Reliability and resourcefulness are driving attributes that have fueled the growth of Hollywood Woodwork in Hollywood, Fla. over its past five decades in business. The turnkey architectural millwork and casework firm has embraced changes, faced challenges, and implemented solutions over the years to achieve its success.
Formed in 1968, Hollywood was started by the grandfather of company president Sebastien DesMarais. It operates from a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility with 120 employees, fulfilling work on a national scale and beyond.
“We have been growing,” says DesMarais. “The recession was difficult in 2010 but we have grown since then, with the exception of last year. There was a little bit of shrinking, but this year will be one of our biggest years, as 2019 was biggest prior and 2018 prior to that. So, we have been fortunate to be able to grow.”
All in the family
John DesMarais Sr., one of 12 siblings, moved from Canada to South Florida in the 60’s with experience running an apple orchid. He purchased a small woodworking shop and hired family, including Sebastien’s father, Yves.
“Yves took over as CEO in 1974 and the company took off. At that time there might have been eight to 10 of the brothers and sisters all working there together, and like any family business it was going in different directions,” says Sebastien.
As cities like West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami grew around them, ample opportunities for lucrative building work became apparent. Being close to major ports allowed for easy access to work in the Caribbean as well.
Sebastien, who worked in the shop as a teenager, studied computer engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville and by the mid-2000’s joined General Electric’s corporate audit staff assisting with mergers and acquisitions. Then the family business, facing some key retirements, reached out.
“They realized they needed to start recruiting the next generation of Hollywood Woodwork, and since I was heavily involved in these leadership development programs, they wanted my help to design programs like that for them. I’d meet with the executive team two or three times a year at some location, wherever it was I was living at the time, and spend a day or two developing programs. After two years of that it turned into a job offer.”
Hollywood basically started with residential kitchens and morphed into a millwork company during the 80s.
“Before the millwork transition we did a lot of the mega-homes in Florida,” says Sebastien. “Around 2000, we focused almost exclusively on commercial work. We did get involved in some of the yachts. We’ve done a few over the years but not so much anymore.
“Now we’re focused on large hospitality buildings like hotels, condos, stadium work, and government work like convention centers. We pretty much go nationwide, coast to coast. A lot of work is in Caribbean islands at the high-end resorts.”
The long client list includes the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport; Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico; University of Miami Student Activities Center; JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District in Savannah, Ga., and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Hollywood employs about 40 in administration, project management, accounting, engineering, sales and estimating. There are 55 in the milling, assembly, finishing and shipping departments, plus 25 full-time installers, foremen and jobsite superintendents. There can be 25-50 subcontracted installers.
“Installation teams are sent to wherever the jobs are. If we’re installing a large hotel in the Bahamas or one of the Caribbean islands, oftentimes we’ll have a team of 40 to 60 people living there for a year or more,” says Sebastien.
“Sometimes governments require that we hire a lot of local people. The Bahamas requires 80 percent of installation work to be from locals. It’s good for us because they know the lay of the land.”
The company offers an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) to employees, a unique incentive which started in 1999. Hollywood is currently 35 percent employee-owned, but DesMarais says the goal is to be 100 percent employee-owned in the next few years.
“The benefit to the employees in that they get to grow the company and build equity, and they get to do it with their length of service, so there’s a huge benefit to the employees financially. It’s a retirement program governed very similar to a 401k. When somebody retires here, they’ve accumulated shares over their tenure, and basically sell those shares back to the company and the shares get redistributed to all the remaining employees.”
Behind the scenes
Company leaders reconfigured the entire factory four years ago for better efficiency. They invested heavily into automated machinery from companies like Stiles and Biesse, as well as an automated finishing system from Superfici America.
“When we brought all the new machinery in, we redesigned everything and changed the flow of product manufacturing. We essentially got a lot more yield out of the square footage that we have. We have a tight footprint and can’t grow much anymore so we had to become innovative with space, focusing on machinery,” Sebastien says.
Hollywood offers design-assist services to help outside architects and designers develop their vision.
“Let’s say it’s a large resort here on the beach,” says Sebastien. “They’re going to want to pick up a lot of the natural aesthetics of the area and build them into their projects, so they may want the wood grain to look a certain way that matches well with the color of the sand or the light that comes through the windows.”
DesMarais notes a recent interest in creative applications being used on woods like oak, walnut and teak. Clients want the materials in their projects to stand out through non-standard colors and finishing techniques like cerusing. The company can also fabricate and install metal, stone, glass and mirrors.
DesMarais is board president of the Architectural Woodwork Institute, an industry group his father joined for connections and guidance. He presented on the benefits of the AWI’s annual Cost of Doing Business survey, which addresses financial strategies for member companies, at the 2021 AWFS Fair in Las Vegas.
Hollywood recently hosted the filming of a woodworking career awareness video, a recruiting effort organized by the AWI, AWFS, and Woodwork Career Alliance, which will air on public television stations nationwide.
“They chose Hollywood Woodwork because we’re a larger organization and have a clean, high-tech manufacturing facility, and just the fact we’re a very diverse company. We have over 20 ethnicities working here and people from all over the world,” says Sebastien.
His immediate goals are to retain and recruit employees, and not grow too fast.
“We’re just growing a little. There are companies right now creating all this crazy growth and we’re not desiring that at all. We’re just looking to grow 10 to 20 percent a year,” he says.
He’s constantly working with trade and post-secondary schools to bring interns and full-time hires on board. The warm climate helps.
“We’re known to attract people right out of school. We relocate people from all over the country, right out of college, so we’re just fortunate. Sometimes they’re young and open to travel and they’ve never been to Florida and want to give it a shot. Then we hire people who are later in their careers and looking to relocate. We actively seek out Veterans and people with skills from other industries, which has strengthened us as a manufacturing company.”
DesMarais helped steer the company through the Great Recession. Now, he’s taking on the pandemic.
“Everything just got turned upside down and materials are increasing 50, 100, 200 percent of what they were a year ago. Everything we use has gone up in costs and we’re locked into contracts we negotiated several years ago. That’s a challenge.
“Hospitality, one of our main industries, has rebounded very well after Covid, and restaurants were hurt very bad and now we’re seeing more growth. We have some retail in the backlog, so that’s coming back. But the office buildings and large headquarters that we do have been affected.”
He adds that the company’s favorable reputation and many years of success will help it conquer any hurdle.
“We do really high-end work, so we’re sought after by our customers. The fact that we’ve been in business now for 53 years is huge because I think sometimes more than the product, we sell reliability that we will finish the job, and that sometimes is the best thing we can do for our customers.”
To learn more about the company, visit www.hollywoodwoodwork.com.
This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue.