Grandfather’s Lessons Help
Cater to Customers for 58 Years
by Samantha Carpenter
Grandpas are known by the lessons they teach. Whether how to fish, how to whittle or how to have patience—grandpas pass life lessons on. But in the case of one West Tennessee company, grandpa also provided a blueprint for business that’s still relevant 58 years later.
Central Woodwork of Collierville, Tenn., has been the Schaefer family’s livelihood for three generations. F.O. Schaefer founded the company in Memphis, Tenn., in 1945. Sons, Osborne, Dudley and Billy, managed the company for many years. Billy currently serves as chairperson, and his son, Pat, as president.
Central was originally on New York St., off Central Ave., in what is known today as Midtown Memphis. In 1964, the company moved to 3620 Regal Blvd., where it remained for 38 years. In December 2002, Central moved into its new 140,000-square-foot facility, located at 870 Keough Road in Collierville about 30 minutes from downtown Memphis.
Central Woodwork has an additional location in Nashville, Tenn., where another of Billy’s sons, Mark Schaefer, serves as president.
In Memphis, Central has approximately 135 employees. It is classified as both a one-step and two-step distributor, covering sections of Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. The company primarily sells windows and doors, mouldings, stair parts and other similar building materials. It distributes Jeld-Wen doors, Norco clad windows, Caradco windows, General Aluminum windows, ODL skylights, MAi doors, Starling columns, Fitts stair parts and Young Manufacturing frames, to name a few. Its most popular products are door units and window units.
But central doesn’t sell just building products. The company has an appliance division, Cenwood Appliance Distributors, located in Memphis and in Nashville. In 1984, General Electric approached Central Woodwork about stocking and distributing its appliances. At first, Central tried to fit the appliance distribution into its existing millwork business, but it quickly evolved into a separate sales force.
Asked why Central decided to build a new facility, Pat Schaefer said, “We needed more space and we had some growth limitations in our old facility. We also felt Collierville was moving closer to where the one-step business is heading.”
A lot of the homebuilding market is east of Memphis and in northern Mississippi.
“If you look at where we are in Shelby County and the metropolitan homebuilding scene, we are located sort of in the center of activity,” Schaefer said. “We are really in a good spot with great transportation to get to the metropolitan business, which is continually moving this way. Plus, it’s still great access to get out of town to our dealer locations.”
F.O. Schaefer’s Philosophy
The company also feels its move to Collierville enhances the quality of life for its employees.
“It’s a family business, and this is where we come to work everyday. It’s a nice place to come to work and for employees to come to work. We built this place with that in mind,” Pat Schaefer said.
The company has 19 employees who have been with the company for more than 25 years and 40 employees who have been with the company 15 years. It offers 401K, health insurance and disability insurance.
The company and its employees cater to its customers.
“Like most distributors, we try to provide them with the best price, service and quality we can. Central Woodwork has built itself around one of my grandfather’s philosophies, which is based on how you treat people. Everybody with whom we come into contact, we treat right. I think we have built a reputation for being quality people to deal with for that reason, and I think it’s helped us,” Schaefer said.
Asked if the company has ever gone beyond the call of duty, Schaefer said, “Whatever the customer needs we are going to do … whether we believe it’s beyond the call of duty is immaterial. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sent a truck down to Cleveland, Miss., for example, with one door unit or one fitting for a stair. I’m not saying that we do that all the time, but if a customer is in a bind, we try to accommodate him.”
The company also tries to make it easy for its suppliers to do business with them. For instance, one vendor told Pat that he could take his purchase order straight to his shop because the nomenclature on it is just like the nomenclature on his order.
In response, Schaefer said, “I did that on purpose. I was trying to be easy to get along with. It helps eliminate errors, and it’s easier to do business. Does that help us along the way? I think it’s got to.”
The decline in the economy hasn’t hurt Central Woodwork this year. “We’re up this year—close to 15 percent. The last couple of years were down, but I think the reason business didn’t fall completely off the planet was because interest rates were so low. Starter homes continued going in Memphis, even though homes above the starter-home level were overbuilt,” Pat Schaefer said.
Central Woodwork has had a strong involvement with the National Sash & Door Jobbers Association (NSDJA) over the years. Billy Schaefer was NSDJA president in 1985. Both of Billy’s sons, Mark and Pat, have been on the board of directors, with Pat’s term expiring at this year’s convention.
“I’ve really enjoyed being on the board,” Pat said. “It has allowed me to meet more people, and I’ve learned a lot more about how the association operates and what’s happening inside of it.”
Central Woodwork’s service to the millwork industry includes the founding of WoodWare Systems in 1983. In the early 1980s, there was no industry-specific software for window, door and millwork distributors. The company wanted a way to serve its own customers better by having immediate information available on current orders, old orders, inventory, products and pricing. Managers at the company were also looking for a better way for handling pre-hung doors and window assembly other than bill-of-materials-based software.
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