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Archive for Sunday, December 20, 1998

NEW NAME, BIG PLANS

December 20, 1998

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The company will be known as Amarr Garage Doors, and its president promises there's more growth in the works.

By Richard Brack

Journal-World Business Editor

On Jan. 1, the Garage Door Group will cease to exist.

The family that has owned a chunk of the manufacturing plant since it opened in Lawrence nearly 10 years ago has bought out its Kansas City-based partner and is changing the company's name.

The Garage Door Group, which opened its plant at East Hills Business Park in 1989, is about to become known as Amarr Garage Doors.

And get set for more changes as the North Carolina-based company that owns the steel door-manufacturing plant continues to grow.

"We have more land there that will allow us to basically double our size," said Richard Brenner, Amarr president. "And we will."

Big talk? Maybe. But since it opened in October 1989, the plant's size has already doubled once and employment is nearly six times higher, jumping from 60 workers to more than 350. Now, Amarr owns the Lawrence plant and equipment worth about $15 million, and has an annual payroll of about $8 million.

Brenner declined to discuss specifics of the closely held business. But another company official said it plans to increase its premium door production by 150 percent "in the near future."

With a new product line set to get started in mid-1999, Amarr would increase employment by more than 30 people and bump up daily production beyond the current pace of about 1,400 doors a day.

Such growth was in the plans when the company decided to locate in Lawrence in mid-1989.

Then, the plant was owned by three separate garage door manufacturers. They were Brenner Inc. of Winston-Salem, N.C.; Delden Manufacturing of Kansas City, Kan.; and Ankmar Garage Doors of Denver.

The East Hills property was owned by a partnership known as RAM Co. Headed by a member of Brenner's family, it leased the plant back to the group -- the Garage Door Group.

The heart of the plant -- a "roll former" that's used to turn rolled steel into garage doors -- was then at Delden's plant in Kansas City. As the three companies hashed out plans for a location where they could share production and expand the business, it became apparent the central United States would be best for distribution purposes.

"We needed to get it under one roof," Brenner said. "Delden had the roll former, and we thought Kansas would be a great place to be. Lawrence offered us everything we wanted." That included space to build and some help with financing.

Over the years, the Brenners increased their ownership in the Lawrence operations. By 1994, when the plant's size was doubled, only Delden remained as a co-owner.

"We had at one point been 50-50 partners, and things progressed to where we bought out the rest of the manufacturing facility," Brenner said last week.

And as the company continues to grow, he said Lawrence will be the right location to make the company's next generation of garage doors.

"It allows us to be close to our key vendors in addition to being the perfect central location" for distribution, Brenner said.

Amarr sells doors and supplies through a network of 57 company-owned distribution facilities across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Tom Welsh, vice president and chief operating officer, said Amarr adds three or four centers to its network each year.

Called "door centers," the facilities are intended to add value to the product by offering customization and personalized service.

"In most distribution centers," Brenner said, "you take a box in and take a box out. At a door center, we add value. We can install insulation, custom windows, tracks."

Though such operations could be done at the plant in Lawrence, moving it to the wholesale outlet centers lets Amarr help its customers meet deadlines.

"That allows customers to order it in the morning and pick it up that afternoon," he said. Those customers are "the folks you find in the Yellow Pages under doors," Brenner said -- the dealers who install the product.

Such service, along with a quality product, are driving the company's growth. "Sales have increased dramatically," Brenner said, though he declined to be specific. "That's due to a number of things."

One is that Amarr has re-engineered its product to be more attractive and safer. This summer, the company will come out with a line of doors featuring pinch-resistant hinges and joints.

"It's been the standard in Europe for a lot of years," Welsh said, and since Amarr and some other manufacturers have picked up on it, it may become the U.S. standard as well.

Brenner also bragged on his company's raised-panel stamp, windows and design trims.

"People don't think of garage doors as being high-tech, but we design and build all of our own equipment," he said. "We use a lot of robotics and electronics, and our engineering talent is just top-notch."

But part of the company's success can be attributed to flourishing home construction, fueled by a strong economy and low mortgage interest rates.

"Clearly, a boom in new home construction has helped," Brenner said. "More homes are being built with garages. And the homes with garages are more of the two-car and three-car garages."

Welsh, who came to Amarr from industry leader Clopay, said that despite the fact the door industry is changing from a regional business to a national or international one, Amarr would stay independent.

"There used to be 40 different manufacturers in garage doors, but companies are being bought up and consolidated," he said. Now, there are about half that.

But he doesn't think a purchase of Amarr is in the cards.

"Our ownership has, as far as I can see, absolutely no interest in selling," Welsh said. "If anything, we'll probably be looking for acquisitions rather than the other way around."

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is rbrack@ljworld.com.

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