Cleared for Takeoff - Woodshop News

Cleared for Takeoff

With a soon-to-be new owner in charge, New Horizons Woodworks in southern Oregon readies for the next growth phase while delivering an impressive string of high-end commercial projects.
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With a young and motivated new owner about to take over operations from a partner, New Horizons Woodworks of Ashland, Ore., has a bright future ahead. The 18-person architectural millwork company started in the early 70s and incorporated in 1983 has compiled a vast portfolio of high-end commercial projects, incorporating woods, laminates, solid surface materials, glass and metals.

Leading the operation is CEO and general manager Ian McLean. The 32-year-old is in the second year of a five-year buyout agreement with Josh Folick, who bought the company from founder Mike Baker and built it into what it is today. He’s ready to fly solo.

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

“I’ve dedicated pretty much of my professional life to this industry. This is what I know, I know it really well. My goal is to have the company grow, both internally and externally. I want it to get bigger,” says McLean.

In 2004, McLean started working at Horizons, sweeping the floor, making deliveries, and a bit of woodworking. It was his first job after high school.

“A good friend of mine worked here and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says McLean. “I worked in the shop doing cabinets and stuff like that for about a year. Then I worked as a sawyer for a short period of time, on the edgebander, as a CNC operator, and became head of the machinery department.

“In 2013 I started managing the shop and was one of three project managers. I realized that we needed to start managing the project managers to create more uniformity and consistency and have more control over schedules, so I became general manager. Last May I began buying the company.”

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

Problem solvers

The shop has about 40 projects in the pipeline at any given time, from design to installation. Sales are on the upswing, according to McLean.

“We have to bid for commercial work and we get invitations to bid on drawings. We have to put a competitive price together and keep profits pretty low. There’s not a lot of competition in this area but there is some. Most of the shops around here do work in the San Francisco Bay area and the larger cities.

“Southern Oregon is kind of like an island; there’s not a big metropolitan area. We do most of our work in this area, but it varies every year because we may do a huge job elsewhere. The advantage for us is we’re able to do a lot more types of work, more difficult projects, things that are higher-end or custom or technical. We have guys that are skilled and can figure it out.”

The client list includes hospitals, doctors’ offices, universities, churches, and corporations.

“Commercial is a different animal than residential, which we do very little of,” says McLean. “Typically, we do one high-end residence a year, usually for someone we know in the business community. We just finished a new hospital, Providence Stewart Meadows, in Medford (Ore.). It had 600 to 700 cabinets on that one job in a brand-new building.”

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

Other recent jobs include the new Memory Support Center at Rogue Valley Manor, a convalescent home in Medford, and the four-story Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach, Ore.

“We just got done with the new athletic arena at Southern Oregon University. It was a pretty big job. We did all of the cabinets and countertops, all the reception desks, benches, trim and lockers,” says McLean. “We do a lot of library end panels, too. We work with a company called Space Saver that does metal book shelving and we do the decorative wooden panels at the end.”

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

Skilled employees and high-tech machinery allow New Horizons to take on challenging projects.

Horizons works with Oregon-based Lithia Motors, a national automotive retailer, supplying casework, desks, parts counters and display cases for its dealerships. There’s also some government work in the mix.

“The toughest part is really the scheduling,” says McLean. “You have customers with big deadlines because every day past costs money, and then dates change. You can be loaded up then there’s a delay in the project, which pushes everything back and affects another job. But you have to make your customers’ schedules your schedule.”

Ian McLean

Ian McLean

Help is on the way

The shop - about 18,000 sq. ft. over two buildings – combines digital fabrication with skilled craftsmanship. The engineering department, which includes McLean, takes designs from concept to full production documents.

“We use AutoCAD and I went to a local community college to become proficient. I also took some computer programming classes and have developed a lot of programs and subroutines in AutoCAD that really expedite a lot of the processes that we do here,” says McLean. “We use Microvellum for production, which is compatible with AutoCAD.”

An aerial view of New Horizons

An aerial view of New Horizons

Trends change more often than would be expected, says McClean, who sees more plastic laminate being used in commercial than what has been used in the past.

“The laminate is very durable and easy to clean. It’s offered in more colors and patterns now than when I first started and people like those options. Some of them look like real wood.”

McLean attributes the shop’s success to his savvy crew and is proud to share his secret for finding skilled craftsmen, a common problem for many shops.

“We’ve had a lot more success with that than we used to. We used to cry about that all the time, but we’ve found a better way to advertise for jobs. Instead of advertising for a job, we advertise our business and all the benefits of working here. When we make it basic, we get a ton of applicants.

Material

Material

“The key is how you advertise. You read job descriptions these days and people put these long technical requirements. Why would someone want to work for you? But if you put in that you offer health insurance, dental, life insurance, and that you’re looking for someone with a positive attitude with certain basic skills, people will be interested.”

While the plan calls for adding more employees, McLean’s current focus is on managing efficiency. “We want to grow internally first because the work’s out there right now and we’re almost limited by how fast we can take on new work. This means getting a new nested-base CNC and a dowel inserter by next year, and just dialing in all of the systems that we have.”

Two examples from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

Two examples from the shop’s extensive portfolio.

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Contact: New Horizons Woodworks, 278 Helman St., Ashland, OR 97520, Tel: 541-482-0653. newhorizonswoodworks.com

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue.

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