After more than a half century in business, Fletcher Wood Products, 408 Central Ave., remains a highly successful manufacturer of cabinets because of its commitment to using state-of-the-art technology and information systems to stay ahead of the competition.
That's the message of Clark Fletcher, who co-owns the company with Joseph Jackson. Fletcher said the automation of manufacturing processes and development of specialized software to manage information have been critical factors in helping the enterprise prosper.
"We are able to put out more products with less people," Fletcher said, adding that the keys to survival in a highly competitive field are having top-quality products and an aggressive commitment to improving productivity through the application of innovative manufacturing and management techniques.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fletcher Wood Products project engineer Jonah Coleman works at his four-terminal design station. Coleman developed the software that allows the company to track work all the way through the production process.
Jonah Coleman, a project engineer, who joined the Fletcher team in 2007, has played an important role in software development for the company.
"I think what Jonah has done has given us a leg up on the competition," Fletcher said,
Coleman said the resource planning software he developed for Fletcher Wood Products allows the company to track and manage all aspects of the work it undertakes more effectively.
He said until recently the degree or manufacturing automation was what distinguished highly successful companies from the also-rans. Coleman said now, however, information management tools have become critical.
"It's the thing that's been culling out companies," he said.
"It allows us to see in real time where jobs are in the manufacturing process, because our employees are tracking their time," he explained. "All employees have access to computers and are tracking their time - the work codes and tasks they are working on. Any one of us managers - at any time - can go to a particular job and see where it is in the manufacturing process, the degree of completion, the amount of labor applied to it, the amount of materials."
This software tool additionally makes it possible to provide outstanding customer service that addresses client needs quickly and efficiently.
"It's an invaluable management tool," Fletcher said. "I had a customer who came in two days ago that we did some work for two years ago. Well, the old method would be we would have to go through the physical archive of job folders, find his job folder, look up old invoices to see what color of laminate he used on his cabinets. Now in less than 30 seconds I had all that information in front of me."
The specialized software Coleman developed has gotten widespread industry attention. In January, he had an article explaining the company's approach published in the trade publication Custom Woodworking Business. In August, he will be a featured panelist at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta, Ga., a major trade show.
Fletcher Wood Products has shared Coleman's software with about 20 other companies nationwide.
"We haven't sold it, but we've allowed other companies to use it for free because we've found that we get good feedback," Coleman said. "Run down bugs, listen to their requests and ideas. ... Having the software more generalized rather than just doing what Fletcher Wood Products does helps us to keep our minds open. It makes us very flexible. If we decide to pursue a different process or strategy, we've got the infrastructure for it because it is doing it for someone else."
Fletcher said he takes pride in Coleman's work. He said it is helping Fletcher Wood Products thrive, but that is just part of the story.
"He is a young man who has been instrumental in taking the lead in our industry in developing software that meets the needs of manufacturers," Fletcher said. "He's certainly being recognized nationwide in the industry."
Meet Jonah Coleman
Coleman is a 1998 graduate of Valley High School in West Des Moines. After high school, he furthered his education at Iowa State University. He is married to Cori Kuhn Coleman, the current Webster County attorney. They have two children. Vivian is 4. Rebecca is 2.
At age 34, developing software has been a passion for Coleman for more than a quarter century.
"I started programming when I was about 6," he said.
About Fletcher Wood Products
The business was established in 1961 by William Fletcher, the father of current co-owner Clark Fletcher. It makes cabinets and countertops that are marketed commercially as well as used in residential construction and home improvement projects. Fletcher Wood Products operates out a 22,000-square-foot, two-building complex in downtown Fort Dodge, which includes a showroom. Fletcher said the market area for commercial projects is basically the Midwest. For residential clients, it is the greater Webster County area. The company has about a dozen employees.