Expanding a product line can be risky; but with the right market insights and the right partner, the process can be both rewarding and profitable. For Conestoga Wood Specialties, a provider of high quality wood cabinet doors and components and two lines of ready-to-assemble framed cabinetry, taking a calculated risk paid off.
When customers began asking for a wider color offering, the company decided to create a new Prism Paints program. Conestoga approached its former finish materials supplier to build out the colors for the Prism Paints program; however, very limited color options necessitated a change. Impressed with the broad color offering as well as the service and support offered, Conestoga selected Sherwin-Williams Product Finishes to develop the Prism Paints program and serve as a backup supplier for Conestoga’s other finishes. Double-digit price increases from the original supplier quickly followed, and Sherwin-Williams was named Conestoga’s sole supplier. Since partnering with Sherwin-Williams, Conestoga’s Prism Paints program has become one of its most popular and fastest growing segments.
Celebrating its 50th year in business, Conestoga is headquartered in East Earl, Pennsylvania, and employs over 1,100 at four additional U.S. locations, including Beaver Springs and Beavertown, Pennsylvania; Kenly, North Carolina; and Kent, Washington.
Fast (and colorful) track to success
“The Sherwin-Williams transition team was impressive,” said Jeff Eichenseer, Director of Marketing and Product Development at Conestoga. “Switching finish suppliers can be extremely painful, but they did a great job of outlining a formal plan that was updated and communicated each week. They had a team that included a leader and a group of technicians, not just a sales rep trying to organize everything. They were here over several months to make sure that the job was complete, and they continued to follow up as we tweaked colors and formulations.”
Together, the teams developed the Prism Paints program. Conestoga’s custom cabinet manufacturing customers can now choose from nearly 1,200 paint colors and five glaze options.
With finishes moving between the company’s east coast facilities and varying production timelines for components that may ultimately come together to form a set of cabinetry, color matching between finish batches is integral to the program’s success. Additionally, Conestoga directly supports customers who pair self-finished cabinet boxes with Conestoga’s finished components within its Prism Paints program. In every case, regular audits ensure that the finished goods are consistent.
“The Prism Paints program has been tremendous,” Eichenseer said. “We have probably used close to 500 of the 1,100 colors in the fan deck. We have seen some crazy stuff ordered – fire engine red, bright yellow, neon green. Sometimes we see some new color offerings coming through on the fan deck and wonder why they’re there – then three weeks later we’ll get an order for it.”
Almost next door
Proximity to Conestoga’s facilities also plays a big role in the partnership. Sherwin-Williams has facilities located within an hour’s drive of their East Earl, PA and Kent, WA facilities. High-volume items are warehoused at the Sherwin-Williams facility to ensure same day or next day service.
“Having them nearby is a huge benefit,” Eichenseer said. “They can react quickly in the event of a product issue or an unforeseen spike in business, and it’s not unheard of for one of their people to deliver emergency shipments to make sure we don’t run out of finish materials.”
The importance of that is reflected in Conestoga’s commitment to its customers. The company prides itself on its dependability and quality, and its complete shipment rate routinely runs at 99.9 percent.
“We can’t afford to miss a shipment due to quality or a lack of material, so we are demanding of our suppliers,” Eichenseer said. “Sherwin-Williams understands that Conestoga has an extremely strong commitment to our customers and how serious we are about that commitment. They have done their best not to let us down. We understand that there will be a hiccup now and then, but so far Sherwin-Williams has lived up to their promises.”
At the onset of the relationship, the partners also worked together to ensure that all the finishes – including paints, stains, glazes, sealers, primers, topcoats, dyes, tints, catalyst, chemicals and UV coatings met Conestoga’s demanding specifications. Nearly all of the stains and glazes are applied by hand wiping, and some products were customized to provide improved appearance and performance. Finishing line audits were performed at Conestoga’s facilities at the start of the partnership, and regular reviews continue to ensure that the finishing process meets Conestoga’s standards.
“They were here around the clock at the outset to help maintain the integrity of our finishes and give us a quality product,” Eichenseer said. “In the end, several of their finishes were reformulated to help improve our application processes both from a consistency and ergonomic perspective.”
Conestoga has a strong commitment to the environment that includes purchasing lumber from sustainable forestry sources and ensuring that its finishing materials support their efforts to minimize emissions and hazardous waste. Conestoga worked closely with Sherwin-Williams to make certain that all of the new finishes met, and in many cases exceeded Conestoga’s sustainability standards.
To provide customers with an alternative to the traditional conversion varnishes and take sustainability to the next step, Conestoga recently introduced a new finish option called DuraPure, utilizing Sherwin-Williams Kemvar F3 formaldehyde-free line of topcoats and sealers. The new DuraPure sealer and topcoats eliminate formaldehyde off gassing typically found in many conversion varnishes and are Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified. As a side benefit, DuraPure significantly reduces the unpleasant odor that accompanies most freshly finished products, making the new cabinetry installation process much more pleasant for the homeowner.
After the Prism Paint program was up and running, Conestoga made its first visit to Sherwin-Williams’ Global Color and Design Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Sherwin-Williams color experts reviewed Conestoga’s standard finish offerings, discussed trends and offered new color suggestions, further developing Conestoga’s product offering. An annual discussion keeps Conestoga at the forefront of color and design trends.
Eichenseer remains impressed with the partnership and its evolution.
“We’re demanding. We’ve given them some odd requests, and there hasn’t been anything we’ve asked that they haven’t been able to do for us.”
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