Before Edward Hines Lumber Co. acquired Muench Woodworking in May 2003, the Buffalo Grove, Ill.–based independent dealer had to two-step any high-end custom millwork that its 60 percent custom home builder customer base asked for or risk losing those sales. Not only was the process cumbersome, given the months-long lead times needed for custom millwork products, but two-stepping also took a bite out of Hines' bottom line.
Since then, the 56,000-square-foot Muench facility, now sitting squarely inside the Hines family fold and renamed Edward Hines Quality Custom Millwork, has not only helped grow the firm's overall sales, but also has unlocked new markets for the company. Combined with its Kirkland, Ill., production millwork facility, Hines has been able to leverage the two plants to provide almost anything that a custom home builder, or even a commercial developer in nearby downtown Chicago, might need, from a $30,000 African-mahogany entry door to a standard interior flat closet panel.
“We have custom home builders who want and demand a wow factor on the ground floor of their homes, but when it gets to a child's bedroom upstairs, they might want a more economical solution,” says Edward “Mac” Hines, vice president of sales at the $260 million dealer. “Now we have two different ways to accommodate both of those needs.” On the commercial side, Edward Hines can not only build the front entry door for a 40-story tower, Hines says, it can provide all 400 doors inside as well.
Systems Integration While Edward Hines has been able to grow custom millwork sales by 70 percent at the facility since acquiring it and to boost the plant's revenues by more than $6 million, integrating the new company into the 114-year-old pro dealer didn't come without its growing pains. Hines not only had to integrate the custom plant into its existing computer systems, it also had to bring its own sales force up to speed on the more exacting process needed to sell custom millwork and lead times that are longer than the dealer's production facility.
“With the custom capabilities, you're talking about a variety of different species, different hardware, and different custom styles. The challenge was to get the right door out the first time every time. There is no second chance,” Hines says. To that end, the plant boasts more than 2,400 knives, keeping a full-time sharpener busy year round. Three full-time CAD designers feed plans into CNC machines that mill parts for custom orders, which are then assembled by hand into a finished product. In addition to doors, the shop produces high-end molding and crown, as well as casework and even custom wine racks and cellars.
With more than 5,000 custom profiles available in its library and lead times of up to 12 weeks for high-end orders, the sales process was fundamentally different than the one used in its production millwork facility. “To give our customers the most options, we needed our sales force to be ahead of the game by weeks, if not months,” Hines says. “That's very hard for a sales organization to respond to, and we weren't able to make that change and retain 100 percent of the sales force.”
Bernard Timmer, who manages Edward Hines Quality Custom Millwork, says part of the challenge came from the complex approvals required to make sure things do come out right. “The real hurdle we've had here is getting everybody up to speed with the fact that a signed quotation doesn't put an order into production right away,” Timmer says. “That just starts the process. Now that you have a confirmed order, we create a shop drawing and translate the order into a schematic with all the details. It's only after the approved shop drawing comes back that we schedule it and the lead time commences. Nothing's off-the-shelf here; it's all manufactured by hand.”