Zeeland, MI-based cabinet company Woodways received the innovative stamp of Suzanne and Volker Rudnitzki when they took over the troubled company in 2007. They basically started over from scratch and put the woodworking firm back on a path for growth.
The Rudnitzki’s were initially customers of Woodways – one of their largest clients. According to Suzanne, although their primary business was in commercial and residential real estate development, they also had designed a line of commercial furniture that Woodways was licensing and manufacturing. However, in late 2007, Woodways’ owner told them that his woodworking business had filed for bankruptcy.
“We had made a ton of commitments for products that they were making for us,” Suzanne Rudnitzki says. So they went to the bankruptcy court and told the judge that if they were allowed to buy the company’s assets they could also save jobs. The bankruptcy judge not only listened to them but connected them with the Internal Revenue Service, a party to the case.
“They said ‘If you can pay cash tomorrow for the appraised value of the assets, the company is yours,’ recalls Rudnitzki. “We were pretty amazed, and it all occurred in seven days.”
Owning a woodworking company was not something the couple foresaw. “It is kind of one of those journeys you don’t plan,” Rudnitzki explains, but they jumped right in and fully devoted themselves to the process of rebuilding the company, relying on their own experience – Volker’s background in engineering and Suzanne’s in sales and design.
“Volker has a masters degree in mechanical engineering, so the technical part was easy for him,” Rudnitzki says. “He has always enjoyed working with wood. I have always been in sales and design so it worked out. We are great partners.”
Their first step was to automate the manufacturing process, bringing in new high-tech equipment and expanding the production facility from 17,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. Although they were new to the industry, they researched and found the equipment needed for their nested-based manufacturing approach and expanded the plant within six months. New equipment included: an automated CNC with tool changers; edgebanders (including a Weeke); table saws, planers and other floor machines; customer door profile fixtures; finish booths and boring machines.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
The Rudnitzkis also hired an IT consultant and developed a web-based sales and customer management relationship system. Since it’s stored in the Cloud, salespeople and shop workers equipped with iPads can access every order from customer contact to design and order. Detailed instructions are created for the engineering and manufacturing departments. “That’s what you can do with a bankrupt company because they didn’t have anything and we had to start over, starting from scratch and sometimes that is a good thing,” she notes.
Rudnitzki also says employees communicate nearly 100 percent through Skype making it easier to show plans and designs.
Woodways opened a 5,000-square-foot showroom in Grand Rapids, MI, in 2011. A unique component of that showroom is its “mobile kitchen” design process, allowing customers to visualize their kitchens in 3-D moving “dummy” cabinet and appliances on wheels. Woodways also developed a partnership with hardware manufacturer Sugatsune, and shows cabinetry in its Chicago showroom, which opened last year.
Woodways has seen a request for contemporary cabinetry grow by 30 percent. As consumers travel abroad, they see more of the modern, European styles with clean, simple lines that are so popular overseas. Consequently, homeowners are now making requests for similar designs. For that reason the company makes sure its staff is well trained on all the latest trends.
“We take our employees to Europe frequently to look at the newest design trends. We are going to the Furniture Fair in Milan, Italy in April,” Rudnitzki says. “And we also take our design staff to the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS). We take them to see what is new and different because we think education is important.”
ON THE SHOP FLOOR
Woodways prides itself on craftsmanship as well as attention to detail. Master builders handcraft doors and dovetail drawers on site.
Drawings are taken from Woodways’ cloud-based information system and then engineered in CAD, creating a cutlist and instructions for manufacturing.
Those parts are nested on a CNC machine to minimize waste, generating the least amount of scrap possible. Any waste that comes off the CNC over 16 inches is re-used.
From machining, the labeled parts are taken to the assembly department for construction and then to finishing and to the dock for loading.
As part of the company’s sustainable philosophy, no products are boxed – every project is shipped in blankets. Cardboard corner protecters are used but they are also recycled to avoid waste.
Finally, a delivery coordinator talks directly with each customer to schedule delivery arrangements.
With the Rudnitzkis’ novel touch, Woodways has grown more than 450 percent.