Woodworking Magazine Feature

Millwork Company’s Success Opens New Doors

By Hannah Miller

In business since 1907, Goodman Millwork has overcome numerous harsh economic conditions to thrive in the woodworking industry.

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One-hundred-year-old Goodman Millwork Co. has a firsthand historical perspective for when economic upheavals periodically strike the country. After all, as Goodman Lumber Co., it came through the Great Depression without closing its doors, and has weathered numerous changes affecting the industry ever since.

“We’ve been able to change direction and do things on short notice when we had to,” says Francis E. (Franco) Goodman, who represents the third generation of family leadership. He is owner and president of the Salisbury, NC-based company that changed its name to Goodman Millwork in 1992 to better reflect its nature.

It is the wide geographical distribution of work that is helping the company through the current housing slowdown, says Goodman. The company has long-standing relationships with builders all across North Carolina and supplies high-end millwork to homes from the mountain area to the coast.

“Each one of these areas is unique in its own right,” he says, and there is still new construction going on as well as renovations. This enables Goodman Millwork to continue to do the kind of things it enjoys doing, he says.

Residential Specialties

The company’s specialty is residential projects, although it also does work for churches, country clubs and showrooms. True to its roots as a lumber company, Goodman Millwork works only in wood. “We’re just not set up to do laminate,” Goodman says.

Goodman Millwork produces a wide range of custom woodworking for both the interior and exterior, including mantels and stair parts, entertainment centers, cabinets and passage doors. In keeping with the trend toward elaborate front entrances, “we do lots of oversize doors,” Goodman says. “Lots of people are spending more time in designing that front entrance, from the detail standpoint to the hardware standpoint.”

Another of the skills the company is known for is historic preservation. “People come to us when a window sash needs to be duplicated, siding needs to be matched or moulding needs to be matched,” Goodman says. Goodman Millwork did all the replacement millwork — floors, windows, cabinets — in the 1994 renovation of America’s oldest public university building, Old East dorm, dating from 1793, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That, says Goodman, was “a highlight.”

Customers realize that it takes special skills to do those kinds of things, he says. “It may take some carving, some knife grinding, some matching of profiles,” all of which the company does.

“It [also] takes good people,” he says. “We do have that.”

To let employees view the final results of their work, Goodman had an owner of a recently completed home invite the whole company over in 2006. “Nobody ever actually sees [their work] in the finished state,” he says. “We just closed our plant one day, rented a bus and took everybody over there at one time.

“It really gives you an appreciation for what you do,” he adds.

Expanded Capabilities

A dozen years ago, Goodman recalls, the company did no finishing. “And now we’re heavily involved in it. A large percentage of what we make here we finish. The market required us to do that,” he says.

In the last several years, the company has streamlined procedures and reduced the number of employees to about 35 through attrition. “We’ve just become more efficient. We have not reduced our volume of business,” Goodman says.

Now they’re getting ready to invest in a CNC router and new widebelt sander with directional sanding brushes in an effort to become even more efficient.

For a long time, Goodman says, he resisted the change, feeling that the available CNC technology didn’t lend itself to the one-of-a-kind jobs in which the company specializes. “We’re still a job shop,” he says. “Every job is unique in itself. We don’t mass produce anything.”

But, he says, “The technology has gotten better every year.” The routers can handle the 1/2-inch to 1-inch thickness of the oversize doors that the company makes, and their multiple-axis approach offers the flexibility Goodman Millwork needs, Goodman says.

Other equipment inside the plant includes an Altendorf/Stiles Shop Solutions sliding table saw, a Lari/Danckaert mortiser, a Wadkin tenoner, Weinig moulders and a Stegherr overhead shaper.

The plant itself is a 50,000-square-foot red brick building which dates back to 1927. It is on the site where Franco’s grandfather, Enoch Arnold Goodman, and his brother, Linus Giles Goodman, started the company with a sawmill in 1907.

The building has been renovated several times since, but still has hardwood floors, brick walls and a hand-fired boiler that burns shavings and cutoffs to create steam. It was installed by what Goodman calls his “very forward-thinking” grandfather, and though the steam no longer runs the woodworking equipment, it provides most of the heat. “You’d call us green,” Goodman says.

A Family Affair

Goodman grew up in the family business, working around the shop since he was 12. But his father Myron, the shop superintendent, wanted him to have the experience of working for other people, so he worked in textiles and banking for five years after graduating from East Carolina University. He returned to the family business in 1973, became president, and in 1982 became owner. His uncle, the late Lloyd Goodman, served as vice president and was a general fount of woodworking information, Goodman says.

Goodman and his wife Brenda, company secretary, have two sons, Benjamin and Nicholas, who also work with the company: Benjamin is plant manager and Nicholas is construction manager.

“Their ideas are always new and exciting. They have a chance to learn, just like I did. Every day’s a challenge,” Goodman says.

When asked what the next 100 years holds for Goodman Millwork, he says, “I just wish I could be around to see.

“I just wish that my two sons will have the same satisfaction that I’ve had.”