Growing Arkansas Flooring Company Expands into Hardwood Plank Flooring
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring Has Grown Rapidly
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 7/1/2004
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring Inc., located in Monticello, Arkansas, manufacturers solid unfinished strip hardwood flooring in a marketplace that spans much of the U.S. Wil Maxwell, director of operations for the company, commented on the success that Maxwell Hardwood Flooring has seen the last 12 years. Its plank flooring line, Bradley Additions, is expanding production due to its increasing popularity in the marketplace, he noted.
Besides agriculture, the forest products industry is the largest industry in the region around
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring operates from a single location in
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring began operations in 1992, when Wil's father, Thomas (Tommy) Maxwell, president and CEO, bought an existing company and put the Maxwell name on it. For Tommy, it was a natural progression from the work he had done for many years. "My father had spent 28 years as a salesman in the flooring industry," noted Wil. "He decided it was time to follow a dream and go into business for himself."
The company is a family owned and operated business. Besides Tommy and Wil, three other family members work in the company. Wil's mother, Beth Maxwell, is vice president; his sister, Kristi Maxwell-Prince, is the controller; and Kristi's husband, Dustin Prince, is the human resources manager.
"We like to think of our company as one big extended family," said Wil. “We have really great employees here that are proud of what they do, and that makes the company a success in more than one aspect. It's a team effort every day here, and the friendships and successes we have made and accomplished make our company unique."
Tommy found himself working 14 to 16 hour days for about the first five years, trying to build the business and improve the quality of the products. Since that time, the company has grown considerably. When the business was acquired, there were 33 employees and one production line; today it employs 220 people and runs three production lines. "As our customers grew, we grew with them," said Wil. "In turn, our suppliers have grown with us. It's been a constant process of increasing production and gaining ground in raw material."
Production has been expanded to keep pace with growing sales. First year sales were about $3 million. Today the company has annual sales in the range of $25-$30 million.
"That's a lot of growth in a short amount of time," said Wil. The growth is a testament to a determined leadership and strong relationships with customers and suppliers throughout the years. "The relationships my dad has had throughout the course of his career in this industry are the same kind of relationships we strive to have with our customers now," explained Wil.
"Many of our customers had been working with my dad throughout the years, and when he started his own business, they took a chance on him. It worked out well for all of us. They provide us with strong markets, and we provide them with a good quality product and a company they know they can depend on."
The company's marketing focus is on smaller distributors, those that are family owned and privately owned. "We deal with relationship-type businesses," Wil said. "It's a give and take relationship but also a friendship as well."
From the beginning, Maxwell Hardwood Flooring has focused on standard ¾-inch thick solid oak flooring. It is manufactured in widths of 2-¼ inches, 3-¼ inches and 1-½ inches. The company also produces a ½-inch thick solid flooring that can be installed with nails or glue.
About two years ago, the company added a new product line: the Bradley Additions plank flooring line. "The plank flooring has much more variety in it than strip does," said Wil. "We manufacture a 4-inch and 5-inch plank in red and white oak -- all in random lengths up to 8 feet.
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring buys rough lumber, about 70% green and 30% dried. Sawmills less than 150 miles away supply most of the lumber, although occasionally the company buys lumber as far away as 300 miles.
Green lumber is counted and stacked on sticks to be pre-dried. If the pre-dryer is full, the green lumber will be stacked in the yard. The company's pre-dryer, which pre-dries the lumber to moisture content of 25%-30%, has a capacity of 1 million board feet.
Once pre-dried, the lumber goes into dry kilns to reduce moisture content to 6%-9%. Spears, a local manufacturer, supplied the five kilns, which hold around 600,000 board feet.
Once the wood comes out of the kilns, it cools for 24 to 36 hours and then is ready for the mill.
In the mill, the first step is to separate it from the sticks. This is the first time the wood is restacked or handled since it was initially stacked for pre-drying. "The lumber is separated by width," Wil said. "Then it is sent through a rip saw." The Hasko machine rips the boards into widths and pieces, depending on the width of the lumber.
After the lumber is ripped, it is 'defected' or 'rough optimized.’ With the automated and optimized system, workers remove any material that is not suitable for flooring.
"The one thing you can't do at this point is separate the lumber into different grades of flooring," Wil said. "The grades come out of the lumber you have. On any given day, there's a certain percentage of each one. The grading process takes place at the end of the production cycle."
The lumber then goes through a Hasko side-matcher that remanufactures the lumber into tongue and groove flooring. This single machine performs several functions: it forms the tongue and groove on the sides, and cuts grooves in the back, referred to as hollow back. The hollow back grooves reduce the weight of each board for shipping.
"When it goes in, it's lumber, and when it comes out, it's flooring," said Wil. "The side matcher puts the groove on one side and the tongue on the other. It slicks the face down and grooves the back, all in one pass."
Once the flooring exits the side matcher, it continues automatically into a Hasko end-matcher, and a tongue is cut on one end and a groove on the other for end-matched flooring.
The finished flooring is graded into categories called Select, #1 Common, and #2 Common. It is then nested, bundled, strapped and shrink-wrapped packaged on skids. When the company produces plank flooring, the process is the same: employees simply set up the machines to run the different widths of lumber and remanufacture it into the wider planks.
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring is a member of NOFMA-The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association, which sets standards for the industry and counts most major producers among its members. (For more information, visit the NOFMA-The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association Web site at www.nofma.org.)
The company chose Hasko flooring manufacturing equipment because management felt it was the most reliable American-made equipment on the market, and they had a good relationship with Hasko. "We've been very happy with the Haskos," said Wil. "They're easy to work with and they're very user-friendly pieces of equipment."
The process of creating wood flooring generates a substantial amount of waste wood. Much of the waste is recycled right on the company premises. "We have a boiler where we burn a large percentage of our waste to create steam,” said Wil. “In turn, we use the steam in our drying process. The rest of the sawdust is sold to other companies to use in boilers. We try to use every bit of our waste and be as clean as possible."
At this point, the family's short-term goals for the business are to increase production on a consistent basis and to satisfy demand for the products. As part of those goals, the company is moving to expand production of the Bradley Additions plank flooring line. "We see a need from our customers for additional production of our plank line and feel that is a direction in which we need to move," said Wil. The company is also looking at ways to increase efficiencies and make a better quality product every day.
One set of challenges that Maxwell Hardwood Flooring is facing is related to the size of the company. "You know the law of diminishing returns sets in when you get to a certain size," said Wil. “It becomes more challenging to run a business. Sometimes a smaller company will be more successful than a larger one and make a better quality product at the same time. What our company strives for is to make a high quality product, and that's a goal we strive for everyday."
To meet the challenges, Maxwell Hardwood Flooring has integrated a state-of-the-art employee-training program. "All of our employees have gone through training programs relating to each individual job," said Wil. "Each employee in the mill gets trained for a 30 minute period two to three times a month. Daily training is always provided as well. We believe that well trained employees are the biggest keys to success in this industry and to creating a quality product every day."
For more information, visit the company’s Web site at www.maxwellhardwoodflooring.com.
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