Valued employees and satisfied customers are two of Ovation Cabinetry’s greatest strengths.
By Sam Gazdziak
Ovation Cabinetry’s new factory in Salina, KS, was designed to produce up to $15 million in sales annually. It was also designed to look as nice as the homes where the cabinetry will be installed. The cafeteria has a full set of cabinetry and stainless steel appliances. The bathrooms are all tiled and well-lit. Visitors to the plant can be entertained in a second full kitchen, and office employees have plenty of shelf space to display photos and other personal objects.
“This isn’t just a shop,” explains Joseph Lorentz, CEO of Ovation. “It’s a place where employees spend eight hours or more of their day. We wanted it to be a very nice atmosphere.”
Ovation’s philosophy has been to recognize the value of employees in the company’s success. “We believe that investing in people is more important than investing in equipment,” Lorentz says. “The niche we are going after is the true custom market. In order to do that, we have to have extremely well-trained and well-organized people.”
Niche management in a niche market
The changes the company made have definitely paid off. Since 1998, sales have grown by $1 million or more each year. 2001’s sales were just under $5 million, and projections for 2002 are at $6.2 million.
Ovation Cabinetry is managed by Lorentz and his three partners: Bill Gray is production and shipping manager; Dan Gooden is drafting and design manager; and Brad Bassett is customer service manager. They all are located in the company’s Salina headquarters. Lorentz oversees sales and marketing and is based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. He is assisted by Terry Shimizu, who has worked with Lorentz for 19 years. She also worked with him to redesign the Ovation catalog.
“Each person has their niche, and we respect each other’s position in the company,” Lorentz says, “Then we work as a group to constantly tweak the way we approach our business We’re able to stay focused as individuals, and as a group we’re able to bring together what we feel is the best package possible.”
Ovation serves the true custom market. When it moved to its new building, the largest investment was put into the finishing department so the company could better serve that market.
“Custom cabinetry is a fashion business now,” says Gray. “It changes constantly, just about as fast as the latest fashion trends in Italy. Most of the impact is in the finishing end of it.” Hand-rubbed finishes, stains, glazes, toner glazes, crackle and more are all offered.
Ovation’s finishing department has a total of five JBI spray booths, plus one scuffing station. One of those spray booths is located inside a smaller room. Lorentz says that room is “as close to perfect an area for finishing as you can get.” Employees use Graco pumps and finishing equipment.
Unlike many large finishing operations, Ovation does not have a conveyor system in place. Parts are kept on racks before they are finished or while they dry. “What you find when you set up a conveyor system that has a set amount of drying time,” Gray says, “is that you’re forced to figure out a finish system that fits within the same parameters to keep it on the conveyors. We can tailor ours to any finish that comes down the line.”
Lorentz adds that Ovation employees also mix the finishes in in-house labs. “If you buy it off a shelf and use a recipe, it’s never the same. Pigments vary,” he says. “This way, we can mix and control our own finishes.”
A Personal touch
The company offers 20 standard stains on cherry wood, yet 25 percent of cherry cabinets have a custom stain. The wide variety of finishes, combined with the 127-plus number of door styles, means customers can pretty much design their own cabinets. Many orders that Ovation receives also have custom parts, like Raymond Enkeboll onlays and furniture legs, added to them.
Before the orders go into production, they are reviewed by Bassett and Gooden. Ovation has developed its own software programs for data entry and creating cutlists. Bassett says that the company’s goal is to make that software available to the dealers, so all orders can be done by e-mail. Until then, one of Bassett’s duties is to ensure that the cabinet designs they receive are feasible, from a manufacturing point of view. If they are not, he and Gooden work to eliminate any problems. Once they finish a design, they send it back to the customer for approval.
“A lot of orders come in with intent,’” he says. “We try to take that intent and put it in a workable cabinet design.”
“We’ll get together on some of those sketches and draw them out on AutoCAD, redesign them and make them look nice for the customer,” Gooden adds. Ovation provides detailed information for more intricate cabinetry, and every custom part has its own CAD drawing.
Ovation’s interaction with its dealers makes the company stand out, Lorentz says. “Interacting with our customer base is very important to us. It isn’t just picking something out of a catalog, writing down a number and faxing it to us,” he says. “Very few of our orders are that way.” Once the orders are finalized, it takes six to eight weeks to produce the cabinetry.
Parts are cut on two vertical panel saws, one from SCM Group and a Striebig from Colonial Saw. Other equipment includes an Onsrud pin router and a sliding table saw, bandsaw, shaper and widebelt sander, all from SCM.
The manufacturing facility further exemplifies Ovation’s belief in its employees. “We’re very people-oriented. We like to buy good equipment, but we’re not one to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment,” Gray says. “We invest in people, and we train them.”
“When you invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into a piece of equipment, you become a slave to that equipment, because you feel you have to be using it constantly,” Lorentz says.
Lorentz calls Ovation a controlled-growth company. He does not rule out making large machinery purchases, but for now, he says, the money the company saves can go back into the company and its employees.
With the reliance on people over machinery, Ovation’s owners make sure employees are recognized for their value. The company offers full health insurance and a profit-sharing plan. The owners periodically bring in lunch and offer training during the lunch hour. Any employee has the authority to reject a piece at any time. Gray encourages departments to get all their employees involved in the daily meetings. Some of Salina’s agricultural manufacturing facilities have had layoffs, so Gray says that finding capable employees really hasn’t been a problem.
“One of the reasons I’m pleased with Salina is there is a really good work ethic in this part of the country,” Lorentz says. “We train people who want to be trained and have the right attitude.”
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