Wind Mill History
Slatwall for the retail industry was patented in 1966 by H.E. Graham of Claremont, CA, under patent #3,235,218 and entitled Article Display Board. The patent describes the invention as such: "my invention relates to display boards or panels and more particularly to and article-display board for hanging salable merchandise, household articles or other items for display or utilitarian purposes. It serves purposes similar to those of the well known aperture panel of the Peg Board type, but is a distinct improvement thereon."
It is thought that Mr. Graham gave up enforcing his patent since any cabinet shop, or store fixture manufacturer, could easily fabricate slatwall with common woodworking equipment. However, it was a very arduous and time consuming process - using table saws and jigs for gluing and stapling each "slat" onto a sheet of ¼" plywood.
In the late 70's a company called Custom Wood Interiors started a division to manufacture and market slatwall out of a small 5,000 sq. ft. facility in Tampa Florida. They got the attention of many architects and large department stores in NYC. This spin off was eventually named Spacewall™ and is owned by the Hugh Johnson Jr. (second generation owner).
Slatwall for retail display became very popular by the late 70's, with the help of Spacewall™ long after the patent expired. By the early 80's several more companies started specializing in the manufacturing of slatwall, including Wind Mill Woodworking, Inc., founded by David Zoetewey in 1980. David, is now a real estate appraiser in Sarasota, Florida. I purchased the company in 1981 and now operate under the trade name Wind Mill Slatwall Products, Inc.
The product has been marketed under a number of trade names over the years. A small list would include names like: Bracket Board, Spacewall™, Shutterwall, T-Slat™ (Wind Mill), Slotwall, Slot-Wall, Displaywall™, Spacewall™, and Slat Board. However, slatwall has become the most recognized name for the product. Google will try to correct you when you type in something close, by saying - "Do you mean slatwall?" Wind Mill Slatwall Products has become a recognized market leader in the retail display industry for manufacturing slatwall, slatwall fixture and component parts, and display paneling.
The demand for the product spurned the development of high speed production machines and diamond tooling. Today a standard slatwall panel can be machined in 32 seconds. CNC machining centers produce custom slatwall panels for the unique look retailers desire. Aluminum and plastic inserts installed in the groove add beauty as well as strength.
The latest revolution in the slatwall industry is the advent of Boise Cascade Anchor™ core. This core is specifically engineered for slatwall, and was two years in the making. Anchor™ core for slatwall is 50% stronger than the standard MDF, and is available exclusively from Wind Mill Slatwall Products.
Slatwall has become a mainstay for retail displays as it gives retailers versatility in displaying their products in the decorative format of their choice. In recent years slatwall has found its way into the home and garage organizational markets. Slatwall for garage use is becoming more popular and is available Home Depot and Do It Best stores under the name GarageEscape. White Slatwall and a wide assortment of accessories are available. Custom finish slatwall can also be special ordered. Do It Best "World's Largest Hardware Store"® stocks white, gray, maple and paintable slatwall, and a wide assortment of accessories in their warehouses.
Resin, or plastic forms of slatwall have made their way into the garage and closet organization markets under the trade names of Storewall™, Flow wall™, Handiwall™, and Megawall™ to name a few. Resin or plastic slatwall is typically extruded as a 12" high piece, and can be quite expensive on a square foot basis, compared to wood based slatwall. For the "Man Cave" garage, slatwall in the larger 4' x 8' format works best, and is the best value. It is the most flexibile organizational system for the garage and home.
We're not good because we're old - We're old because we're good!
I was in my late twenties with a growing family when I had the opportunity to buy Wind Mill Woodworking back in 1980. We were working out of a garage in Brookfield, Wisconsin. I had one other employee, and we were carving 4' x 8' slatwall panels with carbide tipped hand routers and homemade jigs. It took about one man hour to manufacture a slatwall panel back then. We were walking on about a foot of saw dust by the end of the week. On Fridays, I'd load the van to make deliveries to Milwaukee and often times Chicago, and Dennis would shovel off the production floor to get ready for the next set of orders.
When the phone rang, we'd have to blow the saw dust off of it to find it, then shut down the compressor to answer it. Sometimes we forwarded the calls home to my wife, Cindy. She had to keep three children, all under the age of five, quiet while she talked with customers. This was often a challenging task, as they were rambunctious kids.
We had a growing list of customers we kept on a large Rolodex wheel, and we took orders on yellow legal pads. Back then we were selling birch plywood slatwall panels for as much as $60 per panel.
A lot has changed since those early days. Wind Mill Woodworking, has grown from a small dust covered garage operation, into a successful lean enterprise with two divisions in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. Wind Mill Slatwall Products™ provides slatwall, display panels, and grooved components to the retail marketplace, and GarageEscape™ offers garage and home organization solutions to the consumer marketplace.
What hasn't changed since those early days, is Wind Mill's commitment to running our business with the highest ethical standards, and being the "Measurably Better" supplier to our customers.
I thank the Lord every day for all the blessings that have come through the doors at Wind Mill. It has been very rewarding to have worked with so many wonderful people over the years - customers, employees, and suppliers alike. With sincere appreciation, we look forward to our future opportunities, and wish continued success to our customers and suppliers.