Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 8                                        October  2005

With Quality Doors & Trim
by Alan B. Goldberg

Little did John Wesley Langdale realize when he began selling turpentine and rosin on the Western edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia more than 110 years ago that diversifying into lumber and pulpwood in 1894 would set the stage for a successful family business that would continue through a millennium. 

Following the purchase of land and timber leases, The Langdale Co. began selling pulpwood in 1930. With the acquisition of 20,000 additional acres later in the decade, the company worked three million trees for turpentine purposes and operated 25 turpentine camps and stills. In the 1940’s, it opened a modern stainless steel turpentine operation in Valdosta, Ga., and became the world’s largest naval store producer. 

A wood processing operation and wood preserving plant were added in 1945 as the company became one of the nation’s largest and most diversified family-held forest products- making operations. 

A facility in Sweetwater, Tenn., was opened in 1954. In the 1980s, additional plants were opened in Chauncey, Valdosta and Willacoochee, Ga. The formation of Langboard OSB in Quitman, Ga., took place in the same time period to produce strand board, a structural panel for many types of applications. 

In the late 1990’s, a Langboard medium-density fiberboard (MDF) facility opened in Willacoochee to produce an engineered, wood-based panel using 100 percent Southern yellow pine. One year later, a moulding operation was formed which produces many shapes and designs, including baseboards, casing, crown moulding and chair rails. And, in 2002, the company rounded out its products and services with quality doors and trim.

A 160,000-square-foot, two-building former textile mill was transformed into TLC Doors and Trim’s state-of-the-art door and trim operation and one of the newest in the industry.

“We’re a two-step distributor, supplying southern builders through wholesale outlets in a three-state area,” says plant manager Gary Atkinson.

Unique In Many Ways
“One of the differences between our doors and others is in the jamb,” says David Smith, production manager for interior doors. “We use only composite thresholds to prevent rot.”
Among features considered standard are finger joints, which add to the workmanship of every product.

But the attractiveness of the quality doors goes beyond workmanship. Delivery to meet customers’ schedules is equally as appealing. 

“We have one of the fastest turnaround rates, which makes it possible for us to deliver in three days,” says Atkinson. 

He pointed out that the industry standard is 5 to 10 working days. Inventory capacity is what gives the company an edge. 

“Our inventory capacity allows us to store more material so we can meet needs,” adds Atkinson. “We’ve developed our own integrated, computerized system, which is comparable to what is being used by [the rest of the] industry. Most important, it gives us what we need.”

The facility is linked to a divisional operation nearby and is able to fully utilize the support system that goes with it. 

Streamlining Through Automation 
Like most operations, production begins in receiving. Atkinson explains that daily production is very organized and programmed. Jambs are cut, hinges are selected for orders, casings are cut and materials are assigned to inventory locations.

All interior and exterior doors are produced using equipment from Builders Automation Machinery of Largo, Fla. 

“We selected this manufacturer because they seem to be very innovative with new equipment and their new methods meet our needs,” says Atkinson.

One of the automated units is a pre-hung door machine.

“We can make many types of doors, ranging from 1 3/8 to 1 3/4 inches, with the 996 (model RUWO 996E). It is high-speed and within two minutes, a door can be made,” says Smith. “Before we purchased this machine, certain types of doors had to be made by hand and it took four times as long. We have since increased production from 35 to 50 percent.”
Smith pointed out the loader eliminates hand loading and saves a significant amount of time. 

“Without this attachment, we would require one person to be dedicated to manually loading the machine. That, in itself, is quite a savings in manpower.” 

Another piece of equipment that has eliminated a manual operation is a door assembly table. It automatically completes the door’s assembly into a boxed unit, ready to be cased. 

“The 1296 (model 1296 assembly table) replaced many steps and eliminated one-and-a-half people in the process,” says Smith.

Similar savings have been realized with the cutting saw, which is used for miters, joints, profiles and casing. 

“To do this manually would be very time consuming. We save four hours out of every eight-hour day with the 845 (model 845 KB casing saw),” says Marshall Kloberdanz, production manager for exterior doors.

