South Shore, Ky.—On a hot day in June, 2003, Erin Graf stared in disbelief at the flat, nearly barren 10-acre property that her husband, David, purchased with his brother, Greg.
As she gazed at the property’s singular building—a 40,000-square-foot brick warehouse amid a sea of weeds that stood six feet tall—tears fell from her eyes and she quietly asked, “You didn’t buy this, did you?”
Just six months earlier, both men had embarked on a new business venture together, foregoing the secure positions they held within a family-owned business.
Graf Brothers started up at a very rapid rate. The first week in business, they contracted a flooring plant to make 8,000 feet
Graf Brothers Flooring maintains log inventory at 2.5 million board feet; lumber inventory at 5 million feet and finished flooring inventory at 750,000 square feet.
per day of plank flooring. Graf Brothers started out buying 15 trailer loads of kiln dried lumber each week. The second week started with purchasing 10 Nardi kilns (900,000 ft.) and a 35,000-foot steamer from Better Built Dry Kiln Co. Larry Randall had worked with Greg and Dave since 1978. Week three, Greg started moving dirt on a 100-acre plot they jointly owned in McDermott, Ohio. Dave started purchasing logs from local producers. On week four, they contracted two sawmills that had worked for them previously. The two companies—Brown Bros. Lumber of Otway, Ohio, and Redoutey Lumber of Henley, Ohio—started week six by sawing exclusively for Graf Brothers. By week seven, Graf Brothers Flooring had 45,000 feet of green lumber production per day. On week eight, four dry kiln companies were contracted to dry the green lumber. After 14 weeks in business, Graf Brothers was supplying their own kiln-dried lumber for their flooring.
But, as fast as they were proceeding, the spring rains stopped the earth moving at their future site, which forced the brothers to consider other options. That’s when they located and purchased an abandoned brick company site in South Shore, Ky., that went out of business 15 years previously.
By the end of the first 12 months, Graf Brothers Flooring was producing approximately 1,500,000 feet of kiln dried lu
Logs are loaded onto a debarker at the South Shore location. Graf Brothers’ production totals 125,000 feet per day. The firm added a new 5-acre log yard last summer that accommodates 3 million board feet of logs under water cannons.
mber per month. By the 16th month, they completed their first computerized rip line for flooring planks. At that time, they contracted with Appalachian Wood Floors (AWF), which is owned by Jim, their brother, to make their floors. Today, AWF operates from a 140,000-square-foot building, complete with a 5,000-square-foot showroom. AWF, with its four Weinig moulders that produce from 3-inches to 12-inches, is the sole manufacturer of 35,000-square-feet of specialty plank flooring each day.
The ongoing construction efforts continued through 2004 as Graf Brothers completed its first 20,000-square-foot shipping warehouse and 15,000-square-foot lumber warehouse.
By the fall of 2004, Graf Brothers had grown so much that it occupied all of its 10-acre property in South Shore. So the brothers acquired 60 more acres adjacent to their property and, in addition to establishing new log yards and lumber yards, they also built a sawmill. The sawmill features four individual band mills, including a Corley tilt band mill with Corley line bar resaw. With the latest operation, production now stands at 125,000 feet per day. They also added
Prime rift White Oak moulder blanks are stacked and ready for transport at Graf Brothers.
a new 5-acre log yard last summer that accommodates 3 million board feet of logs under water cannons.
David noted that with the addition of that mill, the company’s production is 50 percent for the flooring and 50 percent for lumber sales. “Our main focus continues to be in the distribution,” he said.
The Grafs’ invested in equipment and machinery that is specifically geared to enhance overall production. For example, the firm added a second computerized rip line to power a 36-inch gang rip saw in 2006. Manufactured by Eagle, the second rip line enabled Graf Brothers to process a total of 60,000 board feet of lumber in only nine hours, which translates into 35,000 to 40,000 feet of finished flooring daily.
