In a modern 200,000 square-foot facility nestled among the windmills and wooden shoes of quiet Holland, Michigan Windquest Companies fabricates panel products. Not unlike the little northern tulip bulbs waiting for May to emerge from the earth with vivid hues, unfinished panels await their turns to go through Windquest’s three-dimensional laminating (3DL) line, emerging on the other side wrapped in a beautiful decorative vinyl film. Ah spring, that time of year when folks’ fancies turn to thoughts of...cleaning. It is time to get organized. And who better to consult about home storage solutions then Windquest, a company that exemplifies careful use of materials and efficiency in manufacturing? Windquest knows that there is no one solution that can meet the needs of every client, so they utilize a three-pronged approach of targeted distribution to maximize their market reach.
To me, one of the biggest advances for us as a company is the 3-D vinyl in all the different wood grains.
Windquest offers three product lines that are all manufactured with the same basic materials on the same equipment. Specialty Products functions as an O.E.M. that makes panel products and distributes them to other companies that don’t have the technology to produce them in-house. This was the company’s original line when it started over 25 years ago as a laminator and fabricator. In 1987 Windquest decided to launch their own branded line of closets, which has since grown into two consumer product lines. Easy Track is the mainstream consumer line; it is sold via specialty retailers and is marketed as kits for do-it-yourselfers. The ORG line is the high-end consumer line. It is distributed through dealers who collaborate with homeowners to create personalized, furniture-quality storage solutions. ORG is the biggest part of the overall business.
The ORG Experience
Part of what makes ORG a desirable home storage system is the quality and variety of the products in the line. The other part is the customer service received when making an ORG purchase. Although ORG is sold exclusively through independent dealers, each dealer maintains a close working relationship with Windquest. “We not only manufacture the products but we also provide the design software and all the marketing materials. We’ll do templates for websites and anything else we can to make it easier for dealers to serve their customers. It is really a turnkey operation,” says Randy Tallman Director of Marketing and Product Management for Windquest. In addition to the marketing materials and the finished panels, Windquest also stocks all the accessories and hardware (functional and decorative) necessary to complete any of the designs in their product showcase. “Most of our dealers will buy their hardware and accessories from us,” says Tallman, “so we buy the latest and greatest from manufacturers to make sure that our dealers have access to good hardware at good prices.” It is the little details that elevate classic style to exceptional design.
ORG dealers handle all the direct contact with the clients from the evaluation of the client’s needs to installation of the finished product. Since building a custom storage solution for someone is a very personal project, dealers provide in-home consultations. Bruce Zauft owns Organized Spaces of Wisconsin and has been a dealer of Windquest’s organizing systems for many years. “It was an easy choice to carry ORG because of all the support from the manufacturer,” said Zauft from his workshop. “The marketing materials and the ORGdesign tool make it possible to go into customers’ homes and work with them to develop a specialized plan. People are busy. They don’t have a lot of time. My job is to simplify their lives. I can show them the design possibilities, measure, create a three dimensional rendering, provide an estimate and finish the deal right there at the kitchen table where they feel most comfortable.” Windquest supplies dealers with such comprehensive marketing and sales tools to take into clients’ homes that roughly half of all ORG dealers do not even maintain a brick-and-mortar showroom.
The biggest issue over the years has been trying to match melamine with vinyl. It has always been a challenge and it has definitely gotten better. I think that suppliers have realized how important it is to our business to have that kind of coordination.
ORGdesign is the proprietary software that Windquest developed from the ground up to be an easy-to-use sales tool for dealers. It is akin to a simple CAD program that affords the designer a lot of flexibility, yet it does not take an engineer to use ORGdesign. The software comes fully-loaded with the entire ORG catalog, but it can also handle custom modifications so dealers can quickly and easily walk homeowners through designs on screen. Once a design has been created ORGdesign carries the information through to a bill of materials that provides the dealer with the exact cost of the materials and calculates margins. The dealer then has an accurate price to give the customer and there are no surprises. When the dealer pushes the “buy” button the information is sent directly to Windquest where it is separated into standard parts and custom parts. In general standard parts need no further data manipulation before manufacturing. Custom parts go through the custom department where an individual monitors the order to ensure that all the information is there for fabrication.
CREATING CUSTOM SOLUTIONS
On the production side Windquest has streamlined its manufacturing processes and distribution. Not only is efficiency good for the bottom-line, it better meets the needs of the ORG dealers. Windquest examined the dealers’ operations to identify what kinds of products were needed, within what time frame and at what price point. They learned that rather then manufacturing and delivering large quantities of parts to dealers, who would then have to store product, they could make use of the “just in time” capabilities of the manufacturing equipment to fabricate pieces as they are ordered. Most of the machines on the production line have very quick change overs that make it possible to complete orders, both standard and specialty, within a three-day lead time. Whether the dealer’s order is for 10 pieces or 100 pieces, Windquest can manufacture it efficiently from a cost standpoint. Considering that most ORG installations can be done within one day (depending on the size of the job), dealers are able to provide clients with high-end custom storage solutions, from consultation to installation, inside of a week.
