Elkay-Medallion plant boasts upgraded facility, new production horizons

Chances are, most Culver residents drive with some regularity by the Elkay (Medallion, if you're looking at the sign) factory at the corner of West Mill Street and State Road 17, oblivious to the fact that the plant churns out some 650 cabinets -- some custom made -- each day for national vendors like Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, and Sears, employing some 260 workers. They're also one of the few plants in American which can run both traditional and frameless cabinets on the same line, at the level they do, thanks to an "extreme assembly makeover" at the factory last July.

For the above reasons and others, plant manager Rick Coffman says not only is the factory not planning to go anywhere soon...they will be stepping up production in 2013.

"Last year the company made a major investment of capital in this facility," says Coffman, "and we are on schedule to do so again this year. We will put new lighting -- T5 type -- in the plant this year, which will make things brighter and still save energy. There's a big push for 'green.' This will also help our utilities costs."

That company is Elkay -- not, as people often assume, actually Medallion anymore, though some of the cabinets at the factory carry the Medallion brand. The Illinois-based company, in business for 93 years, began in stainless steel sinks and about 20 years ago expanded into the cabinetry business. Elkay purchased a number of smaller cabinet making companies in recent years, including Minnesota-based Medallion back in 1993. Medallion proper reopened the building many Culverites best remember as McGill's or Walker-Tennaco, in 2005.

Coffman came to Elkay in Culver in Oct., 2011 from the Modern Door Corporation in Walkerton, where he was general manager.

"Ultimately," he says, "Elkay is a darn good company. They have very good values and they stand up to their values. They're American based for primarily the American market, though they are in Mexico and China, too. They're privately held and debt free in good standing."

Coffman says he was swayed to throw his name in the hat here by the advent of the frameless cabinet line which forms the basis of Home Depot's nationally-selling Innermost, whose displays are seen in Home Depots across the U.S. Each and every one is made right here in Culver.

"This product could have years of life cycle with a company as big as Home Depot," he says. "It's Home Depot and Elkay's top of the line cabinet. It's truly custom-made, but in mass scale. Other companies do custom-made products, but they're more regional. But at this mass scale capacity, it's unique for this frameless product."

The Culver facility began manufacturing cabinets about two years ago, and the line has grown exponentially, year-over-year, ever since.
The appeal of frameless cabinets, Coffman explains, is that they cause less wasted space in the kitchen. Frameless cabinets are deeper and wider.

"On the drawer box (in a frameless cabinet), because you don't have the frame to deal with, your drawer is wider for the same 15-inch base (for example), so you get more usable space for the drawer base than a traditional cabinet."

The frameless cabinets come in a variety of styles, colors, and stains that give consumers the choices they are looking for, regardless of their tastes. With the wide array of customized options for their frameless cabinets, Coffman says shoppers at Home Depot can special order to fit their needs, and they don't have to stop at cabinets proper.

"You can get panels, oven cutouts, crown molding trim; you can get bookcases, vanities for adjacent rooms -- it's really cabinetry for your entire house, not just kitchens. We have a section of the plant dedicated just to highly skilled hood range production, which can be customized. There's really a high skill set in this building. We have skilled Accessory Builders, CNC operators, sprayers -- even the cabinet assemblers are extremely important to the process, along with all employees from receiving to shipping." It takes every employee to successfully complete cabinetry made to order and get them to customers across the country, and on time.

Though the Culver plant's workforce dropped in 2007 and 2008 due largely to the housing market slump, since then things have only been growing, and Coffman says the workforce here is projected to grow this year by a minimum of 10 percent, based on forecasts.

Currently, the Elkay plant operates on one shift ("Utilities are a killer," says Coffman, in discussing whether a second shift could be added).

The Elkay building is deceptively large, at 285,000 square foot. Occupying the equivalent of multiple town blocks, one can walk through the plant from work area to work area through a seemingly endless sea of workers, parts, and machinery.

"It's a fantastic sized facility, especially for wood products," Coffman says. "it’s one of our largest facilities, so there's nowhere to go but up, cabinet wise."

The Culver facility contributes to the community through a payroll-deducted and company-matched annual giving campaign. Employees are encouraged to give back to the community through company-paid volunteering, and the company also contributes to the community in its donations to Habitat for Humanity, which receives any cabinets the plant can't ship for whatever reason.

Coffman says Elkay has been working with the Marshall County Economic Development Corporation in hopes of connecting with a door manufacturer who can provide a local partnership option.

At the Culver plant, however, the transition to edge banding -- necessary to accommodate frameless cabinets -- was a challenging one at first, though the workforce has since gotten into the groove, says Coffman.

Still, finding the more skilled labor needed to keep the operation going has at times been a challenge as well. That's one reason Coffman says plant management hopes to interface more closely with the Culver Community, as well as Plymouth, schools. And whether or not a partnership towards work force grows from that interaction, Coffman says at the very least, a trip to the Mill Street factory could be a "great study place for a math or science class."

"Ultimately for our school kids to see the life skill sets they need, even at this level, and relate that to what they're learning, is a plus. I would hope going forward with Culver High School could prepare kids more for the real world” by linking subject matter to real world application.

Of course, a great many workers at the facility don't reside in Culver proper, and while offering employment opportunities to a tri-county coverage area made up part of the economic incentive package which first brought Medallion here, Coffman would like to see more housing, and even dining options to help localize the economics of the workforce more in Culver (a topic which will be explored in more depth in an examination of the Culver housing market in the next Culver Citizen).

"We may not be the highest paying (employer in the area), but we're up there," Coffman points out, "and as companies go, to me we have good benefits. We offer full time and part time jobs, on one shift, a nice facility, multiple job types, with the ability of employees to develop and grow, and be part of great company and American Manufacturing right here in Culver Indiana.”

"We’re a very stable company, financially sound, and we're launching new products to new customers. We have a path to continue to grow substantially.”

"So this place could be here for years and years to come," he adds.

"One of Elkay's values is 'We are in Business Forever.' I say, 'We are in Culver forever!' Whether any of us are here in one week, or one year, or ten years the community will always need jobs. There are still a lot of manufacturing jobs in this country. Until I came here, I didn't really understand what this place was about. But to me, this is a gold nugget in the community, the county, and the state," that we all can be proud of.