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Drawers you can bank on.

Purchasing drawer systems from outside sources can be like putting money in the bank. * Reduced inventories. * Lower production costs. * Greater design flexibility.

There are great number of reasons why manufacturers of furniture and cabinets should look into the potential advantages of buying drawer systems from outside sources. And it appears that more and more U.S. manufacturers are weighing the pros and cons of make vs. buy. The increased demand for premanufactured drawer systems is mirrored by the increased number of drawer suppliers that have entered the marketplace in recent years.

One of the pioneers in the ready-to-assemble drawer component business is Valendrawers. Founded in the early 1950s by A. Della Valentina, the northern Italy-based company enjoys annual sales exceeding $30 million to 14 countries. The company has operated in the United States since 1984 and in 1989 moved into expanded quarters in Lexington, N.C.

Blazing a trail

Donn Wilber, vice president of Valendrawers' U.S. headquarters, was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers but played seven years in the Italian basketball league for a team owned by Della Valentina, before becoming somewhat of a trailblazer in the RTA drawer systems arena. When his basketball career was completed, Wilber made the transition from forward to point man, researching the U.S. market for Valendrawers and ultimately helping to set up the company's first office here.

"Valendrawers had been doing business in the U.S. for a few years," Wilber said, "but Mr. Della Valentina realized that to really be successful here, he needed a commitment program. That commitment to support our customers here includes our headquarters and manufacturing facility in Lexington."

Valendrawers custom makes its products primarily of European beech and beech hardwood plywood to meet virtually any size requirement. Construction is of chuck and bore jointery. Customers can also choose between melamine overlays or one of five other new product lines to debut in April. A 15-step catalyzed polyurethane finish performed on a flatline system engineered by Cefla is the standard finish on all but the melamine systems.

Most of the orders taken by the U.S. office for large OEM accounts, like major cabinet and contract furniture manufacturers, are produced at the Italian plant. Recently, the company completed $3.5 million in capital improvements at the home plant. Wilber said virtually every step of the machining process is now NC controlled; the few that are not will be soon. He added that these investments in state-of-the-art equipment have not only helped further improve lead times for filling custom orders, but have also enhanced product quality. In addition, the company is also committed to installing a fourth generation finishing system.

"We currently have the ability to produce more than 180,000 precision parts per day. Those production levels are accomplished by automation with fewer than 70 employees of which only about 35 actually are machine operators."

Meeting the demands of JIT

To ensure quick turnaround of customer orders and control inventory costs, Valendrawers has adopted the lean manufacturing philosophies set forth by W. Edward Deming. "He is a genius," Wilber said. "He founded lean manufacturing like Henry Ford founded mass production.

"There is a whole revolution going on in the U.S. furniture industry," Wilber continued. "Companies are learning the advantages of becoming lean manufacturers, following the lead of the auto industry, the Japanese and the Europeans and U.S. firms like Ford Motor Co..

"There are tremendous advantages to be gained by purchasing components from specialists. You can cut your production costs, reduce labor and inventory costs, and improve quality. You can develop new lines with very little investment and get them out to market faster," he said, adding, "Lean manufacturers can put their skilled production workers to use elsewhere and have an unskilled entry-level operator assemble drawer units."

As of now, Wilber said Valendrawers' three biggest customer bases in the United States are contract furniture manufacturers, kitchen cabinet and bathroom vanity manufacturers, and residential furniture manufacturers. "Our contract furniture customers have developed a very accurate dissection of their industrial costs. They really understand the advantages of buy versus make."

"One of the biggest growth areas for business, though, is the custom woodworking market," Wilber said. To better address smaller manufacturers, Valendrawers has developed its "Quick Ship" program in which orders for 250 drawers or less are manufactured and shipped from the Lexington plant to the customer within 48 hours of an order being placed. Wilber said a typical Quick Ship order is for 25 to 30 drawers in numerous sizes. There is no minimum; all orders are monitored from start to finish via a computer-based tracking system.

Wilber added that Quick Ship orders grew by 50 percent in 1991 and could reach 30 to 50 percent of the U.S. plant's annual business within a couple of years.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:buying drawer systems from outside sources, such as from Valendrawers
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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