May 2003

3-2-1 Contact
Moulding and Millwork Company 
Thrives in Pacific Northwest

by Penny Beverage

We often look to the Northwest as a haven of wood, pine and nature. This is nothing new. As early as 1946, Americans were looking to the Northwest for more wood, and it’s no coincidence that Leo Donnelly founded Contact Lumber Co. in Portland, Ore., that same year.

The company quickly developed a close customer base, which it used to develop its name and philosophy for the years to come.
“The closer personal relationship between the company and its customer base was the genesis for the name Contact Lumber,” said Frank Pearson, president.

The company began as a lumber trader and has grown into a manufacturing company that serves several industries, including fenestration, with its supply of moulding and millwork options.

“Responding to major material and labor changes in the Western softwood lumber industry, Contact Lumber pioneered the development of combining alternate materials to satisfy the need for traditional and non-traditional wood products in the mid-1980s,” said Peter McKibbin, vice president of sales.

One example of this expanding product capability is the company’s offering of wood-veneer wrapping technologies. In addition, the company utilizes a variety of materials, including hardwood lumber, softwood lumber, laminated veneer lumber, medium-density fiberboard, aluminum and vinyl as product substrates.

The publicly owned company currently employs 475 people at its Clear Pine Moulding manufacturing division in Portland. In addition to Pearson and McKibbin, its corporate staff is made up of four men: Bob Horton, vice president of manufacturing; Jim Snodgrass, regional sales manager; Duane Roth, regional sales manager; and Pete Himes, OEM sales manager.

The Manufacturing Process
Contact Lumber uses a wide array of machinery in its millwork manufacturing process, including Weinig moulders, Duspol wrappers, Timesaver sanders, Norfield frame machines, Maranaka slicers and Kupper veneer splicers, in addition to many others.

“These are just a few of the machines that we have invested in seeking to purchase the best machine for the application required,” Pearson said. “Often we will purchase machinery and then customize it to meet specific needs in our manufacturing processes.”
And, of course, as at any company, making sure all its products are up to par is always a concern.

“We have an extensive quality control program, which includes a statistical process control system that keeps records on each part in production. This information can be accessed by the customer on paper or online,” McKibbin said.

In addition, the company has a lab in which it double-checks that products meet its customers’ specifications.

“We have our own quality-control lab, which performs the adhesion and profile tests required by our customers, as well as those that we have developed ourselves to ensure the long-term performance by the product,” McKibbin said. “We meet or exceed all Window and Door Manufacturers Association, ASTM and Wood Moulding/Millwork Producers Association standards.”

On an average day, Contact Lumber sends out five truckloads of products from its manufacturing facility, which is approximately 600,000 square feet large. The products are packed for cut-to-length items and unitized and plastic-wrapped for 
lineal items.

Its 475 employees work in two shifts five days a week. But, what happens when something goes wrong?

“We have our own maintenance department that performs preventative maintenance and repair,” Pearson said. “We also have engineers on staff who design many pieces of special equipment that we use.”

He continued, “Contact Lumber has long been associated with lean manufacturing and the Kaizen process of continuous improvement,” McKibbin said. “Our ability to meet the customer’s exacting standards and expectations for on-time delivery set us apart from other manufacturers.”

Getting the Word Out
There is no shortage of enthusiasm at Contact Lumber when it comes to marketing.

“We do national advertising and publicity and we exhibit at trade shows to create pull-through demand for our products. We follow up on these leads and pass them on to our customers to help their selling processes,” McKibbin said. “We have literature to help promote the product and assist in sales training. Our sales staff travels to do sales training for distributors. We also have POP literature used at the retail level to help move the product and increase product understanding.”

The company’s outreach to customers goes far past its marketing effort, though.

“Several times over the years we have gone beyond the call of duty in big ways and small ways to help our customers—including one-week shipment lead times to replace inventory lost in fire or floods,” Pearson said.

In addition, Contact faxes acknowledgements and shipping information, including purchase order numbers and part numbers on each carton, shipping document and order acknowledgement, to customers, along with maintaining close contact—its namesake—with them.

“Sales people travel to the customers regularly to get input on improvements and discuss new products and promotions,” McKibbin said.

The company encourages jobbers to let Contact Lumber know their needs so they can develop new products to suit them.

“[We ask jobbers] to provide honest feedback to us from their customers regarding how our products are or are not working to meet marketplace needs,” McKibbin said. “We welcome this feedback to make product improvements and develop new product ideas.”

On the Horizon
Following up on this feedback is a source of pride for Contact Lumber.
“More than 60 percent of the products we make are customer-specific, created to meet a unique customer need,” McKibbin said. “This commitment to meeting customer needs has led to a large number of new products being developed as customers learn about how Contact Lumber can help streamline their own operations.” 

Penny Beverage is the managing editor of SHELTER magazine.


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