You could say furniture is in Bill and Larry Mathis’s blood. You could also call them the Mathis Brothers, but they would dispute that. “So many people think we are the Mathis Brothers, but we are not the original Mathis Brothers,” Larry said in a 2006 interview with NewsOk. In fact, the first Mathis brothers were their father, Don, and their uncle, Bud, who started the family business in 1960 in Oklahoma City. Just seven years later, in 1967, Don Mathis bought his brother’s portion of the company. Then in 1988 Don bequeathed the furniture behemoth to his sons, Larry and Bill. The brothers became the owners and operators of 410,000 square feet of warehouse in Oklahoma City. Fast forward 27 years and the brothers have expanded their great empire beyond Oklahoma City to Tulsa, Oklahoma; Indio, California; and Ontario, California and have attained an impressive spot on Furniture today’s top 100 retailers list at number 21.
A sprawling warehouse and a decades-old furniture business might be a daunting endowment for most, but not for Bill and Larry Mathis. A local newspaper asked the brothers when it was that they started working at the family furniture store. “ I don’t recollect not coming to the business,” Bill replied. As boys they spent their weekends and summers at the store mowing the grass, operating soda machines and cleaning the trash cans– mundane tasks that were perhaps made up for by the budding of their media careers. Bill became the star of the furniture commercials at the age of 14, shortly followed by Larry, and the two brothers were the face of Mathis Brothers for decades. Only recently have they stepped down in favor of younger spokespeople – their own children.
“When our car turns in the parking lot, crosses that asphalt, we look around: it seems like home,” Larry said of coming in to work. Mathis Brothers really is the quintessential family business. When the family enterprise needed to expand its Tulsa warehouse, another family company stepped up to the plate. Interlake Mecalux would go on to help Mathis Brothers expand their showroom, revamp their warehouse and revitalize their distribution processes in Tulsa.
Ironing Out the Details
An expansion project for any business is good news, and it certainly was for Mathis Brothers. The company had spread into Tulsa from Oklahoma City in 1993, and in the spring of 2012, they were itching to expand their showroom. Expanding the showroom also meant expanding the warehouse to house more pieces for the showroom. But as Mathis Brothers general manager of retail sales, Brad Woessner, pointed out, the furniture company quickly realized they had to change their plan.
“The original thought process of the expansion was to have enough warehouse capacity to service the additional showroom space. Then as we began adding more stores we adjusted the showroom [size] and expanded the racking capacity.”
Though the showroom had started out as the top priority for Mathis Brothers, warehouse storage soon caught up. As more and more Mathis stores popped up in the Tulsa area, the warehouse, which serves as a distribution center for all of the Tulsa stores, saw rapidly increasing demands. The result is a 100,000-square-foot expansion, which includes 60,000 square feet for the warehouse and 40,000 as part of the showroom addition – the rest of the showroom space coming from the original facility. “ The Mathis showroom will have the largest selection of furniture in the state of Oklahoma,” said Woessner. “ It will range from high-end to moderately priced furniture.” Overall, the project literally doubles Mathis Brothers’ storage capabilities, establishes a showroom unparalleled in the furniture business and sets the tone for a bright future.
Among these other goals was the need to improve and upgrade their existing rack to better fit their new needs. Russell Industries, the distributor, and Southern Material Handling Company, the supplier, knew exactly what Mathis Brothers needed. Interlake Mecalux Selective Pallet Rack was the clear choice.
When asked why Interlake Mecalux rack was recommended for the installation, Greg Young, managing partner of Russell Industries, laughed and replied simply, “Because we like [Interlake Mecalux]!” Enough said.
As for why Selective was the best way to go? “ The benefit of [Selective] rack is the unlimited options you have in storing merchandise,” Woessner explained. “ It gives you flexibility to adjust as furniture styles evolve.” Not only that, but Selective aptly provides greater selectivity than a lot of rack systems. And since Mathis Brothers stores all different models, shapes and sizes of furniture, as opposed to storing much of the same item, being able to access each particular piece is extremely important.
Interlake Mecalux Selective rack was also chosen because Mathis Brothers was hoping to reduce damage done to the furniture. Furniture damage is likely the largest thorn in the side of furniture makers, retailers, and distributors. Furniture is bulky, heavy, awkward, and not easy to ship by any means.
At times it seems there are endless opportunities for damage, which means there are just as many opportunities for dissatisfied customers. In fact, in a 2011 review by the U.S. Better Business Bureau (BBB), retail furniture ranked 9th for most customer complaints. Of the more than 13,000 complaints filed against furniture retailers that year, it is estimated that 20 percent were over broken or damaged furniture. Selective, with its many uprights and high load capacities, is a structural colossus, and can play a part in protecting against this damage. “ They felt more comfortable going with this,” Young commented regarding the choice of IKMX Selective rack.
For extra support, Russell Industries also provided particle board. The wooden slabs nestle in between the beams, providing “a smooth surface to slide multiple furniture products back and forth,” said Young. Between this and the IKMX Selective rack, Mathis Brothers’ furniture isn’t going anywhere – except to customers.
