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Architectural woodworkers toeing the line on costs.

Times are tough all over and architectural woodworkers have been hanging on by the skin of their teeth. In this 5th annual WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS' report, industry executives assess the year that was

1991 was a "brutal" year for the architectural woodworking industry, according to several executives who responded to WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS' fifth annual survey. They described the industry as "cut-throat," "depressed" or "dead." Layoffs, downsizing, restructuring and shake-ups dominated the scene.

Projects were taken at much lower profit margins than usual, or at no profit margin. One executive said, "We took work at a loss in order to keep the men working and cash flowing. We lost less money this way than if we took no work at all."


Fifty architectural woodworking companies were contacted in search of information on 1991 sales; 33 replied of which about half also make store fixtures. They were asked about coping with the economy, whether environment issues affected their projects and what problems they expect to face in the next decade. They also answered questions about materials usage. (See Top 25 page 57.)

On the East Coast, executives from three former Top 25 companies did not respond to the survey or to follow-up calls and it was rumored that one venerable firm had closed its doors. Midhattan Woodworking, however, increased its sales 10 percent over 1990 and Mielach/Woodwork remained nearly even. Long Island Woodworking, a small, young, high-end company in Farmingdale, N.Y., said sales increased 25 percent.

On the West Coast, Mayta & Jensen, which consistently places among the Top 25 with $25 million in sales, cut overhead and manpower by 50 percent. Roger B. Phillips reduced its workforce from 100 to 50 and is on a four-day work week. Quality Cabinet in San Diego recently cut manpower 25 percent.

Standard Cabinet's Mark Barshop said, "We are requiring employees to be more responsible. We tell them, |If you make a mistake, you go off clock to remedy it,"' he said.


But the worst may be over, according to Greg Heuer, director of member services for the Architectural Woodwork Institute. Heuer, who has been crisscrossing the country in the past several weeks talking to AWI members, said he is extremely positive about the work climate.

"Denver, St. Louis, Houston, Dallas -- all the places that have been in the pits since the mid-80s, are climbing out. In Minneapolis, members are reporting so much work they can't keep up. There is heavy activity on the upper West Coast, and the Northwest -- Seattle, Tacoma -- is excellent," Heuer said.

"I've heard several reports on pending jobs in Chicago now being released. And in Maryland, a member said recently, |It's like somebody opened a gate (and the jobs are flooding in)'," Heuer added.

"Sure, business is brutal for guys on the East Coast," Heuer said. "After the dip in the early 80s, they were so busy they got used to working overtime and a lot of companies expanded. Now they're working normal hours and have to scale back. For people used to a frantic pace, this has been |brutal,"' he said. "In general, our industry is coming back nicely."


While some architectural woodworkers have persevered by concentrating on service or marketing and vying for overseas sales, others invested in plant expansion and production improvements, including:

* Architectural Woodworking Co. -- flash-off booth and dryer oven, 39,000-cubic-foot make-up air unit.

* Hamilton Fixture -- 240,000-square-foot facility, two Shoda machining centers, CAD at all locations, IBM/MRPII computer system.

* Wigand Corp. (Division of Stow & Davis) -- 9,000-square-foot fully-automated finishing line, additional 12,000-square-foot facility completed.

* Interior Woodworking Corp. (Division of Stow & Davis) -- 120,000-square-foot addition.

Environmental issues

Respondents were evenly split on whether environmental issues have affected their projects, but three qualified their "Nos" by adding "Not yet." While some may not be using as much exotic veneer as in previous years, they attributed it to economic factors rather than environmental pressures. John T. Mielach, president of Mielach/Woodwork, said, "There seem to be more comments in the press than there are in the trade. We see no direct reduction in use by any architect or designer."

Donald Parenti said Parenti & Raffaelli has been asked to reuse, remodel and refinish existing rain forest species, as opposed to bringing in new. "I have also noted concern among architects and specifiers about using species from the rain forests." Hollywood Woodwork's president Yves Des Marais, who is an AWI officer, said AWI is working with Rain Forest associations to educate designers, specifiers and end users about tropical veneers.

Air quality regulations are having a greater impact, particularly on West Coast millworkers. But Midwest companies also relate problems when it comes to air standards and finishing. John Schlegel, president of Hamilton Fixture in Ohio, said, "Because of environmental restrictions, we use water-base finishes, which makes it difficult and expensive to achieve some specified finishes. We believe there is a technology gap in materials and processes for water-based finishing."

Other materials

The use of opaque lacquer finishes and stone-textured finishes seems to be on the rise, according to Parenti, with a corresponding increase in the use of substrates. "The trend is away from heavy wood," said Gary Anderson of Fred K. Anderson, whose company's sales were 27th among respondents. "We are seeing more solid color walls with wood only as an accent."

Quite a few companies use plastic laminate extensively; most said they do not see it replacing wood. Exceptions were Architectural Woodworking Co.'s vice president, Jack Heydorff, and Tim Paradise of Quality Cabinet. Heydorff noted an increase in the use of 49-pound Medite and Medex in areas of free-standing work stations and furniture. "Significant changes are in the works," he predicted.

What lies ahead?

Joe Krizman, Interior Woodworking, said, "What concerns me, after the economy -- the number one issue is the environment. Raw materials will be the big issue of the next decade. We are in the process of becoming a "green" company, recycling and trying to use everything we buy."

Compliance with federal, state and local environmental regulations was named by 25 percent of respondents as their main concern for the future. Parenti said increasing EPA regulations would be a likely source of material shortages and limited materials usage in the decade ahead.

The quality of the competition worries John Mielach. "There are competitors with limited plant capacity and facilities, plant and administrative expertise and they are under-financed. Because of the economy, contractors, construction managers, architects, designers and end users have thrown out the end norms for pre-qualifying and pre-selecting like bidders for similar work and are reaching wherever they can to get lower bids."

"It is important to depart from these low-bid situations," said William Aschinger, president of Goebel Fixture, "and to build partnerships in progress."

Donald Ramsay, president of Modern Woodcrafts, added, "We must convince architects to design more around machine capabilities and get away from the labor-intensive hand-crafts."
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Title Annotation:5th annual Wood & Wood Products industry report
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Diversity drives this architectural woodworking company.
Next Article:Making mouldings with amore.

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