Janesville plant opens doors for Lowe's

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Jim Leute
Monday, September 23, 2013

JANESVILLE—For some local shoppers, it's strangely ironic that they have to drive to Delavan to get a door or cabinet that was manufactured in Janesville.

But that's the case for local fans of Lowe's, the massive home improvement retailer that operates more than 1,800 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Lowe's does not have a retail store in Janesville, but it does operate a manufacturing plant here that stocks about 200 Lowe's stores from Nebraska to Ohio and northern Michigan to southern Missouri.

Lowe's started production in Janesville in 2004 at a 210,000-square-foot plant on Venture Drive on the city's south side.

Initially, the plant built about 300,000 exterior and interior doors a year, said Mike Clark, who has been the plant manager in Janesville for the last six years.

This year, Lowe's will produce more than 600,000 units.

Since opening, the plant has improved its quality and efficiencies to the point that it picked up cabinet production a couple of years ago, Clark said.

“We found that we can build the cabinets with better quality,” he said.

The plant's 115 or so employees have formed a team committed to providing competitively priced, quality products on a timely basis, whether they're stock kitchen cabinets or custom doors, he said.

All jobs at Lowe's are full time, and turnover is traditionally in the single digits, Clark said.

“We offer very competitive pay,” he said. “We watch the market closely and pay a little more.”

Clark said the addition of the cabinet line required a capital investment of more than $1 million and resulted in about 30 additional employees.

The Janesville plant is one of three millwork facilities Lowe's operates. A plant in North Carolina serves the East Coast, while another in Tennessee takes care of the south. Other vendors handle the rest of the country.

Despite the economic downturn and housing crisis, the Janesville plant has continued production with relatively little interruption, Clark said

Production of exterior doors is busiest from spring through late summer, while demand for interior doors grows in the winter months. The peak season for cabinet orders is late fall, near Thanksgiving, he said.

“Everybody here is cross trained, and we're able to shift people around to meet demand,” said Clark, a Madison native. “We've been fairly stable through the recession, and our employees are still averaging 39 to 41 hours a week.”

The plant operates on one shift but has the flexibility to go to two, if needed.

“Our success is due entirely to our team,” Clark said. “Whatever I put in front of them, they get it done. Our workforce is respectfully honest, passionate and gives a good day's work and always perseveres.

“They really take ownership of safety, productivity and quality.”

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