A Touch of Tuscany
A Knoxville, TN-area cabinetmaker offers clients
By Lisa Whitcomb
Wildwood is known throughout the eastern Tennessee region for providing its customers with custom hand-crafted cabinetry that features much sought-after 'Old World' European styling.
Located in Maryville, TN, the 32,000-square-foot facility houses a shop, office and showroom space that features more than six different displays, including two kitchens, two decorative free-standing islands, a free-standing pantry and an entertainment center.
Owners Ken and Paige Allender took over the company in 2002. It was originally founded in 1971 by members of Paige's family.
"It was my wife's aunt, uncle and grandfather who founded the business," Ken Allender recalls. "They wanted to retire and couldn't find a buyer. My wife and I did not want to see the company go away, so we decided to buy it."
Allender, a nurse anesthetist by training, began a one-year comprehensive apprenticeship prior to taking over the company. He learned the workings of the company from the shop on up to the office and out into the field. Grateful for the training, Allender says that since becoming owner, he has had to wear "many hats" - sometimes all at once.
Paige, a kindergarten teacher, maintains a presence in the company, but continues to teach and devotes her time to the couple's children.
"In May we will be in business for 34 years," Ken Allender proudly says. "The company has always had a solid reputation in the community." The halls in the office and showroom areas display dozens of cards and letters from happy clients over the years attesting to that fact.
Taking the company to the next level
In recent months the company has expanded its equipment to increase its production capacity. But in doing so, Allender says the company remains bound to its original core values: "Bring honor to God in all we do; add excellence to our craft, and provide security for our families."
"We draw strength from our proud tradition and use our core values in every company decision," he adds.
For the past eight years the company has averaged about $2.4 million in gross annual sales. Hoping to achieve further growth, the company purchased an SCM DMC Unisand 2000 sander and an SCM Morbidelli Author 430S machining center with off-load table this past summer. As a result, the company has increased its production capacity by 30 percent. A Weinig Dimter Opticut also is on order.
However, Allender says, "We aren't realizing growth yet, because it is too soon." So the company is looking to increase its outside sales. In addition to the 28 full-time employees that currently work for the company as installers, designers, inside sales support (for the showroom) and woodworking craftsmen, Allender is hiring a vice president of sales and marketing to help increase outside sales and fill the extra capacity now available in the shop.
Currently, business is procured through word of mouth, repeat clientele and through displays seen at builders' trade shows and consumer events, like the Parade of Homes. To maintain a good relationship with his clients, Allender says he always sends a thank-you note to anyone who has placed an order or just made an inquiry.
Coming from a scientific background that considers the probabilities of cause-and-effect relationships, Allender continually looks for other ways to move the business forward.
"We are getting much more into work cells and a linear flow," he says.
Recent reconfiguring of the machines in the shop, including a Quickwood sander for denibbing, Weinig Profimat 4-head moulder, Larick shape-and-sand for edge profiles, Delta Unisaw table saw, Delta planer, Rockwell and Powermatic shapers, Cehisa EP-50 edgebander, SCMI MB 29 line boring
machine, SCMI bandsaw and Taylor panel clamps, has helped increase production and decrease material handling.
"It seemed like we were handling everything twice," he says. "So I've tried learning the principals of lean manufacturing," from books such as "The Goal: Theory of Constraints" by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and "Lean Thinking" by James Womack and Daniel T. Jones. Other new practices in place include bright lighting, clean workspaces and parts labeling.
Since processes have become more streamlined in the shop, Allender says, "In seven days we can build a kitchen." Although, he adds, the shop "is far fr
om lean yet. But we are taking steps in the right direction, and so far we are getting faster."
Wildwood purchases UV-coated plywood and makes all its own boxes. In addition, the shop fabricates its own cabinet doors and drawer fronts from solid wood. Alder is the most requested wood right now, 60 to 70 percent of the time, Allender notes. Cherry and maple are also used and occasionally other woods.
"People prefer kitchens with 'Old World' European styles and the Tuscany-villa look," Allender explains. He hand-renders designs and then uses Cabinet Vision Solid for the production. "It is all on the server, from design to engineering to machine code," he adds.
Elements that can be added to the design to give kitchens a "gourmet feel," include: Hidden appliances that are recessed into cabinets so the wood appliance panel is flush with the rest of the cabinetry, pots and pans drawers, warming drawers, icemakers, stainless steel appliances, including range tops and cook tops, hidden trash bins and recycle centers, as well as spice racks and bread boxes.
Decorative amenities include corbels, capitals, fluting, crown and rope mouldings, leaded glass, furniture-style feet on base cabinets and islands, the incorporation of farmers tables into islands, wood hoods, mantels, flatboards (or frieze) on the tops of wall cabinets, carvings, columns and stone tops.
Wildwood produces all elements except for the stone tops, which it purchases from a local supplier. Also, wood carvings are outsourced from companies like Osborne Wood Products, Kimrick and Hardware Resources.
Occasionally the shop produces a laminate countertop using its three Castle pocket hole machines and its Midwest Automation CS5236 mitering countertop saw. To add interest to a laminate countertop, the shop uses Gem-Loc edging.
Allender notes that mitered door styles are the most popular amongst homeowners, and a fair number of homeowners like the raised panel and Shaker styles. But the newest design trend is reversed door panels. "People like this look because it is not ornate," he adds. "We are always looking to go to the next level in kitchen design. I ask, how can we give this piece furniture appeal? How can we make it look 'Old World,' like grandma's furniture?"
A new luxury door style Allender will be offering soon is a beaded inset. All Wildwood cabinets are face-frame construction with full overlay. "We used to do European 32mm construction as well, but got away from that because it created two paths of construction in the shop," he says.
Full-extension self-closing Blum Tandem undermount slides and concealed hinges are used.
To the finish
Painted, glazed, stained and distressed surfaces are all in style in the south. The shop does all its own finishing in-house and sprays its topcoats over hand-rubbed finishes with products from Chemcraft, Wood Finisher's Supply and Sherwin-Williams (which also supplies paint). Pre-catalyzed lacquer is sprayed over stains in a Binks spray booth, and a pigmented sealer varnish is applied over painted surfaces.
"Darker finishes are most requested with a white glaze," Allender says. "People in million-dollar homes also love knotty boards and the rustic look, like a distressed black painted island we did in the center of an alder kitchen with a warm-toned finish."
Kitchen cabinet packages range in price from $8,000 to $30,000. The shop will also fabricate bath vanities, entertainment centers and the occasional home office or laundry room.
It installs all its own cabinets and has two company trucks and a van for this purpose. Allender says that he will still go into the field occasionally to monitor an installation's progress, but in the shop, he has turned over a few of his "hats" to his production manager. And soon, Allender says he will turn over a few more to his new vice president of sales and marketing.
The shop works in a 50-mile radius, but Allender says he is looking to expand his territory in the future into other surrounding cities, like Atlanta, GA; Louisville, KY; and Nashville and Chattanooga, TN, via displays in dealer showrooms. "I would like to see us grow and add dealerships in those cities," he adds.
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