Investing in Employees and the Local Community in La Antigua, Guatemala
Caoba Doors manufactures elegantly designed luxury windows, doors, and millwork. Amidst a culture of woodworking in Central America, its base in La Antigua, Guatemala has allowed the company to develop an experienced team with the ability to combine a historical appreciation of the craft with the rapidly changing demands of technology. The company is the largest employer in the area and has maintained a strong commitment to its employees and the local community that has helped it reach success.
“Our people are the assets in what we do,” says Caoba Doors Executive Vice President Jeffrey Lutzner. “Because of where we are located, we often use hand labor in place of some automated machines like with our finishing department, even though we are fully-automated.”
Caoba has developed a reputation for some of the most respected finishes in the industry. Instead of using a finishing production line like the competition, it chooses to employ a large staff to hand apply the finishes. The company serves the luxury market with custom finishes such as color and stain matching, and it often partners with interior designers or builders to find tones and hues that function with specific materials.
Its 130,000-square-foot facility in La Antigua sits on eight acres of land in the central highlands of Guatemala. La Antigua was the capital of the former Captaincy-General and was once an essential seat of the Spanish colonial government. Today, it is a world heritage site and is known for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture and churches.
Caoba’s facility here features multiple wood drying kilns and can hold over a million board feet of lumber in storage. Caoba has 400 employees working in this modern facility with advanced woodworking machinery, but it continues to rely on methods that have been used for centuries. This attention to detail adds a touch of the historical craft that becomes apparent in the finished product.
Throughout its thirty-five years, Caoba has provided its services and products to numerous markets including residential, commercial, hospitality, and historical restoration projects. It found a natural connection with landmark and historical restoration, as it specializes in custom millwork profiles and appreciation of scale and function.
The New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) designates sites and building worth protecting for their cultural, architectural, or historical significance. In such buildings, the windows and their surrounding moldings are part of the character of the building and their style and details must be preserved when replacements are needed.
Caoba works on landmark certified windows in New York City and it replaced all the windows on the Staten Island Borough Hall, a municipal building built in 1906 opposite the Staten Island Ferry. The building, at 10 Richmond Terrace, had over 60 different types of windows to replace, and the project came with its fair share of challenges, all dispatched with Caoba’s commitment to detail.
“Part of the challenge with historical windows is that they need to look like the nineteenth century but they need to perform like the twenty-first century. The sightlines and functions typically all have to be exactly the same as they were,” says Jeffrey.
Two recent significant projects for the company are in Manhattan. One is an eleven-story building called the Beekman Hotel in the financial district, while the other is a conversion of a factory into condominiums on the east side, 443 Greenwich Street Condominiums. Approximately fifteen years ago, Caoba was also proud to have been chosen to install windows on the U.S. Treasury Building, the building featured on the back of the U.S. ten dollar bill.
Through organic growth, it has expanded its reach to cover most of the U.S, the Caribbean and Central America. “We were able to develop relationships, and now we supply the best quality windows, doors and millwork from Hawaii to the Hamptons and from Beverly Hills to the Bahamas,” says Jeffrey.
The company is a highly desirable place to work because it shows its appreciation to its employees in valuable ways. “We really are proud of our people, and we support them tremendously. We pay one of the highest wages in the area; we have great healthcare; we have an onsite daycare for employees of our factory, and we also support our employees’ kids to attend secondary school,” says Jeffrey.
The educational system in Guatemala provides free and compulsory schooling up to the sixth grade, but continued schooling can be quite expensive, so Caoba invests in the community significantly through supporting its employees’ children’s education, sometimes as far as the university level. Currently, the company is providing financial support to 157 students from primary school to university.
Caoba also enjoys holding events for its employees to encourage a team atmosphere and, of course, demonstrate its gratitude. Over the holidays, it hosted a Christmas party with approximately 1,400 people invited, as most employees brought their entire families. The party featured its very own Santa Claus, gifts for the children, and a gift per family.
The company uses sustainable local materials whenever possible, though it also imports wood from other countries to supply the luxury market. It purchases white oak, douglas fir, and western red cedar from the U.S., yet its preferred material is its local supply of sustainably-harvested mahogany, scientifically known as Swietenia Macrophylla.
Caoba transforms a piece of wood from raw material to a finished custom product entirely in-house, and roughly ninety-nine percent of its products are sold as prefinished goods per an architectural or client specification. The company is expert in packaging its products and shipping them by ocean containers to arrive safely at the project’s destination.
Caoba has years of experience working with demanding regulations and the specifications of its architectural clients, and it enjoys projects that come with a challenge. It excels in situations where there is a high expectation of quality, professionalism, and flexibility, and can partner with clients that are looking to create unique products. “We pride ourselves on being able to work with designers and architects, and we allow them to really use their skills to design what they want to design, rather than just ordering windows and doors from a book where there are limited sizes,” says Jeffrey. The company works with its engineers to ensure that structural integrity is as guaranteed as the function and beauty.
The quality of its finishes is superior as a result of its skilled woodworkers using hand application rather than automation. The company would also not have been able to achieve this without its partnerships with some of the finest finishing material suppliers in Europe, particularly in Italy. These products provide excellent stain and top coating that is durable and allows the wood to exhibit its natural beauty rather than covering and filling the grain as others finishes are known to do. The water-based finish used at Caoba offers many finishing options, and it is both environmentally and operator-friendly.
The company recently released a product line of extruded, aluminum-clad windows and doors called Caoba Clad Seamless (C2S). The C2S is an extruded two-millimeter gauge that features a higher glass-to-frame ratio and a seamless design. “The exterior clad on any wood is an area that has really exploded in our business in the last two years. We do very contemporary sightlines, meaning we have thin stiles and rails because that’s what all the designers want now. Everything is about more glass and less frame, and we’ve addressed that demand with our C2S,” says Jeffrey. Another benefit of a seamless window is that it is fully sealed, which means that there is less surface area for any sort of corrosion to begin to damage the product.
The long-term goal for Caoba is to continue down its path of success and maintain its commitment to investing in its employees and the local community. “We’ve been around a long time, and our goal is to provide continuity and sustainability with our business, so we can keep supporting the community,” says Jeffrey.