General International has been providing Canadian-built and imported woodworking machinery to North America for 64 years. Still, despite being headquartered in Montreal, Quebec—just a stone’s throw over our northern border—their presence in the U.S. market hasn’t been as strong as other woodworking tool brands. But, efforts are being made to change that reality. In fact, they’ve already begun. Last December, the company opened a new Distribution Center in Murfreesboro, TN—its first warehouse here the States. General hopes to strengthen supply channels to around 160 American distributors and, in turn, bring lower tool prices to woodworkers.
Recently, I had a chance to talk with Scott Box, operations manager of the new facility, to learn more about these developments. Scott happens to be the former president of Steel City Toolworks and a 30-plus-year veteran of the woodworking machinery industry. He’s played an instrumental role in getting the new Distribution Center up and running in, incidentally, the same city where Steel City got its start.
Scott says that while General International has always been available in this country, it’s never been easy to get product back and forth across the border. “Duties and freight costs were atrocious. Really, challenges with accessibility have been extremely limiting, and that’s what the new Distribution Center should help change.”
According to Box, talks about a U.S.-based distribution center began mid summer last year and were solidified in July. So, the new venture has come together at a clipped pace. But Scott was already aware of the then-vacant 12,000-square-foot Murfreesboro facility that would become the Distribution Center’s home. The process for converting it to meet General’s warehousing needs went smoothly. Inventory began to arrive in October, and the operation started filling dealer orders in December.
“Aside from 10,000 square feet of warehouse space, we also have a 2,000 square foot office area and showroom. It accommodates everything we need it to do for now, and there’s lots of room to expand when that time comes.”
Currently, the Distribution Center receives all inventory from General’s headquarters as well as its manufacturing operations in Drummondville, Quebec. Customer orders originate from there, or from the network of local stocking distributors here in the States. Eventually, Box hopes to have a customer service team in place to handle dealer requests and supply answers to their questions right away. “We’re launching an on-line inventory management system soon so that the company can better track the history and velocity of the inventory we’re moving through the warehouse.” It will also help dealers check stock availability and the delivery status of their orders.
Scott says the Distribution Center’s central Tennessee location is geographically “perfect” for a cast-iron business like this. “We can get product to 80 percent of the U.S. in two days. Centralization not only provides a steadier supply of machines and parts to the dealers, but it also reduces shipping prices to the end users.”
That’s you and me, folks. If you’ve ever purchased large and heavy woodworking machinery from a distant supplier, you know how expensive those shipping costs can be.
Scott explained that by opening the new warehouse, General International actually created an independent subsidiary called General International U.S.A., Inc. Heading it up, Scott has an ambitious goal: “I want General in this country to be as big as General International is in Canada. They’re number one there in terms of machinery sales. We’ll do it by really taking care of customers with this improved supply chain. That’s something General International and I know how to do very well already.”