Sandy Gray: American Hardwood Co. was founded in 1914, initially as a hardwood wholesaler serving the developing West Coast. Over the years, we developed machining capabilities to produce value-added wood products for a variety of interior decor industries including hardwood flooring, architectural millwork, store fixtures components, picture frames and furniture parts.
In the late 1970s, one of the largest Southern California blind companies came to us to help them develop a line of wood blinds. We assisted them in the selection of the species (basswood, which has become the industry standard) and developed the manufacturing capability to produce the parts.
Since that time, our business has continued to grow as we have focused specifically on serving the needs of fabricators for top-quality wood window coverings components. We have achieved this growth by investing in expanded facilities, cutting-edge manufacturing and distribution technology, and top-notch people. Today we occupy 140,000 square feet of manufacturing and distribution space in Los Angeles, CA, (including our new 80,000-square-foot distribution facility which opened in January of this year).
Currently 155 of us at American Hardwood Co. work together daily to improve the quality of our products and services offered to our fabricator customers.
D&WC: What window coverings products did you handle initially? What products do you handle today?
Gray: As I mentioned, we have supplied wood blind components for more than 20 years now. Over that period of time, our wood blind component program has expanded to include one-, two- and three-inch widths as well as a wide variety of finishes, species and unique design effects.
Our other horizontal component line is UltraWood[TM], which is a unique wood composite product that offers superior light opacity and heat resistance compared to most of the so-called "faux woods" offered on the market (which usually are just foam PVC). In 1993, we introduced our line of unfinished wood shutter components, leveraging off our manufacturing expertise with basswood. The shutter component program has grown quite strongly for us over the last five years, and we expect that growth to accelerate as we introduce the new EZ-Finish[TM] line of primed shutter components this spring, which will save shutter fabricators massive amounts of labor in the fabrication process.
D&WC: Is your business computerized?
Gray: We believe very strongly in the value of information technology-not just technology for the sake of technology, but for meeting the goal of obtaining faster and more accurate information to serve our customers better. Three years ago, we replaced our previous Unix-based mini-computer system with a Novell LAN and software system with comprehensive manufacturing and distribution data capabilities. This system facilitates a multitude of management tasks including cost analysis, order tracking, materials planning and inventory control. Recently, we have expanded those capabilities to include bar code systems for real-time data collection for raw materials inventories, manufacturing job tracking, order pulling and shipping.
Furthermore, we view the Internet as a revolutionary medium that is quickly changing the way business-to-business transactions are performed in all industries. We were the first company in the wood blind and shutter component industry to establish a comprehensive site on the World Wide Web in 1997 (www.americanhardwood.com). Initially, it was established as a tool for educating our customers, prospects and anyone else wanting to learn more about what goes into making quality wood blind and shutter components. Through the Web site (or any Internet e-mail service), anyone can directly reach any of the key staff at American Hardwood Co. including customer service, sales, as well as me (email@example.com).
Our Internet strategy in the next 12 to 24 months is to provide comprehensive on-line ordering and customer service capabilities including order tracking, stock status and shipping confirmation. Speed of service is perhaps the most critical value all of us in the supply chain provide to the window coverings consumer, and the Internet is a key tool to shorten that delivery cycle.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the world do you service?
Gray: Broadly speaking, our customers are fabricators all over the world who want to provide their customers top-quality wood blinds and shutters. We serve fabricators from all parts of the United States and Canada as well as operations in a dozen countries in Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Rim.
In fact, just this past year we partnered with Eclipse Blinds in establishing a stocking distribution program of wood blind components in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Similar to the level of service we provide here in North America, Eclipse now offers overnight delivery of our wood blind components throughout the UK and two- to three-day delivery throughout the rest of Europe.
D&WC: Where do you see the company five years from now? Are there additional areas within the industry that you would like to get involved in?
Gray: Our customer focus has and will remain with blind and shutter fabricators. Contrary to the actions of some of our competitors, we will not enter the wood blind or shutter fabrication business because we believe that competing with our customers is an inherent conflict of interest. Our strategy is to continue to expand the breadth of products and services we offer to the fabricators through style and function innovations in the use of wood as a window covering element and the addition of other complementary window decor products beyond the wood sector.
D&WC: What distinguishes you from the competition?
Gray: We are passionate about providing unparalleled quality of products and service to our customers. To quote the first line of American Hardwood's Quest for Excellence, "We are committed to the success of our customers."
Everyone talks about the quality of their products and services, but what does that truly mean? To us, that means our customers will be successful in serving their customers. It means our products meet specifications when they arrive at the fabricator's doorstep because they've gone through our rigorous 18 quality control checks from the milling through the finishing processes. It means when our customer has a rush job, we can ship out the order the same day because we have invested in more than four-million linear feet of inventory ready to ship. It means our slats will stay flat and stable in the window for years to come (meaning no returns to our fabricator customers for warped slats).
Ultimately, our goal is to make sure the wood blind or shutter consumer is pleased with his or her purchase, which means increased profitable business for our customers through repeat business and referrals.
D&WC: Do you educate your customers?
Gray: We at American Hardwood firmly believe the education of our customers (the fabricators) and, when possible, our customers' customers (the retailers) is a vital and unique value we provide. This education process has two key elements.
First, we offer start-up operational training, which includes advice on which machinery and tooling to use, efficient product flow through the assembly process, and inventory and yield management techniques. Second, we provide sales and marketing support and training to fabricators and their dealers and retailers with the ultimate objective of increasing the level of product knowledge right through to the point-of-purchase with the consumer.
Our sales team will conduct a training seminar with the fabricator's sales staff to educate them in the methods to differentiate their wood blinds and shutters from their competition's by focusing on performance in the window. The following day, our sales team will ask the fabricator to invite their dealers in for the same training process. The key is to make sure the retailer can give the consumer three to four concrete reasons why the blind or shutter made from Genuine American Hardwood[TM] components offers the best long-term value.
Armed with that knowledge, the retailer will sell more wood blinds and shutters, which means increased business for our customers, the fabricators.
American Hardwood Co.
15411 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90248
Fax: (310) 327-3127