Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. Inc., located in Wausau, Wis., manufactures custom wooden windows and doors, such as the Austin, TX, the Heritage Series, pictured. This design features an inswing entrance door. Ponderosa Pine is the most preferred species used in Kolbe’s products.
KOLBE & KOLBE Grows Share Of High-End Market
By Kathleen Brooks
Wausau, Wis.–Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. Inc. has come a long way from its origins in 1946, when brothers Herb and Ervin Kolbe set up a table saw in their mother’s wash house and began repairing window screens and building door frames and windows.
Over the years, the Kolbes bought the assets of a large sash and door manufacturer, began selling wooden doublehung doors and slider windows, then added aluminum-clad windows and moved into the vinyl window and door business. Most recently, Kolbe & Kolbe acquired Point Five Windows Inc., a manufacturer of custom wooden windows and doors, to grow its share of the high-end market.
“Our growth was enhanced after Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork began manufacturing its own window and door products,” said Donald Huehnerfuss, Vice President, Technical Services. “The business has continued to grow by market expansion and new product introductions.”
Kolbe’s Woodsy Bay Heritage Series features a wood exterior.
Kolbe & Kolbe’s products are made from Pine, Knotty Pine, alder and Fir, with Ponderosa Pine being the species used most often. “Ponderosa Pine is plentiful, easy to machine and aesthetically pleasing,” explained Lance Premeau, Product Manager. “It’s a good value for the buy.” Alder, mahogany, oak, cherry, maple, walnut and birch are also offered by the firm.
Wood is a wonderful choice for windows because it is beautiful, an excellent insulator and a naturally renewable resource. “It is a natural canvas to the designer in you because it allows so many finish options,” Huehnerfuss said.
The privately held company purchases select and better grades of hardwoods, and shop and moulding grades of softwoods. It buys over 4 million board feet of lumber annually from sawmills, distributors and wholesalers. The most popular thicknesses purchased are 5/4 and 6/4.
Kolbe & Kolbe has approximately 40,000 square feet of space to house its lumber, though its average inventory fluctuates weekly. The company’s main facility in Wausau encompasses more than 1 million square feet, while its vinyl division in Manawa, WI has approximately 43,000 square feet of space.About 1,500 people are employed between the two plants.
“Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork is a strong, family-oriented company,” Huehnerfuss said. “The owners realize and appreciate the value of the company’s most important asset – its employees.”
The Phelps, Wis., Heritage Series, manufactured by Kolbe, is another company hit with customers.
Sixty-two years after its founding, Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork remains a family-run business. Ervin Kolbe died in 2000 and after Herb followed in 2002, his daughter Judy Gorski became Chief Executive Officer. Its president is Mike Salsieder, who was named in 2006 as one of Door & Window Manufacturer’s “People to Watch.”
“The people who work here really care about some person who is building a home in Chicago or Atlanta, that they’re getting a really good product,” Salsieder told Door & Window Manufacturer.
Of particular note among Kolbe & Kolbe’s numerous product lines is its KForce ™ Impact doors and windows, which are built to withstand hurricane force winds by meeting – or exceeding – the strict building codes in coastal regions. These products use glass that is designed to stay intact if broken. The K-Force™ Impact windows are available in wood, aluminum clad and vinyl.
Kolbe’s The Lodge, of the Ultra Series, includes a half-circle design over the entryway while the Cherry door is of French-style design with raised panels.
Since 2005, the company has used Lean Management principles – popularized by Toyota Motor Co. – to identify and eliminate waste, improve efficiencies and add overall value. “In Lean, one of the basic tenets is having what you need when you need it,” Premeau said. “We’ve saved over 100,000 square feet of space by condensing products and departments so that things are closer to the employees.”
Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork also has implemented approximately 660 safety improvements, resulting in fewer worker injuries and, thus, fewer worker-compensation claims against the company. “That is pretty impressive,” Premeau said.
Good equipment is important to the company, “but it must be part of a more comprehensive continuous improvement process to be successful,” he said. Kolbe & Kolbe uses equipment manufactured by Ultimizers, Mereen-Johnson and COE Newnes/McGehee.
Kolbe & Kolbe does not use dry kilns. “However, we continuously monitor moisture content to ensure that our lumber is always at the optimum percentage,” Premeau said. “Most of our lumber comes in at the correct moisture content, but if any drying needs to be done, it is air dried.”
Rising energy prices and concern about the possibility of global warming have prompted many manufacturers to adopt “green” practices. While Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork does not use a recovery system, it does sell sawdust and other wood scraps to American Wood Fibers, which turns them into various products.
The company belongs to the National Window and Door Manufacturers Association and the Fenestration Manufacturers Association. It introduces new products several times a year, exhibiting at the International Builders’ Show, Pacific Coast Builders Conference, Southeast Builders Conference, Greenbuild International Conference and Expo and the American Institutes of Architects show.
To learn more about Kolbe’s windows and doors, please call 800-955- 8177 or visit www.kolbe-kolbe.com.
Double sliders are features of the Kolbe Deer Country Heritage Series.