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1/29/2004

Elbow room

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — For Roy DeBlieck, High Country Millwork’s move from Boulder out to the former Flextronics building on Interstate 25 is a win-win situation.

Not only will he have an office larger than a broom closet, but the Fort Lupton resident will have a much shorter commute to work.

The move is also a winner for the company, which has stretched about all of the space it can get out of its already-added-upon location just off of east Pearl Street.

“We have to store our materials outside because we’re so compressed,” said Jonathan Richards, general manager for the 35-year-old company. “At the beginning of each day we have to bring all of our stuff outside just so (the workers inside) can move. And then at the end of the day we have to bring everything back in.”

The company currently occupies about 30,000 square feet in Boulder.

That’s including its main building, which has been added on to more than once, and then a separate warehouse about 100 yards away.

Its new building is about 87,000 square feet, with about 10,000 square feet of that intended for lease to another company.

While there are many disadvantages to its current location, one of the biggest is that there is no loading dock.

When it’s time to ship the company’s custom architectural woodwork, the trailers must be loaded outside, in the elements.

And no loading docks means no ability to use forklifts to load the trailers. “Everything has to be loaded by hand,” Richards said. “The other day we had six guys out here loading one,” fighting the icy ground, no less.

High Country’s new Del Camino building, on the I-25 frontage road, has three loading docks.

What already has been substantial growth for the company should only accelerate.

“We really were considering moving anywhere along the I-25 corridor,” said Michael Childs, High Country’s chief executive officer. “We really didn’t want to go too far south because a lot of our people come from up north.

“We were having trouble attracting employees at one time because we were in Boulder.”

The company’s employees work all over, including one who commutes 48 miles one-way every day, said Richards. Being just off the highway should make things much easier.

Childs and a group of investors bought out the then-owner of High

Country Furniture, John McPhilney — who started the business in his garage about 31/2 decades ago — in 1998, when McPhilney retired.

Childs said at the time, the company had “no technology,” meaning billing, shipping, receiving, shop drawings — everything was done by hand.

“We realized that in order to grow the business we were going to have to modernize and computerize our operation,” he said.

High Country was a $3 million business in 1998, and last year the company did more than double that, said Childs.

“It’s our intention that we grow to $10 million to $15 million a year in a couple of years,” he said. “This (new) facility, we could probably do up to $20 million. But we want to be cautious with our growth.”

Childs said about 85 percent of the company’s business is national accounts, and the other 15 percent local, mostly residential work.

St. John, a high-end women’s retailer, is one of the company’s accounts, using High Country for the wooden fixtures in its high-end stores.

Millwork replaced “furniture” in the name when Childs and his group took over.

“At the time, in 1998, High Country Furniture wasn’t really building any furniture; it was mostly residential and smaller projects,” Childs said. “The company had outgrown the name.”

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro is another of High Country’s national accounts — with a local presence — and Childs said acquiring more of those is the company’s top priority right now.

Along with taking advantage of technology, the focus on high-end retail and residential has helped the company consistently turn a profit.

An example of the company’s residential work is featured on the front of its catalog: a picture of ornate woodworking the company did for someone’s den — including an elaborately designed bar — which cost the customer $135,000.

“We really have structured the business to larger accounts,” Childs said. “While those areas are not recession-proof, I think they’re recession-tolerant.”

High Country Millwork LLC bought the new building and its 5.5 acres for $3.5 million after searching for about a year for a place to relocate.

“The move is not without pain. It’s definitely more expensive than you ever thought it could be, and that’s panning out,” Childs said. “But we feel that the efficiencies we’ll gain in moving here, along with the room to grow, will really be a solid move for us.”

Childs said the move should be completed by mid-February, and the company may end up hiring up to 10 new people by the end of this year.

“We feel we’re going to need to. Right now it isn’t necessary,” he said. “It all depends on the business. If we are, indeed, able to attract the number of clients we are pursuing now, we’ll need to react to that.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.