Case Studies

Heppner Hardwoods Inc.

A Manufacturer with Intent

As a producer of high-end millwork and flooring, Heppner Hardwoods Inc. (HHI) creates stunning wood product. The company’s parquet floors, made up of many shapes of wood in alternating grains and colors, are pieced together like a mosaic; these were the floors of French aristocrats for a reason.

In 1974 Lorraine Heppner, current president and CEO of HHI, launched the business with her husband, Barry. The team of two started out of the garage of a tiny cottage, where they worked on a handful of small processing jobs. Though work was steady as a supplier of rough lumber to the furniture industry, the company smartly shifted its focus to highly manufactured product in the early 1990s. Today, with approximately 50 employees, HHI turns domestic and exotic hardwoods into crowns, moldings, flooring and decking at its five-acre facility in Azusa, Calif.
Opening New Doors

When Barry passed away in 1991, Lorraine found herself in charge and in a position to take a step back, assess the state of the company and determine a new direction. “I got some latitude and asked myself: who are we, who do we want to be and what are our capabilities,” explains Lorraine. She saw the decline of the high-volume furniture industry, but she also saw that HHI had the ability to become a company that produces highly manufactured product.

So, she did what it took to capture a new market. “I made it my mission to go out and find those jobs,” says Lorraine. “I had to build up credibility in the industry.”

With determination and a strong focus, Lorraine garnered some big jobs, including the shopping arcade in The Bellagio Casino (Bellagio) in Las Vegas and the Riverside Courthouse. According to Lorraine, the courthouse brought challenges in working with White Oak – maintaining tolerance with various thicknesses – and creating product with wide widths. Yet, HHI met the challenge, providing excellent results for the Riverside Courthouse, along with the Bellagio. “These are two jobs that put us on the map,” Lorraine says proudly.

The transformed HHI continues to pull in big-name clients today and the team has been busy creating products for the Los Angeles and Scottsdale Marriott, the UC-Riverside campus and the Cubs spring training camp. Recently, HHI completed miles and miles of exterior trim made from Peruvian hardwood for the Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) laboratory at the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.

“The architect had a vision of a particular species and Forest Stewardship Council [FSC] standard,” explains Lorraine, “Which we were able, and glad, to meet.”

Along with imported Peruvian hardwood, HHI uses African Mahogany, European White Oak, Jatoba, Santos Mahogany and Sapele. In addition, the team also sources various domestic woods, including American Cherry, Walnut and White Oak, Hard White Maple and Hickory. HHI’s culture embraces global humanity and environmental sustainability and ensures that exotic woods, like Cumaru and Ipe, has been harvested, processed and kiln dried within strict biodiversity guidelines.
One Step Ahead

Early on, as a manufacturer, HHI was able to edge out its competitors by making outsized crowns and moldings. “We could run moldings up to 13 inches wide and we could put them together to make a 30-inch-wide molding,” explains Lorraine. HHI separated itself from the pack then, but was nudged to make another important transition in 2001, after 9-11.

“The hospitality sector tanked,” says Lorraine. “Those molding jobs and millwork packages that I’d gone out looking for were pretty much no longer there to even bid on, let alone get awarded.” Need spurned Lorraine to find the next niche market for HHI, which she found in flooring. By moving into custom high-end flooring, HHI again transformed itself and remained viable.

HHI brings in rough lumber, dressed and kiln dried, and processes it, all in the same facility. HHI outsources finishing, but does not do installation; the company focuses on what the team does best, which is create exceptional wood product.

A decade later the hospitality industry is regaining its strength; yet, HHI is sitting pretty, having diversified. The company now alternates between flooring and architectural work. Moreover, competitors also rely on HHI’s on-site engineering processes for their manufacturing needs.

HHI employs highly skilled craftsmen with decades of experience in the industry. The team is able to turn wood into exquisite crowns, moldings, parquets flooring and decking, as well as various flooring accessories. Indeed, many of HHI’s employees have been with the company since the beginning.

“My biggest sense of pride is that I have retained original staff,” Lorraine says. “I have very little turnover. I’m proud I’ve been able to keep going and provide a living for employees that are now looking forward to retiring.” As is the way, change will be embraced, yet Lorraine says that it will be one of her biggest challenges to replace such exceptional people.

More of the Same to Come

As a material supplier for trusted subcontractors employed by general contractors, HHI takes meeting quality demands seriously. “We don’t dilute our brand,” affirms Lorraine. Consistency has been vital in keeping HHI clients happy, and it’s all about repeat cliental.

“We have a great reputation and great references,” verifies Lorraine. “Most of our work has come from word-of-mouth referrals.” Yet, in order to ensure product integrity and grow, HHI will continue to branch out. “Our new search is to take that same product and go into a different market, further upstream to the designers and the architects,” Lorraine continues.

For three decades, HHI has continually repositioned itself to stay at the forefront of its industry, and the company is poised to continue onward under the same mindset of proactive transitioning – that’s one thing that won’t change. Just as Lorraine asked what direction the company should go in nearly 22 years ago, the company’s course is regularly assessed and the future is navigated with intent: Heppner Hardwoods Inc. will purposely stay a trusted, conscientious manufacturer of high-end, high-quality hardwoods.

Published on: February 13, 2014

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