Barry Walburg is the Vice President of Specialty Products, he has been with Windquest for 21-years. “It used to be that if you had anything more than a shelf and rod it was a big deal.” Walburg says, “Everything used to be white and there used to be two sizes of vertical panels and three sizes of shelves, maybe a couple of different drawer sizes. And you could do everything that way.” Now with over 3000 SKUs and 13 colors just in melamine ORG has experienced a design explosion. New accessories and hardware have also entered the market place. White and chrome were once the only available choices for baskets and pulls. Now such sophisticated finishes as oil-rubbed bronze and brushed-nickel add even more design possibilities. What started off as utilitarian closet organization systems has grown into home furnishings that are as functional as they are aesthetically pleasing.
“To me, one of the biggest advances for us as a company is the 3-D vinyl in all the different wood grains,” says Tallman. “We started off just as closets and now we are doing wall beds, home offices, garages, entertainment centers, libraries, bookshelves, pantries, lockers... really anywhere that anybody needs functional storage and style.” ORG door and drawer fronts are made out of MDF that undergoes the 3DL process. The MDF board is cut and routed on a nested based CNC, which in Windquest’s case is either a Weeke or a Morbedelli. Depending on the quality of the MDF, the board is often ready for the next step in the process without additional sanding. Then comes the adhesive. “We have a machine that does it all. It’s a Cefla and it basically applies the glue robotically. We are going for consistency, which allows us to produce quality,” says Walburg. Windquest always uses the same adhesive for accurate timing and predictable performance. Finally, the piece is put through a Wemhöner membrane press that wraps the vinyl (PVC) film around the MDF, resulting in an extremely durable decorative surface that hugs the contours of the routed panel. The fit is so true that the surface of the board must be flawless. “We use a lot of Flakeboard’s Superior Plus boards,” says Tallman. “We tried using a lower grade board and found that we really need to use the best we can get to ensure we are putting out a good product. Our quality expectations are high, we don’t want to see any ‘orange peel’ through the vinyl.” The box panels and shelves for ORG systems are made out of industrial-grade particleboard and finished in TFM.
While software and careful distribution help to create, manage and fulfill ORG dealers’ orders, it is the development of matching programs from the vinyl and TFM suppliers that have allowed Windquest to expand their design offerings. Walburg says, “The biggest issue over the years has been trying to match melamine with vinyl. It has always been a challenge and it has definitely gotten better. I think that suppliers have realized how important it is to our business to have that kind of coordination.” When ORG recently added new designs to their product offering they paid attention to trends, for example darker colors and fruit woods are hot right now, but they also made certain that each design could carry through to all the surfaces. Generally, melamine drives the color pattern and vinyl matches the melamine. To increase the chance of having the necessary pairings Windquest deals with many different suppliers. In the realm of melamine Roseburg, Tafisa and Flakeboard (among others) all actively work to match other products. For vinyl Windquest deals primarily with Omnova, Renolit and Riken; and uses whoever has the best match on a design-by-design basis.
As a manufacturer of goods that end up in peoples’ homes, Windquest understands the value of environmentally friendly business practices. All the composite panels used in manufacturing ORG products contain 100% preconsumer recycled wood fibers (also available in NAUF) and are Environmentally Preferable Product (EPP) certified by the CPA. ORG is also an EPP Downstream licensed company, in addition to being a member of the Green Building Council. “We want customers to feel good about bringing our products into their homes. Even if they don’t understand the acronyms, they know it is something about being “green” and that is very important to some people,” says Tallman. ORG products are also designed to be long lasting, which provides clients with peace of mind and reduces waste over the long term. Customers know that as their families grow and change their ORG components can be rearranged or relocated, but they will not need to be replaced.
Holland Michigan with its picturesque lighthouse and small-town charm, is a great place to raise a family or retire. It is a reminder of less complicated times. Maybe it is the proximity to all that wholesome living that encourages Windquest to make products that simplify everyday life. From the top down Windquest facilitates wide-spread organization. They make selling products easy for their distributors by providing all the necessary marketing materials and software to complete consultations for clients. And the ORG line, with its beautiful furniture-quality finishes, makes it simple for customers to find storage solutions. Instead of shopping around for the perfect fit and style, clients can create furniture that suits their lives, from the comfort of their own homes. Talk about well organized.
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