 6,000 to 24,000 square feet with the expansion.
Increasing CNC capability
Closet America added a new Biesse Rover A nested-based CNC machining center in September, after opting for a CNC machine instead of a panel saw.
Originally, they wanted to add capacity and thought they needed a saw. They couldn’t cut enough panels to keep up. Once the pieces were cut, they moved through the shop quickly.
“As I started looking closer and doing time studies, so much of the time at the saw has nothing to do with the sawblade moving, it has everything to do with the person loading and unloading the material, placing a label on every part,” LaBella said.
“I didn’t see the increase in productivity I needed to make that investment (in the saw). So we started looking at nested-based routers because we wanted to do two things, build redundancy into the process so we no longer has a single point of failure, and we wanted to have greater capacity. We were also able to add capabilities we didn’t have before.”
In the shop, every job is split into two. All larger partitions are sent to the saw, and every other part goes first to the router. That makes the saw more efficient since it is just ripping. The Mayer panel saw can cut a stack of four ¾-inch sheets, so the company’s average stack height, and productivity on the saw, both went up.
“The way we did it on the two machines, there is redundancy, so there is no longer a single point of failure,” LaBella said. “If the saw needs to be down for service, we have the programs on the router and subsequent machines to run the partitions on the router, and vice versa.
In addition to the Mayer saw, the company continues to employ the Biesse Roxyl hot air edgebander and two Biesse Rover pod-and-rail machining centers.
LaBella also plans to add a second edgebander, and expects to make a decision soon (there were a stack of proposals on his desk). The goal is to buy what will become their production machine, and let the current edgebander be the secondary machine. They don’t want a single point of failure here either. “We’re casting a wide net, trying to make a good decision,” he said.
One of two Biesse Rover pod-and-rail machining centers are used to make closet components.
Drawer box, dust collection
A new dovetail drawer box section was added in the larger space, with dovetailer, case clamp and a notching machine. They also replaced every dust collector in the shop, and built a new compressed air system, so there are two rotary screw compressors now and an entire new air loop built for the shop.
LaBella also looked at automated retrieval systems, and may consider that for the future, but for now Closet America is able to improve workflow in other ways.
“Our engineering department does our optimization and nesting,” he said. “They create work batches, and sequence the jobs and send those jobs down to the equipment, in the order that they want them produced. They also send an order on how to build a production stack for the saw. We generally have one stack of material built and in reserve, with one on the machine. The operator says to someone else that he needs material.”
There are a variety of carts on the shop floor, one with bins, one with regular shelves, another with moveable dowels. There are also carpeted job pallets, which are loaded into the van for the job site. The installers save a lot of time in the morning by loading cart onto the van. There are now 10 delivery trucks serving the Baltimore and Washington metro areas. LaBella’s goal is to provide the installers with everything on a silver platter.
“We want to control as many of the variables as we can here, and send as few variables as we can out to the field.”
A new dovetail drawer box section was added in the larger space, with dovetailer, case clamp and a notching machine.
Closet America is employing a full-time recruiter to help attract top-quality new employees. “We’re doing traditional ads, searching on job sites, and we’re making connections with college counselors and ASID,” LaBella said. “(Our industry) is not a destination employer. That’s why we have to do things to attract good candidates.
“We have a leg up because we’re not a franchise, we’re not limited by territory. Our newly renovated office space is a great recruiting tool. If we can do those things, we can elevate the quality of candidates we bring in.”
The company’s recruiter can’t wait to use the fact that Closet America was named one of the Washington Post’s Top Workplaces in the area. A third-party firm surveys employees to determine the winner. Also, LaBella is a finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
The company also seeks to rank highly with customers.
“We survey every customer after an installation,” LaBella said. “We’ve earned a 98 percent satisfaction rate from customers, and have an 80 percent response rate. If we get a response that is lukewarm, we’re on the phone with that customer immediately. We take that information and apply it.”
In May, the company’s sales were up 43 percent compared to 2016, which was also a strong year. LaBella sees additional opportunities.
“There’s an opportunity to offer our existing products in (other) verticals while developing new products,” he said. “We’re developing an office furniture line right now.
“I’m having fun because every day I’m leading a larger company than the day before.”
Showroom will show closet options
Closet America’s new showroom has the appearance of an art gallery, flexible enough so that the company’s products could be shown in a variety of ways.
“We wanted to create an environment where people could come in and experience the product as though they were in their home,” Skip LaBella said. “We want to be able to show what an installation looks like in the home, so we created things that you’ll have in the home.”
Displays may show a reach-in closet, an outside light switch, headers, door jambs, crown moulding, placement of accessories, and notching for baseboards so customers can understand options and can make the best decision.
“Those kinds of things really satisfy the customer who says they just have to see it,” LaBella said.
“It also great for training our installers, or new designers. To be able to show them what’s good and not good design in your own showroom is very powerful.”
When the showroom is open, people can come in on their own. Closet America’s building is easily visible from I-495, and the company is literally just “inside the beltway,” as they say in Washington. They will also be advertising opening hours after the showroom is completed.
They’re taking their time in setting things up, doing one space at a time. There’s no rush. “We want a really nice showroom,” LaBella said.”
Closet America’s new showroom has the appearance of an art gallery.
AT A GLANCE
Manufacturing space: 24,000 square feet