Reeb Millwork

After a fire destroyed the company’s Connecticut property in the mid 1930’s, Reeb relocated to Bethlehem, Pa. The company continued its operation until it was sold in 1963 to Whittier Ruhle. In 1979, it was purchased by the Ruhle and Kerr families.

The two families brought new ideas on how to run a distribution company, such as “You can’t sell from an empty wagon” and the belief that the company needed heavier inventories than their competitors. They believed that the company could compete with the “big guys” if they always carried enough inventory to ship every order complete. Because of this stance on having an extremely strong inventory, it didn’t take long for their reputation to spread and bring in new customers.

Because of this stance on having an extremely strong inventory, it didn’t take long for their reputation to spread and bring in new customers.

Based on customer needs, Reeb has focused on four vital areas of service: furnish top-quality products, maintain impressive levels of inventory, offer professional sales support and develop custom industry-specific training. One of the areas that has distinguished Reeb from other distributors is their commitment to huge inventories. The company stocks many items that are typically regarded as specialty items by their competitors and not stocked. Today Reeb Millwork employs 340 at its Bethlehem facility and is one of the leading building materials distributors on the east coast. Headquartered in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Reeb Millwork has grown with the addition of facilities in Syracuse, New York, Seattle, Washington, Barclay, Maryland and Lincoln, Rhode Island.


With the downturn in the housing economy and increased foreign competition, Reeb has been under pressure to improve quality and delivery. An assessment of the current state of the company conducted at the company headquarters in Bethlehem, PA identified three opportunities: to establish a formal continuous improvement program with specific plans and goals, to establish a steering committee to manage the implementation and to establish and train improvement teams in continuous improvement.

The Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC), the territory MEP for Bethlehem, directed the corporate trainer to Central New York Technology Development Organization (CNYTDO) for assistance with lean implementation at the Liverpool, New York location. The CNYTDO, a NIST MEP affiliate, was approached by Reeb Millwork to facilitate a lean implementation that would be consistent for several company locations across the country via the MEP network.

Further discussion of the needs and challenges of Reeb revealed a fit for the use of Training Within Industry (TWI) to enhance the work already in progress. The decision to implement TWI across the company required resources from several MEP centers-Pennsylvania (NEPIRC and MRC), New York (CNYTDO), Minnesota (Enterprise Minnesota) for Train-the-Trainer through the TWI Institute, a DBA of CNYTDO. The collaboration between centers has proven to be a strong support network in assisting Reeb in gaining a competitive advantage.


The company contacted the MRC to provide Lean training for operators and support staff. The explicit goal was to improve productivity, quality, cost, delivery time, safety, environment and morale. The deeper goal was to improve team member capability by strengthening their skills, teamwork, and communications while improving cost competitiveness. A full lean implementation was proposed and accepted to address the vision alignment, quality, lead time and set up issues. 1) Value Stream Mapping was conducted to assist with the understanding of workflow through all departments. 2) Potential cells have been identified, teams have been formed and 5S/Visual Control kaizen events have been held in several areas.

Supervisory skills for handling and training direct reports are being upgraded through TWI so that supervisors are now able to effectively train their personnel resulting in reduced quality issues, increased productivity and reduced training time for an operator to get up to production levels. The success of Reeb Millwork is through their people. While several technologies (WMS, 2g, Woodware, etc.) are important tools, Reeb is also focusing on the human efforts and the human decisions that make a difference for their customers.

There is no greater value to customers than making it easy to do business with the company. Therefore; being fast is very good. But being fast means doing things right – always, doing this with market acceptable quality, doing things with continued improvement. Lean is a method to accomplish these goals. Co-worker involvement is the heart of the lean environment. Lean thinking will dramatically boost productivity, while sharply reducing errors, accidents, space requirements, time-to-market and cost.

A deeper goal is to improve team member capability. By strengthening the people, the company will improve their prospects for long-term success. Reeb has also committed to using 5S as part of their Lean implementation and as a way to make jobs easier, reduce stress, increase efficiency and make the workplace safer. Applying 5S and Lean to all areas of their business is another way for Reeb to add value that is critical to their customers’ business. Lean is a people process – Reeb has to be a people involved business.


The company-wide, team members are deeply committed to the lean concepts and continued implementation efforts throughout all operations. The company has retained sales in the amount of $150,000 they would have lost without doing the work. They increased their workforce investment by over $50,000 and avoided some cost totaling over $48,000. Also, productivity improved 12 percent.

Utilizing 100 percent in process inspection, the company is and will continue to build the reputation of a high quality wholesale distributor of construction products. Cross functional teams have been established improving communication leading to a better flow of information and material relieving strain and reducing variation at each work station. Utilizing Job Instructions, the company has improved their ability to adhere to and meet customer specs as well as cross training their work force to meet the demand of the market place.

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