During World War II, Charles E. Barnett was a sheet metal foreman at Gulf Ship Building in Mobile, Alabama. To bring in extra income, Charles used his expertise to build a range of millwork products. At the end of WWII, most of America’s companies were slowly returning their focus to commercial goods instead of military hardware. With the help of his father-in-law, Alec Cooper, Charles was able to start a company of his own in the millwork business.
I never dreamed back in the forties what the Company would be today. It matters when you stand behind your work. What began here is all passed on to the next generation. It makes me proud that I was able to build this Company from the ground up with many fine partners and employees.Charles Barnett
World War II
The Company had modest beginnings, with the pair working mostly with basic hand tools and out of a garage behind Cooper’s Toulminville residence. Lumber came from nearby mills and to save cost, Charles would go pick it up in his 1932 Plymouth Coupe towing a small trailer. The very first products were handmade cabinets, windows, and doors, and even, furniture repair. They were labor intensive and difficult to transport, especially in the Company’s only vehicle. Slowly though, Barnett and Cooper developed a small customer base throughout Mobile County.
By 1945, Barnett bought out his father-in-law’s share of the business and Barnett Millworks was officially formed. In 1955, the Company had grown enough to lease its first commercial building in Whistler, Alabama. Work in the “pole barn”, as Barnett affectionately remembered it, was efficient though, and by the late 1950s, dramatic sales increases had expanded the workforce to more than 100. Product lines also expanded as the Company began to work with mouldings, stairparts, columns, and hardware.
In 1954, Barnett Millworks incorporated and moved to a larger facility in Whistler, Alabama. Over time, the Company had naturally moved into a business of supplying residential millwork – consisting of doors, windows, and specialty products – predominantly selling to local building contractors and to dealers in nearby states.
In 1964, Paul Barnett, future Company president, began sweeping floors and feeding machines during the summers. He recalls, “It was hot and it was hard work, but $1.25 an hour was big money back then, especially to an eleven-year-old.” In 1976, Paul Barnett graduated from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and returned to Mobile to work in the family business full-time. His first major project was to oversee the Company’s move from Whistler to the new eighteen acre site in Theodore, Alabama, where the Company still is today.
In 1975, Barnett Millworks purchased 18 acres of undeveloped land in Theodore, Alabama, and began construction of a new modern millwork plant. The 153,000 square foot building was finished in 1976 and the Company officially relocated from its original Whistler location to Theodore, where it still resides today. Due to the Company’s increase in product offerings and shifts in the industry, the Company began selling exclusively through local dealers.
In 1982, the plant was expanded further totaling over 300,000 square feet under roof and staffed by more than 100 employees. Growth continued with the introduction of new millwork products, such as the steel door, which although now is a common household door, was revolutionary to the building industry when first introduced.
Barnett Millworks is now the largest single site millwork distributor in the Southeast. Now with national accounts, as well as, regional firms, and millions in revenue, the Company has matured. As a major employer, Barnett Millworks recognizes its responsibility to the community at large by supporting both non-profit organizations and local community involvement, including the positive development of the city of Mobile.
Strong housing growth in the Gulf Coast region, as well as, the rest of the country, has led to ever increasing business opportunities. Investments in technology, new equipment, and facilities have allowed Barnett to become high tech and ever more innovative. Aside from the staples of doors, windows, and mouldings, Barnett Millworks has even branched out into more exotic products such as display props for photography companies and swimming pool frames.