Highwood USA was founded in 2003 and is headquartered in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, PA and is an industry-leading manufacturer of high-quality synthetic wood products, used for applications from spa and hot tub construction to decking, fencing, window frames, door frames and furniture.
“MRC has been a tremendous asset to this business. When I need assistance or guidance, MRC is the first place I turn. They are the first people I call when I need something. They just do a better job than most organizations. MRC does a lot of the same things as other groups, but they do them 10 times better. – John Quarmley, General Manager, Highwood USA
“When we first saw the technology, we realized it was the nicest-looking synthetic wood available in the marketplace, and we knew it would do well in the U.S.,” President and CEO John Quarmley said. “We initially began importing and distributing the product for applications in amusement parks – benches, trash cans, towel bins – in very high-traffic commercial applications, and the product performed quite well. We also entered the spa/hot tub market in 2003 with a few select customers, but we quickly exceeded the capacity of the plant in Europe and had to build an operation here.
“We started manufacturing in Pennsylvania in 2004, and expanded our capacity and our product line and our range of applications each year since then.”
Highwood products are sold through a number of authorized distributors – including Amazon.com, Brookstone, Sears and Walmart – and direct-to-consumer on the company’s website.
Highwood’s commitment to customer service and unparalleled product quality has long helped it enjoy robust revenue streams. But like any engaged, progressive business owner, Quarmley identified a number of areas in which the company could improve.
Various sustainability projects presented Highwood with tremendous opportunities to reduce costs – and in some cases, even create fresh income potential. And leadership training was necessary for the company to truly tap the executive resources at its disposal.
The Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC), a nonprofit organization partially funded by the NIST-MEP program and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development, had the access, expertise and scope to help Highwood with both initiatives.
After extensive consultation and discovery, MRC’s team of manufacturing experts identified a number of ways Highwood could turn its commitment to environmental responsibility into sustainable business solutions.
The first was a solar power system at the company’s Tamaqua plant – 430 state-of-the-art solar panels generating 100 kW of electricity. MRC assisted Highwood in finding a contractor and funding the project, which began in 2010.
MRC also deployed for Highwood its GreenT program, dedicated to helping manufacturers reduce their carbon footprint while increasing revenue. Major initiatives under the program included a complete revamping of Highwood’s lighting system (with energy efficient bulbs and occupancy sensor switches) and a major push toward becoming a zero landfill plant.
Meanwhile, Quarmley and other Highwood managers turned to MRC for a variety of training programs, including courses in lean manufacturing principles.
MRC also helped Highwood obtain a grant from the MidAtlantic Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (MATAAC) to level the playing field against cheap overseas competition.
Assistance from MRC has consistently proved fruitful for Highwood.
- The solar panel array has cut electricity costs significantly. Just 1½ years after deployment, it is meeting 20 percent of the Tamaqua plant’s energy needs, and has proved to be a boon for the company’s “green” marketing efforts.
- Likewise, MRC’s GreenT program has had numerous positive benefits. The installation of modern, energy-efficient light bulbs plant-wide resulted in a 52 percent reduction in lighting costs, while resulting in decreased insurance rates – and brighter working conditions. Occupancy sensor switches, which automatically dim unoccupied areas after a set period of time, have also resulted in utility savings.
- GreenT has also helped Highwood in its push toward becoming a zero landfill plant. Since completion of the program, the company has cut landfill tonnage 70 percent, and plans another 50 percent reduction in 2013. Beyond their environmental impacts, the reduction in trash has had real bottom-line effects. Dumpster pickups are down from three to one per week, resulting in $6,000 in annual savings. Waste materials that were once simply thrown out are now sold into the recycling stream, resulting in more than $50,000 per year in new revenue.
- Highwood has used matching MATAAC funding obtained by MRC to complete 12 projects, each of which has helped it become more competitive globally.
- But where MRC really shines, Quarmley said, is in its training programs.
- “We’ve done training with a lot of other organizations in the state,” the Highwood President and CEO said. “We’ve done training with for-profits, consultants and even sent managers to other states for specialized training. Compared to all that, MRC provides some of the highest-quality training there is. In our evaluations, MRC always gets high scores, and they really add a lot of value for us.”
- Quarmley, for instance, recently attended a two-day lean manufacturing course at MRC, which he found “remarkably valuable.” The biggest takeaway for the Highwood executive was the creation of a one-page annual business plan, allowing him to distill what was once a 20-page booklet into a short, easily digestible document.