The Brill Co. brings a piece of Ludington to colleges across the country

July 19, 2014
Left, Brill President David Field and Operations Manager Paul Lange stand in front of some dressers being manufactured for college dorm rooms by The Brill Company.

Left, Brill President David Field and Operations Manager Paul Lange stand in front of some dressers being manufactured for college dorm rooms by The Brill Company.

Locally Made.

By Kate Krieger. MCP Senior Correspondent.

As a native of Ludington, I thought it would be a great idea to feature many area businesses that I had either grown up with or businesses that I had become familiar with in the more recent years of my life. I wanted to promote what the businesses had to offer the local area in a series I call “Locally Made.”

Seeing that I was a local, I figured I probably already knew a lot of what these places offered to locals and tourists alike. Boy, was I wrong. Being a local doesn’t mean much unless you really take the time to get to know your own community, so I’m finally taking the time to get to know my community and what it offers the rest of the world….

LUDINGTON – Furniture is something I know nothing about except how to pick out what I like in my own home. I don’t know how to put it together and I probably couldn’t tell which type of wood it is made out of either. I decided to educate myself a little bit more and I visited The Brill Company at the corner of South James Street and West Dowland Street.

I drive past this factory all the time, yet I have never been inside the building, let alone the factory portion where furniture is actually made. We have had a lot of Brill furniture in our home over the years and I was under the impression that someone could walk into the building and purchase furniture, my first misconception. I later find out that only during a sample sale is when someone off the street can really walk into Brill and buy individual furniture pieces. Instead of making more assumptions, I met with Brill Manufacturing President David Field to see what they really manufacture and where those manufacturings go.

Brill Manufacturing was established in 1946 by Ralph Brillhart, who owned the company until David and Nancy Field purchased it in 2002 and changed the name to The Brill Company.

“Ralph was a great guy,” Field says. “He came here from South Bend after the war in 1946. He was part of the Merchant Marines during the war and after the war ended, he came up to Ludington and opened the factory.”

In the early years, Brill made mostly residential furniture and children’s furniture. After the Highway Act was passed, they started making a lot of picnic tables for many different roadside areas. In the 1960s, Brill also started to make booths, tables and chairs for different restaurants including the Bonanza and Ponderosa chains. Bonanza has since gone out of business, but Brill still produces furniture for Ponderosa. Field says manufacturing for restaurants isn’t a large part of their business, but they continue to provide seating for restaurants around the country.

In the 1970s, Brill started producing furniture for Michigan State University and the production of college and university furniture has become the main part of The Brill Company to this day. The company designs, manufactures and delivers different wooden furniture case goods to different colleges and universities across the United States including Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Duke and Notre Dame. Wooden case goods include desks, dressers, wardrobes and beds. Overall, Brill manufactures case goods for 40-50 different schools.

“All of our products are wooden,” Field says. “We don’t import anything.”

The products that Brill produce are either made of solid oak or maple or they are made of plywood that either comes from Arkansas or Canada. Brill has the unique capability to produce 100 percent solid wood furniture, Field says. He said that there are not too many factories producing solid wood furniture pieces anymore. The products that include plywood are actually stronger because the plywood doesn’t crack as easily as the solid wood products and it doesn’t warp as easily. The plywood products are cased in the plywood material with solid wood on the inside to make the structure more supportive internally.

“Solid wood cracks pretty easily,” Field says. “More people actually want plywood.”

Another uniqueness to Brill is that it serves as a full rough mill. The fact that the factory takes rough solid wood and turns it into solid wooden products is very rare in this day in age Field says.

All products are fully assembled at the factory and they are all part of a lean process, where no one makes a product that will be sent to its next destination without that next destination being completely ready to accept it. Field says the lean process really makes the production line run smoother throughout the factory.

Brill usually loads three semi trucks a day with products going out for delivery. None of the products being shipped are packaged. They are all blanket wrapped, making it take a bit longer to load, but making for no extra waste when the products are delivered and installed.

All in all, Field says Ludington is a great place to have a factory and he is so thankful for his 50-plus employees.

“It’s the people here who make Brill great,” he says. “It’s a fascinating little company. Ludington is really a gem yet to be really discovered. There are a lot of neat things here.”


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