David noted, “With the completion of our latest band mill, Graf Brothers is in the unique position of being the world’s largest manufacturer of rift and quarter sawn Oak. As we increased our flooring production from 15,000 to 35,000 feet, we simultaneously began producing extra lumber as we were increasing the quality of our log. At that time in 2004, we shipped out one to two trailer loads per week. We painted the board ends ourselves and put our logo on the side, and sent them off. We now ship between 40 and 50 trailer loads of lumber per month, mostly qu
Graf Brothers’ lumber inventory is housed at four different warehouses on the West Coast. Graf Brothers’ flooring is shipped to distributors in Europe, Japan and Asia, as well as 260 flooring distributors in North America.
Graf Brothers Flooring maintains its log inventory at 2.5 million board feet; its lumber inventory at 5 million feet and finished flooring inventory at 750,000 square feet. The company has expanded to five locations, including the main South Shore location; the flooring plant in Portsmouth, Ohio; two satellite log yards and a sales office in Belgium.
In all the operations, Graf Brothers employs approximately 250 people, after starting the company with just seven people. Apparently, David and Greg Graf have taken seriously the motto that flags their company’s website (grafbrothersflooring.com), which states: “Dreams Become Reality.”
“As a company, we do a lot of things that aren’t normally expected or done,” David said. “Our approach is working for us, though, and we’ve been fortunate that our customers are recognizing the special work we do at Graf Brothers.”
The Grafs refer to themselves as “the men who manufactured, marketed and perfected the Old World charm
Hardwood accents produced by Graf Brothers Flooring warm this living room during the chilly holiday season. Even the pet Jack Russell Terrier appears to admire the beauty of the wood.
of rift and quarter sawn products.” They started the quarter sawing in 1978, which has been dead since the turn of the century. Specifically, Graf Brothers handles mostly White Oak, Walnut, and to a lesser degree, Red Oak and Cherry.
Yet their trademark product is what David calls “the Monster Boards.” These boards range in width from 12 to 28 inches wide. Greg oversees all the lumber drying in order to personally guarantee the flattest of the boards. Graf Brothers also produces a “Monster” quarter sawn Oak board that is available in 9-to-20 inches and wider, which is unheard of in the industry.
David credits the expertise of the people who work at Graf Brothers for the swift respect the company has earned in three-and-one-half short years, not only domestically, but also internationally. Graf Brothers maintains lumber inventory at four different warehouses on the West Coast. Graf Brothers’ flooring is shipped to distributors in Europe, Japan and Asia, as well as 260 flooring distributors in North America.
Graf Brothers enhanced its manufacturing ability by increasing its kiln capacity to 1.25 million board feet per charge last June after installing four more dry kilns.
David noted that future expansion plans are already in place. “We’ll be adding a 2-million-foot pre-dryer this year and more T-sheds, where we can air dry the lumber and continue to process the Monster Boards, along with the wide quartered White Oak,” he said.
Graf Brothers Flooring has also specialized in steamed Walnut, with emphasis on 8-inch to 14-inch widt
Graf Brothers specializes in high quality White Oak and Walnut for their lumber and flooring.
Not only does the firm continue to invest in the physical attributes of the operation, Graf Brothers also invests in developing and retaining highly knowledgeable employees.
David explained, “A point of uniqueness for Graf Brothers is that we have people on staff who promote the product to architects and other specifiers, so they understand that they can incorporate quarter sawn wide and long flooring into their products. Basically, our goal is to continually educate our customers, who educate their own customers that there are products available that enable them to literally ‘outdo the Jones’.’ We have those products at Graf Brothers.”
Although the Graf Brothers name is new in the industry, they have been recognized as innovators in the industry.
New product lines are already in the planning and experimental stages. As David and Greg stated, “The sky is the limit.”
Graf Brothers Flooring installed a 35,000-foot steamer from Better Built Dry Kiln Co., located in Villa Hills. Ky.