General Finishes: An American Success Story

General Finishes was founded in 1928 by a Milwaukee lumber company to make finishes for their cabinet-shop customers. When I bought the company in 1984, sales were $200,000 and our plant was a 2000-square-foot dry cleaning storefront in a residential neighborhood of West Allis. General Finishes started with two employees: Rob made the product one can at a time, and I sold the products one store at a time. By 1988 we had moved into a real plant and added a six-head pour machine with an automatic lidder. We bought a used forklift and our ranks swelled to six.

By 1992 we had again outgrown our facility and built a new 7000-square-foot plant; two years later we doubled the facility's size and added two more automatic pour machines, an automatic labeling machine, and larger and more sophisticated mixing equipment. And the number of employees reached double digits. But the best was yet to come.

Until 1994 we were just another solvent finish company whose future growth was limited by a well-established solvent market. Though we knew that water was the future of the finish business, we lacked the chemistry expertise to develop formulas. At that point, by sheer chance, a large water-based floor finishing company (still a major player) approached us with a startup line of water-based formulas in which they saw no future for their company because they considered the venture too expensive and risky and the potential market too small. We, on the other hand, jumped at this opportunity and in short order had developed solid water-based formulas, some of which are still popular today.

With the addition of chemistry specialists and a firm commitment to the efficacy of water-based formulas, General Finishes began to design a diverse product line to suit our specific market -- at the time mainly individual consumers. In 1996 we won the first of three major competitions against national manufacturers, and by the early 2000s we were recognized as a bona fide innovator in the development of water-based stains and finishes for cabinet shops and medium-size manufacturers.

In 2006 we relocated once more to our present 30,000-square-foot plant in East Troy, Wisconsin, about 25 miles west of Milwaukee. Though strictly by size of operation not a large manufacturer, General Finishes now produces the deepest and broadest line of professional water-based products in the country: pigmented stains, dye stains, colored acrylics, glazes, exterior stains and wood coatings, acrylics, pre-catalyzed urethanes, sanding sealers, and color studio programs for your own in-house color matching.

General Finishes has come a long way since 1984. As on of America's favorite finishing manufacturers, we are now versatile and sophisticated enough to meet a wide range of water-based finishing needs, yet small enough to provide the kind of personalized service the larger manufacturers cannot.

George C. Adams
General Finishes Corporation