Lower inventories (of material) are among the key benefits of an automated doorlite cut-out machine. 

“Without the OTH doorlite, we would have to manually rout latches, strikers and anything else that requires a cut-out, and we would have to carry a larger inventory to meet demand,” says Atkinson. We save as much as two hours in labor by having this unit on our line.”

According to Smith, it takes about four minutes to complete a door. Before the automated units replaced manual steps, the cycle for a completed unit was 10 to 15 minutes. 

While the operation has been streamlined, it is not fully automated and that could be difficult to achieve. Smith explains that the exterior line is still somewhat hands-on because there are so many more components.

“I don’t know if this (the exterior line) will ever become as automated as the interior line just because of the nature of the product and the many options that are available to the consumer,” says Kloberdanz. 

In the shipping area, doors are properly prepared for delivery. The company has its own fleet of trucks, including two curtain-side trailers for transporting mouldings.

“We are a distributor for our company’s mouldings and for Lincoln Windows, which is really an excellent connection for us,” says Atkinson. 

Anticipating Change
Unlike competitive products, the company’s doors are made to meet hurricane codes, specifically Miami-Dade. 

“This is something we have been doing because we know it is just a matter of time before this (code) is a requirement. We absorb the added cost, which may be financially challenging at times, but we believe it’s worth it. And we want to have everything in place, when the time comes,” says Atkinson. 

Today, TLC Doors & Trim (a division of The Langdale Co.) serves Southeastern Alabama, Northern Florida and a large part of Georgia. The company offers a large selection of fiberglass, steel and wood doors, all of which are competitively priced. There are three styles of exterior doors: standard, upgrade to a 10-year warranty and models with a lifetime warranty. Custom structural and architectural components include: wood and fiberglass columns, stair components, pocket door frames, transom sash, MDF and finger-joint trim and wood post railing.

“We sell to retail outlets (some of which are company-owned) and some of the big boxes.

We help our outlets promote our products with display materials, and through our sales force, we run specials on products,” says Atkinson.

He pointed out that the company does many things that are considered “above and beyond” for its customers and on a day-to-day basis. Whether a last-minute change or a replacement that may have nothing to do with a defect, Atkinson sums it up this way: “The customer must be happy with our products. We will do whatever is needed because they are our highest priority.”

At least one third of the operation is specialty door units, another uniqueness, and that is changing rapidly.

“We are leaning toward becoming completely custom. Custom is more difficult for us because we’re dealing with different widths and heights, possibly special transoms or glass or hinges; but as the demand increases for that special touch, custom is becoming the standard,” says Atkinson.

Challenges That Lie Ahead
Three years ago, according to Atkinson, when the plant opened, the challenge was to become operational and produce quality doors for a growing market. He attributes the success in such a short period of time to the dedication and experience of employees, loyal customers, responsive suppliers and the company’s methodology.

“We have our own way of doing things and they aren’t always the traditional way, but they work.”

In spite of its rapid growth, there are many challenges that lie ahead. 

Atkinson looks at training as one of them. While there is no formalized training program, it is on an individual basis with the immediate supervisor. 

“We want our people to be able to keep up with the latest technology and become more knowledgeable in the (building) codes that are dictating the way our products will be made,” he says.

Growth presents its own set of challenges. Presently, the operation produces 400 interior and 150 exterior doors per day in an 80,000-square-foot building that is also used for inventory. An adjoining 80,000-square-foot building is used for bulk storage.

“We are getting bigger every year and we continue to expand. Expectations are very high and we have to meet those. We are even looking at a second shift.”

In addition, keeping up with technology is a day-to-day challenge. 

“Today we barcode and scan, but it is not complete. We would like to scan everything throughout the process so we have a fully integrated system,” says Atkinson.

Another example is the impact of the move toward a custom-door operation. 

“Technology is moving so fast. At one time, we had one set of specifications. Now, with so many options, the operation, while very automated, has become more complex.”

Optimistic about the future, Atkinson refers to the support from customers, suppliers and the strong desire of employees to succeed.

“We have the knowledge to be innovative. We put faith in our people,” he says. 

Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for SHELTER magazine.

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