A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That
As for fitting the new warehouse with rack, Mathis Brothers “pretty much knew what they wanted,” said Terry Milan, allied sales manager at Southern Material Handling.“ They had 100,000 square feet of warehouse and they knew how much they wanted to fill with rack.” The job of Southern Material Handling and Russell Industries, then, was to figure out how to maximize that space with rack.
Designing pallet rack for furniture is unlike designing pallet rack for standard, palletized goods. All the various dimensions, weights and heights that come with furniture have to be assessed and rack organized to suit all of these disparities. Mathis Brothers stores a wide variety of products — from boxed goods to upholstery to mattresses. “ Depending on which one they’re [storing], the depth of the shelf and the height of the shelf is different,” noted Milan.
The racking, then, is as diverse as the stored products. The installation features some back-to-back, some double deep and beam lengths ranging from 84 in. to 144 in. And all of this is mingled together. From one row to the next, the rack can have vastly different dimensions.
Making It Work
Pick the rack: check. Design the rack: check. Install the rack: pending. The collaboration met its first hurdle when the shipment of rack arrived on time, but the construction of the new warehouse was behind schedule. What do you do when you have 160 tons of homeless steel rack and nowhere to put it? “ It has been interesting,” laughed Tim Crow, Mathis Brothers’ Tulsa warehouse manager.
Young blamed weather for the building delays and explained how they overcame the inconvenience that was beyond their control. “We had to store some of the rack outside. We had to cover it, and of course we had to move it a couple times before we could start moving the rack in [the facility].” Ramps were built to off-load freight so that it would avoid construction. The whole crew worked together to minimize the problem.“ [We were] just working with the general contractor on a daily basis to stay out of their way and [for them to] stay out of our way,” said Young. While managing this obstacle, the team had countless other duties to stay on top of, some of which were unforeseeable. Not the least of which was assuring that the sprinklers and lighting would align with the rack once it was in place.
“Well, the first thing is that the feed lines for the sprinkler system had to line up with the flues of our back-to-back racking,” said Milan. “ And they were wanting to have the feed lines installed prior to the racking. We just had to get them lined up on where the rack was going to be so they could put the lights and sprinklers in the right place.”
On top of installing the new Interlake Mecalux Selective Pallet rack, the company was moving some cantilever rack from their old warehouse into the new one. Navigating the sprinkler systems with this rack proved to be a bit more complicated than originally thought. “ The sprinklers had to be removed from the cantilever in the old warehouse so they could move that in the new warehouse. When we put the cantilever in the new warehouse, they had to put the sprinkler system back in the cantilever rack,” Milan said. “We had to switch back and forth between different areas of the warehouse, and sometimes we had to work at night”, Young added. It was a process that required, as Young put it very bluntly, “lots of communication.” “And [Mathis] needed to be able to pick orders and receive merchandise all through this,” Milan pointed out. “It involved daily working together not to disrupt the process.” Which, all in all, they did successfully. “Mathis was great to work with,” said Milan.
Once all the construction was completed, it was time for the rack to make its way into the new facility to be installed. “ There were a couple of changes in the layout as we started putting the rack up, that Mathis Brothers requested, and we accommodated,” noted Milan. They were what he called “configuration” changes. Having reviewed the different types of furniture they were going to be storing in the facility, and adjusting to the ever-changing and improving business climate, Mathis determined that they needed more of a specific type of rack than they had originally planned. “ There were some rows that were double back-to-back and they changed a couple of those and added another aisle.”
Luckily the alterations did not affect the materials list, but simply the layout of the rack. “ It was a head-scratcher,” recalled Milan later, “but we were able to do that.” The project is ultimately a testament to what organization, teamwork and the country’s top provider of steel pallet rack can accomplish. Interlake Mecalux, Southern Material Handling, Russell Industries and Mathis Brothers came together to revolutionize the furniture icon’s distribution processes and to optimize and maximize its potential. “It’s a big project,” Young mused, indicating that there are bound to be hiccups and obstacles. It’s really all about how you face them as they arrive, and if you are able to work as a team. “We had weekly meetings where we had amazing support from Interlake Mecalux and Southern Material,” recalled Woessner. “ If we had a question or concern they were on premises or here in minutes.”
Upon wrapping up this project, Crow reflected on the future for Mathis Brothers. “We’re expanding as much as we can, as much as the economy allows us,” he remarked. And the economy seems to be accommodating them. An expansion of the Oklahoma City warehouse is already in the works. The parties will reunite for a project three times the size of the Tulsa expansion, featuring all IKMX Selective Rack. Interlake Mecalux rack has “improved [our processes] tremendously,” Crow said, so they will keep this next project in the family.
“We make decisions based on [the question], ‘How would the best furniture store do it?’” said Woessner. In terms of storage and expansion, that means partnering with Interlake Mecalux.
Products used in this project
|Type of rack:||Bolted Selective Pallet rack|
|Installation height:||36 ft.|
|Number of beam levels:||up to 9|
|Storage area:||100,000 sq. ft.|
|Max beam capacity:||9,370 lbs.|
|Storage capacity:||55,000 items|
|Layout:||combination of 2-deep and back-to-back|