From transportation to wood components, Herndon Reload’s diversification helps it weather economic ups and downs.
A Unique Beginning
Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country, Herndon Reload Co. has been quietly building a thriving business over nearly two decades, specializing in producing wood bed foundations and related components
Herndon Reload was founded in 2005 in Herndon, Pennsylvania, by a group of five local investors. Seeing an opportunity in two shuttered manufacturing plants formerly operated by wooden playground equipment producer Creative Playthings, the investors bought both facilities along with a surrounding 25-acre tract of land. They installed a railroad siding (a short stretch of railroad track) and began offering freight transfer services, including unloading, reloading, cross-docking and storage.
Situated on the main line of the Norfolk Southern railroad, the company’s location near busy eastern shipping corridors gave it economical access to 4,750 rail terminals nationwide. Making the most of its location, Herndon Reload started with a small team of two employees and, over time, grew to become North Central Pennsylvania’s biggest reload facility.
Today, the company can reload all types of building materials, including lumber, as well as construction crane mats, vegetables and hay. Most products are brought to its facilities by rail and stored in Herndon’s warehouses, then shipped out to customers as needed, either using customers’ own trucks or via independent carriers.
“Using a rail reload can save up to 30% on transporting products,” says Mel Kauffman, Herndon Reload’s general manager and head of sales and operations. “In fact, some of our customers have saved as much as 56% by sending goods by rail directly to us before shipping them to their final destination.”
Wood skills expand reach
Shortly after launching the reload business, Herndon Reload’s owners began making wood pallets in an on-site shop to keep the staff busy during down times. In 2006, the company started producing step stringers, or frames. In 2010, it added mattress foundations.
“The owners had prior experience in the wood industry, and we had an unused building that was a good fit for woodworking,” Kauffman says. Herndon Reload also had a pool of talented Amish woodworkers in the area, a benefit that gave it a head start as it expanded into new markets such as the sleep industry.
Growth Over Time
Herndon Reload currently employs 25 to 30 workers, depending on business levels. In addition to bed frame components and assembled foundations, the company produces fence pickets, radius- and square-end lumber, packaging filler sticks, furring sticks, pallet lumber and finished pallets. It also provides precision end trimming for nonbedding applications, such as precut studs for modular mobile homes.
Bedding accounts for about half of Herndon’s annual sales. The company provides foundation components, kits and assembled foundations to mattress manufacturers nationwide. Its customer mix includes top 10 national manufacturers, as well as smaller regional producers.
At full capacity, the company can produce about seven or eight truckloads of foundation components per day including partially or fully assembled foundations using a customized rail assembly machine. That business has been a bit slow of late, but the company hopes that it may grow over time as more potential customers learn of its capabilities.
“We keep a low profile, as a small, highly specialized supplier, but our business continues to grow year after year,” Kauffman says. The company’s diversification helps protect it from downturns. “When one part of our business is slow, such as bedding is now, another segment might be busy, which is the case at the moment with our pallet-related business,” he says.
To reach new customers, Herndon Reload recently updated its corporate website with new content. “We don’t have a large sales team, so the website is a core part of our marketing,” Kauffman says. He adds that Herndon Reload also is planning to expand its capabilities and efficiencies in the near future with machinery upgrades.
Range of options
Herndon Reload builds its bed foundations and components with Canadian spruce, pine and fir woods. The company specializes in full-load shipments to maximize savings, and it is known for consistent quality and skilled craftsmanship, he says.
“We can ship components to customers as cut stock ready to be assembled, partially assembled kits or fully assembled foundations ready to be covered with cloth. Whichever way you choose, we make sure to ship items in a timely fashion and provide the highest level of service and support,” Kauffman says.
To service customers, Herndon Reload maintains a stock of bestselling foundation components in its on-site warehouse. Orders from that stock generally ship out within one day, and custom orders are completed within seven to 10 working days.
“Most of our business right now consists of foundation components, although we also do a lot of partially assembled kits,” Kauffman says. While the company also offers fully assembled foundations, most customers prefer components or kits because so many more pieces will fit on a truck. Herndon Reload either ships the wood pieces directly to a mattress manufacturer or, in some cases, to another company hired to assemble the kits on behalf of the manufacturer.
“If you’re trucking a load from here to California and a truck costs $3,500, you can get about 100 queen assembled foundations per load at a cost of $35 per piece in freight,” Kauffman says. By contrast, the same truck could carry enough components for 800 kits. “You’re talking a little over $4 per kit for freight, so more and more of our customers are choosing to buy components or kits from us rather than complete foundations.”
As for trends in foundations, Kauffman says producers are requesting a wider range of sizes. “The standard height of 9 inches is still very popular, but we’re also building 4-, 5-, 7- and 8-inch profiles. We make anything our customers ask for, and right now they’re asking for a greater variety of sizes, including custom items, such as heavier support blocks or wider slats.”
A sudden surge
The Covid-19 pandemic that swept the nation in the spring of 2020 was a particularly challenging period. Initially, Herndon Reload was required to close its manufacturing operations under Pennsylvania’s strict Covid-19 mandate while the reload segment of its business was allowed to stay open as “an essential business.” Then, upon further review, it was determined that the company could continue its manufacturing activities, as well.
“We had about a six-week period where things were uncertain and our bed business was pretty slow,” Kauffman says. “But after that, sales went crazy, and we became ridiculously busy.”
Navigating Challenges and Success
That busy streak continued for quite a while, he adds, as stuck-at-home consumers invested huge amounts of disposable income in upgrading bedrooms and homes.
As mattress sales surged during that first stage of the pandemic, supplies of raw materials became tighter and tighter. Lumber was a particularly hot commodity, and over time, prices rose to four or five times their normal level.
“We did what we could to contain costs, but eventually we had to pass these hikes along to our customers,” Kauffman says. “But consumers just kept on buying, and sales remained strong for quite a while.”
As the world slowly opened back up, and supply shortages eased, lumber prices came back down and Herndon Reload’s cost structure — and pricing — returned to normal.
“Right now, a lot of the lumber products we use have returned to pre-Covid levels,” Kauffman says. “However, like most businesses, our operating costs — especially labor — have gone up considerably in the past few years due to inflation.”
Herndon Reload employs a highly loyal workforce. All its employees are Amish, and they share a work ethic that Kauffman describes as hardworking, team focused and service oriented.
“We couldn’t do any of this without our entire staff’s hard work,” Kauffman says, adding that finding good labor is a big issue for a lot of companies. “We have our challenges from time to time like anyone else, but at the same time we’re blessed with a great group of people who we know we can totally depend on.”
A sustainable mindset
At Herndon Reload, sustainability has long been a part of the company’s DNA. For many years, the company has been turning leftover wood shavings from its production processes into quality wood chips for use as bedding for horses, livestock and pets. According to Kauffman, the wood shavings are great at absorbing moisture and their natural wood smell is effective at reducing odors in animal barns, stalls, crates and kennels.
In addition, the wood shavings can be used in gardens or flower beds to conserve moisture and guard against weeds. They also can be spread around bushes and shrubs to keep plants’ roots cool during warmer weather.
“Our absorbent shavings and wood chip mix generally come from kiln-dried spruce, pine and fir lumber and are a popular choice for both retail and wholesale customers,” Kauffman says. The shavings are available in bulk or bale form.
A Thriving Success Story
“With everything we do, we try to be efficient,” he says. “To stay competitive and grow, we must run as efficiently as possible so that we can keep costs low for our customers and provide them with a strong value. We don’t want anything to go to waste.”