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Hearth Retailer Profile

Forshaw Expands Its Custom-mantel Business

Forshaw has always been obsessed with offering the best: the best craftsmanship, style, and service. Its custom mantels, constructed of distinctive woods and classic stone, have adorned fireplaces in homes across the United States for nearly 100 years. In December 2008, the St. Louis-based company rounded out its line of custom products with the purchase of Readybuilt Mantel Company, Baltimore, and has increased its focus on quality and service.

Forshaw was founded in St. Louis in 1871 by Joseph Forshaw, a cabinetmaker from England. He started by making wooden molds for the sand castings used to make coal-stove parts. He eventually began casting his own parts, becoming the largest supplier of coal-stove repair parts in the region. His son, Joseph Forshaw Jr., expanded the business to include fireplaces and fireplace fixtures.

In the early 1960s, Joseph Forshaw III and his partner and brother-in-law, L.F. DuBois, moved the business to Frontenac (a suburb of St. Louis), added patio furniture and barbecue equipment, and entered the wholesale trade, selling to dealers and builders. Today, Rick and Joe Forshaw, as the fourth generation, have established a nationwide network of dealers for chase-top flashing and custom fireplace mantels.

Philip Chamberlain, national sales manager for Forshaw, explains that the company’s custom-mantel division is thriving, despite the housing downturn, because homeowners are choosing to do room renovations and replace mantels. He says that today’s consumers are interested in unique mantels because they’re exposed to so many styles on television and in consumer home magazines.

“This newfound interest is good for us,” Chamberlain says. “We have the ability to design any size, style, or type of mantel. If customers have their hearts set on something they saw in a magazine, or want to recreate the look of a classic mantel for a historic home renovation, we can do it.” The company’s 67,000–square-foot manufacturing plant in St. Louis makes over 50 trims and 130 different appliqués and ornaments.

“We handcraft all of our wood mantels and run all of our own trim, so customers can mix and match to create what they want,” Chamberlain says. Forshaw’s mantels are constructed of solid wood, ranging from poplar, oak, maple, and cherry to rich mahogany and walnut. The company, 12 years ago, was the first manufacturer in the hearth industry to introduce precast-stone mantels, Chamberlain adds.

This year, it has expanded its precast line with the addition of beige as a color offering. All of Forshaw’s custom mantels are delivered fully assembled to customers’ homes within 7 to 15 working days—a lead time that is almost unheard of among its competitors.

Forshaw’s purchase of Readybuilt Mantel Company has brought with it a whole new customer base, and it gives Forshaw’s current customers even more choices for customization. Readybuilt’s intricately crafted mantels fill a specific niche in the marketplace.

“If someone is rehabbing a brownstone in Boston and wants the original millwork, Readybuilt’s millwork retailers can recreate the mantel exactly,” Chamberlain says. “These are not cookie-cutter mantels. You can definitely see the difference, when it comes to detail and quality.” Readybuilt’s owner originally approached Forshaw about buying the operation because he knew that it had the ability to maintain the company’s high level of quality.

Since the purchase, Forshaw has moved the entire Readybuilt operation from Baltimore to its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in St. Louis. “The purchase has been a great deal for us, in the sense that it will allow us to go into markets where Readybuilt is strong and expand the Forshaw line. It will also allow us to grow the specialty millwork business that Readybuilt has always been known for,” Chamberlain says.

Forshaw continues to look not only for ways to broaden its offerings, but to improve its service as well. Over the past few years, the company has worked to fine-tune its packaging, shorten lead times, and automate its ordering and shipping processes. “Our dealers have the flexibility to go to our Web site to calculate the exact size, dimension, and configuration of a mantel for a customer and then place the order immediately,” Chamberlain says.

As for the future, Chamberlain has no doubt that the company will adapt to the changing trends in the industry, as it always has. “Some companies come and go, but we plan on being around another 138 years, offering quality products in the industry,” he says.

For more information, call (800) 367-7429 or visit www.forshaws.com.

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