Wood-Mode, one of the high-end cabinet segment’s most revered brands, closed without warning on May 13, 2019. To say the industry was shocked was no exaggeration, given the standing of CEO Robert Gronlund and his son, R. Brooks Gronlund, COO and president. The Kreamer, PA firm was rescued and reincorporated in June as Wood-Mode LLC by Bill French, owner of Professional Building Systems in Middleburg, PA.
In an exclusive interview, Kitchen Bath & Design News (KBDN) spoke with Bill French to get an update on the firm’s progress one year later. KBDN, the leading news channel for the cabinetry industry, will moderate a roundtable of cabinet industry leaders during a Primetime address, Thursday, October 29 at 10 am Eastern during IWF Connect.
KREAMER, PA – September marked the one-year anniversary of the new corporate entity, Wood-Mode LLC, and the formal reopening of the company’s factory under the ownership of French, who also owns Middleburg, PA-based Professional Building Systems Inc., a manufacturer of custom modular homes.
Kitchen & Bath Design News the leading news channel for the cabinetry industry, will moderate a roundtable of cabinet industry leaders during a Primetime Presentation, Thursday. October 29 at 10 am Eastern at IWF Connect. Learn more and register>>
“This past year has included significant challenges for Wood-Mode LLC and the country as a whole,” French told KBDN in an exclusive interview in September. “(But) even through the uncertainty of it all, there are moments that the Wood-Mode family should celebrate and be proud of. Our first anniversary is such an occasion. I’m so proud of how we’ve worked over the last year with our dealers, reps and employees to build a solid foundation for our future.”
Wood-Mode’s resurrection stands in sharp contrast to 12 months ago, when the fate of the iconic, 78-year-old custom cabinet manufacturer remained shrouded in uncertainty, four months after its former owners announced they had no recourse but to abruptly shutter the company’s 1.3-million-sq.-ft. factory.
Wood-Mode Inc., which had experienced financial challenges for several years, had been seeking financing or a potential acquisition prior to French’s purchase. Those efforts collapsed when a prospective buyer backed out and the company’s primary lender was unwilling to provide funding to continue operations.
The resulting May 13 factory closure, and subsequent lack of clarity, rocked the kitchen and bath industry, blindsiding employees, dealers, sales reps and suppliers, while prompting speculation about the factors that led to the seeming demise of a company that, for decades, produced perhaps the industry’s most highly respected custom cabinet brand.
According to French, the company’s leadership team has employed a “simple formula” for running the company since then. “Our guidelines,” he said, “are to be realistic, look forward, not back, listen to others, ask for advice and always do the right thing.” “I have more than 20 years of experience in the residential construction industry, but high-end cabinetry was new to me,” said French. “Over this past year, I’ve gained a better understanding of the industry, as well as the power, depth and legacy of the Wood-Mode brand.”
The pandemic put a crimp on that momentum by forcing closure of a multitude of Pennsylvania cabinet manufacturing firms. “While COVID-19 was a setback that temporarily closed our production facility, the experience of previously closing helped us shut down and re-open with fewer issues than other manufacturers who ran into supply chain problems,” French said.
Wood-Mode employed 938 workers at the time of its closure. At its height, prior to the 2008 recession, the company employed some 2,000. Wood-Mode LLC currently employs more than 400 people, and is targeted to reach 450 employees during 2021, a number that was envisioned to be “full-employment” when the new company began operations, according to French. That projection, French said, is “ahead of schedule and based on sales trends, will likely be exceeded.”
The company is also “consistently and strongly” ahead of revenue and profit projections,” French said, adding that Wood-Mode LLC has tripled its production capacity since last September, with on-time and complete deliveries exceeding 95%, historic highs. The company has also expanded employee training to “support a culture of safety through safety and hazard training,” enhanced employee benefits and switched to a four-day work week, allowing staff to have a three-day weekend, while resulting in “increased productivity and an increase in the on-time rate for product shipments,” French said.
The impact of the Wood-Mode Inc.’s closure was earthshaking to most of the company’s dealer base – many of them long-term, exclusive customers of Wood-Mode and its semi-custom line, Brookhaven. Many are continuing with the revivified Wood-Mode, albeit in many cases no longer necessarily on an exclusive basis.
Wood-Mode, Inc., the former company, had some 800 dealers at the time of its May 2019 closure. Wood-Mode LLC has about 650 dealers, more than 600 of whom are in the U.S. — other dealers are in Canada and South America — and is “selectively adding dealers as we are contacted or see an opportunity,” French said.
“As for exclusivity, the reality is that the majority of (our) dealers had to find another source when Wood-Mode Inc. closed,” French told KBDN. “Many dealers believe that having multiple lines is best for their business. That’s understandable, and so is the fact that we need to earn their business every day, whether we have exclusivity with them or not.”
Looking toward 2021, French said Wood-Mode is planning to continue to invest in employees, marketing, infrastructure, in reducing lead times and rolling out new products. In time for KBIS 2021, in February, Wood-Mode will be launching a new consumer website, aimed as a sales and marketing tool for dealers. The company will also deepen social media and PR content, and will be introducing two new finishes and one new door style, according to French. Read the full story at KBDN.
Kitchen & Bath Design News (KBDN), a leading news channel for the cabinetry industry, will moderate a roundtable of cabinetry industry leaders on Thursday, October 29, at 10 am Eastern during IWF Connect. Learn more and register>>