How One Door Manufacturer
Expanded Its Facility and Customer Base
by Samantha Carpenter
Most people choose professions in which their talents shine. For instance, salespeople are good at explaining why customers need to buy a particular product, teachers are good at instructing students, writers are good at putting thoughts on paper and accountants are good with numbers.
Seneca, Kan.-based Koch & Co. (pronounced “cook”) was founded because the Koch brothers, Jim and Dan, were good with wood. The brothers began working with wood in shop class in high school, and it just came naturally.
Before starting Koch & Co., Jim Koch was part owner of door manufacturer Industrial Millwork. When he and five of his partners sold Industrial, Jim and his brother, Dan, together with their uncle, Fred Koch, founded Koch & Co. in 1989. Jim is president and chief executive officer, while Dan serves as transportation manager. Fred is semi-retired, but remains on the board of directors.
“I didn’t really want to do anything to compete against my old company, so we went out and started locally with cabinet doors and kitchen cabinets,” Jim Koch said.
“The first four years were rough. We started in the middle of a recession.”
Because of its seasonal nature, the cabinetry market didn’t provide enough business for Koch & Co. To even out business, the company began producing furniture—gun cabinets and cedar chests.
The Start of Formanek Doors
Larry and Jim Formanek became involved with manufacturing doors in 1991 when they visited the company and asked the Kochs if they were interested in manufacturing a door for them.
“That day we built them a door, which is now called the Formanek door. It’s a steel door on the exterior, with a patented way of applying a real wood panel design to the interior. We call it the best-of-both-worlds door because it has a low-maintenance, secure exterior, an insulated core and the warmth of a real wood interior, which, combined, makes a very elegant entry system. That’s what got the company back into the big-door business,” Jim Koch said.
Presently, the company manufactures cabinets and cabinet doors in its cabinetry division. The door division offers:
• Interior doors, available in paneled, bi-fold, louvered and French styles;
• Imperial doors, which are lag-constructed for interior and exterior use, available in paneled, French and combination;
• Premier doors, which are exterior doors that allow for steel-door glass inserts;
• Formanek doors, which have a steel door exterior and a real wood interior; and
• Twenty-minute positive-pressure-tested fire-rated doors.
NSDJA Convention Hopes
The company’s most popular product is its interior door line, with the Formanek door running a close second. At this year’s National Sash & Door Jobbers (NSDJA) Convention, the company will be displaying its newest product—a fire-rated door.
“The Midwest and North is where our products are most popular, but we are expanding to the West Coast and business is starting in Pennsylvania,” said Dan Carlson, sales manager.
The company also hopes to increase business in areas such as the East Coast by exhibiting at the NSDJA Convention.
“We feel we are starting to get some customers on the East Coast and are hoping we can expand that business by being in Orlando,” Carlson said.
A Variety of Wood Species
The company’s doors come in a variety of different species, and most of the company’s wood comes from U.S. forests. The company buys its radiata pine and mahogany from distributors who import. It has its own fleet of trucks, which transports approximately 85 percent of its product within a 1,000-mile radius.
“We do that because we don’t have to deal with freight companies damaging the product, plus we can build and ship the next day,” Jim Koch said.
“Sometimes [customers] need a rush order and you send a common carrier, and it doesn’t work. We can also combine loads. We have kitchen cabinets shipping with our door load,” he said.
To make its doors, the company designs much of its own equipment. It buys 10- to 20-year-old machines and rebuilds them to fit its need. The company has a few machines that use software, but none of the machines are linked to the office computers.
Quality and Service
Both brothers feel that a big reason for its successful growth is the fact that Koch & Co. provides excellent service to its customers.
“We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take care of our customers’ needs in a timely fashion,” Jim Koch said. “For instance, we maintain an inventory on the ground at our facility to help our stocking distributors in their time of need for quick shipments on oak six-panel doors. We also maintain the best lead times in the business for custom doors, as we know how important it is today to get production into the customer’s hands.”
Koch & Co. also prides itself in quality.
“We do the extra things, such as our lag-bolt construction, hand sanding the products and using ultraviolet glue so we can pick up the glue spots,” Jim Koch said. “These are just some of the things we do to give our doors the furniture quality that you don’t find anywhere else.”
The Donlin Co., a distributor and NSDJA member located in St. Cloud, Minn., has sold Koch’s doors for three years. Sales manager Kevin Swecker says the high-quality doors are a big reason why they do business with Koch.
“They are also very detail-oriented. Along with that, their service is just remarkable. If you have a problem, you can talk to Dan Koch, Dan Carlson or you can talk to Jim Koch himself in that same day, and the problem will be resolved,” he said.
The Economy? No Problem
Despite what most would expect, the down economy hasn’t hindered Koch’s business.
“Since 9-11, [business has] gotten better. We thought we were going to have to go out and close as many deals as we could because the recession was just starting and [the tragedy] put the hammer on the stock market,” Jim Koch said. “Instead, we got snowballed. We anticipate making a percent or two higher than last year. Sales-wise, we’ll see 20-percent growth this year over last year.”
The company has done so well it is already outgrowing the newly built facility it moved into September 1, 2002. It’s already adding on.
All in the Family
The company’s growth can be attributed to its philosophy of treating people like family.
“We really want [our customers] to feel like they are part of the family when we deal with them,” said Jim Koch. “That’s the way we treat all the employees. They need to feel comfortable around us. We don’t try to run our company like a big corporation. We just keep it simple.”
The company has nearly 60 employees in its door manufacturing operation, and 90 in its cabinet division, with a number of them being family members. Only two out of the eight Koch children don’t work at the company.
Jim Koch says that there are no negatives to having so many family members in the business.
“We didn’t intend it to be a family business, but it just worked out that way,” he said.
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