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The 22-year-old company is always looking for better ways to do business

by Kris Ann Hegle

SBJ Contributing Writer

The calendar Woodpro Cabinetry Inc. mails to its customers is filled with nostalgic black-and-white photos of life and growing up in the Ozarks. So is the company's newsletter and product catalog.

However, Woodpro's plant in Cabool is anything but old-fashioned. This family-run business, founded in 1977, is always looking for ways to implement new and better business practices.

Headed by LeRoy Walls, who serves as the company's chief executive officer, Woodpro manufactures and sells wooden bath cabinetry to home and supply centers and plumbing distributors in 42 states. The company produces 20,000 combinations of bath cabinets including vanities, medicine cabinets, lights, linen cabinets, toilet toppers and corner vanities from six basic collections.

A believer in the value of good management, Walls uses a variety of methods to keep things running smoothly. All the cabinets at Woodpro are produced using just-in-time manufacturing.

With just-in-time manufacturing, inventories are kept to a minimum, and cabinets are built only when a customer places an order.

"After an order is placed, the customer will receive their cabinet within eight to 12 days," Walls said. "Using just-in-time manufacturing helps keep costs down on regular orders and specialty and custom orders, which account for 30 percent of our total sales."

At Woodpro, just-in-time manufacturing equates to on-time service. According to Walls, Woodpro has maintained a 99 percent fill rate since implementing just-in-time manufacturing in 1993.

Indeed, 1993 marked the beginning of a new era at Woodpro. The company moved to open-book management, and workers in the plant's production and support areas were divided into teams in an effort to create an environment of total employee involvement.

Initially, the team concept met with some resistance, Walls said. Today, however, the 115 full-time workers at Woodpro have a lot of team loyalty. Employees vote on and recognize the Team of the Quarter and the Team Player of the Month. The company itself sponsors a Quality of Life Program, which rewards outstanding teams, according to Walls.

Woodpro also started using total productive maintenance in 1993, which helps eliminate down time and defects caused by machinery. As part of total productive maintenance, workers perform preventive maintenance on the equipment they operate.

According to Walls, teams also are responsible for total quality management in their areas. Team members are cross-trained to perform several jobs both within and outside their teams. When a problem arises on the assembly line, a team member will raise a flag, which signals others who have been trained in that area to come and help.

Cross-training also helps prevent repetitive motion injuries, and maximum-hour limits are strictly enforced on some jobs, according to Walls.

Woodpro also has installed a system to remove sawdust particles, which can be harmful to the respiratory system, from the production area. The sawdust is collected and later used to heat the building.

According to Walls, Woodpro has an outstanding safety record, and the company was one of the first to participate in a voluntary health and safety program set up by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 1995, Woodpro was recognized as a Merit work site by OSHA, and in 1997, the company received Star recognition status for having a comprehensive and successful health and safety program, Walls said.

"All of the programs we have are really about helping people both our employees and our customers," Walls said. "We provide uptown cabinetry supported by down-home service."

Much of that down-home service is done by the Walls family. Walls' brother Glen is the vice president of sales and marketing. His daughter, Sarah Montgomery, is the vice president of operations, and his other daughter Lora Noll is busy redesigning the company's Web site.

According to Walls, once the Web site is revamped, customers will be able to view Woodpro's cabinets in a virtual showroom and place their orders online.

Wall's sister, Carolyn Brandt, produces Bathline, the company's quarterly newsletter, as well as Woodpro's calendar, which keeps customers apprised of the order dates and ship cycles for their regions. She also develops the company's catalog, which contains profiles of some of Woodpro's outstanding workers.

Woodpro has been approached recently by representatives from some major home supply centers that would like the company to become one of their suppliers, Walls said.

For now, Walls said, he plans on maintaining the status quo rather than revamping and drastically expanding operations to meet the needs of a few large customers who would ultimately provide the majority of Woodpro's business.

"On average, we've grown about 20 percent a year," Walls said. "Our biggest challenge in the next few years will be to continue to grow at that rate and still keep a broad base of customers."

Woodpro Cabinetry Inc.:

Management philosophy: "We try to be fair to people."

Year founded: 1977

Address and phone number: 330 Walnut, PO Box 70, Cabool 65689, 417-962-5127 or 888-296-6377

Web site:

www.woodpro.com

Owner: Woodpro Cabinetry Inc.[[In-content Ad]]

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