W&WP March 2002

Wood-Mode Deals a Winning Strategy

Inherent to Wood-Mode Inc.’s marketing strategy is its decision to remain loyal to dealers by not selling its products through nationwide home centers.

By Karen M. Koenig

Too often these days, the terms “loyalty” and “business strategy” are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

But not at Wood-Mode Inc. Nestled in the little town of Kreamer, PA, this custom cabinet giant has built a 60-year legacy based upon loyalty — to its dealers, its workers and to its customers.

And it’s paid off. In the last decade alone, Wood-Mode increased its sales by 200 percent to approximately $180 million, while simultaneously doubling its employee size to 1,700 persons, 1,475 of whom work in the factory. Currently, Wood-Mode produces an estimated 1,600 units per day of kitchen and bath cabinets, as well as cabinetry for other rooms.

The company offers two lines of cabinetry, Wood-Mode and Brookhaven, both of which are available in full lines of frame and frameless construction. (See sidebar.) Because it is a vertically-integrated company, Wood-Mode maintains complete quality control over its cabinetry, from processing of the green lumber, to the delivery of finished products in its own vans.

     
 
Wood-Mode’s American Classics traditional country-style custom cabinetry combines Essex flat panel doors with beaded panels on the island and hood. Complementing the look are English Country turned legs and large traditional crown moulding. Finishes are Cottage White on maple and Curry on pine. Photo by Helen Marshburn  
     

Wood-Mode is also unique in that it sells 90 percent of its product through independent dealers, with the remaining 10 percent of cabinetry sold through contractors/home builders. Remodeling accounts for approximately 75 percent of its business today.

Successful Sales Strategy

According to R.L. Gronlund, chairman and CEO, the company made a strategic decision in 1993 to not market its products in the nationwide home center chains that attracted many of its big-name competitors.

“The national home center chains have done a great job in providing mass exposure awareness of factory-built cabinets,” says Larry “Bud” Arbogast, vice president, sales. “But that’s not necessarily our type of customer.”

“We’ve always taken the position that we don’t want to be at a stock cabinet price point,” Gronlund adds. “It’s very competitive, oftentimes with low (profit) margins.” Wood-Mode, he says, instead focuses its efforts on producing customized factory-built cabinetry in both its high-end Wood-Mode and mid-price range Brookhaven product lines.

Dealer loyalty also played a crucial role in the decision. “We ran the risk of competing with a long, loyal list of our established dealers, some of whom have been with us for more than 20 years. We thought that that was more of a risk to us than not being in the home centers,” Gronlund says.

The strategy has paid off. Today, approximately 800 dealers throughout the United States sell cabinetry made by Wood-Mode. Overseeing the dealerships are 18 independent representatives retained by the company.

“In determining our future growth strategy, we look at market by market demographics — population, age, retail sales, household income and buying power index,” Arbogast says. “We also look at the new construction and remodeling trends of each market and take the maturity of the market into consideration. We then have regional strategic market planning and sales forecasting sessions to establish shared sales expectations and how they will be achieved.”

“We almost encourage dealers to handle products in every price point,” Gronlund adds. “That way they can attract all types of customers into their stores. So even if someone is not coming into the store specifically for our cabinetry, they are still getting exposure to our products and may decide to go for higher-end cabinets now or at a later date,” Gronlund says.

Wood-Mode supports its dealers through extensive advertising programs. The company also provides a marketing development fund to each sales representative for regional promotions, advertising and merchandising. Tie-ins are made to corporate advertising programs whenever possible, Gronlund says.

An emphasis is also placed on providing training for all dealers. “We’ve been running a fairly extensive school for 30 years,” Gronlund says. Under the direction of Don O’Connor, the CKD-accredited education programs focus on design and product development/awareness.

Product Development

Product development, like training, is an ongoing process, Gronlund says.

“It can be something mechanical in nature, like a full extension drawer slide for the Brookhaven line, or a hinge upgrade. Or that we now offer a new door style in three colors, or three new door styles in one color,” Gronlund explains.

     
 
The frameless boxes are run through a recently purchased Morbidelli Author 504 boring machine prior to assembly.  
     

New this spring, for example, will be stainless steel doors and drawer heads for accents in the kitchen. Samples will be available at Wood-Mode’s hospitality suite during the K/BIS show in April. Production of the metal parts will be outsourced.

“We’re always adjusting and shifting our products,” Arbogast says. “We follow the trends from Europe and from the color groups. We also listen to our dealers’ input, which they get from architects and designers. We’ll start out with the suggestions and needs that are most critical and work our way down.”

Customization is Key

Wood-Mode doesn’t just pay lip service to its dealers’ suggestions. It follows through, Arbogast says.

For example, in response to requests for a greater mix of mouldings and trims for its high-end Wood-Mode custom cabinetry, the company now offers a complete line of Enkeboll architectural wood carvings. Wood-Mode can also machine custom turnings in-house.

A fully-customized finishing package is also available in addition to its line of distressed, opaques, heirloom, cottage and vintage finishes and stains. Wood-Mode has a paint lab on-site and can match any custom specifications.

  60 Years and Counting

Privately owned, Wood-Mode Inc. was founded in 1942 as a manufacturer of wood and metal cabinetry as well as toys, shell boxes and homing pigeon coops used during wartime. Its founders, T.O. Gronlund, C.G. Wall and R.E. Nellis, chose the name Wood-Metal to reflect the materials used to manufacture the cabinetry. Although the company has marketed products under the Wood-Mode name since 1956, it did not officially change its corporate name to Wood-Mode Inc. until 1990.

Today, the company manufactures two full lines of customized factory-produced frame and frameless cabinetry under the Wood-Mode and Brookhaven names. The Kreamer, PA-based company posted sales of $180 million in 2001.

To ensure its continued success in the wood cabinet industry, the company’s mission statement reads as follows: “To work together to continually improve the quality of our cabinetry products, service and support in order to meet or exceed customer expectations.”

R.L. Gronlund, chairman and CEO, is confident that they are succeeding in that goal.

 
     

The customization process doesn’t stop there. Customers can choose from a variety of door inserts ranging from lattice and glass to rattan, laminate, or veneer. “We can hit any design or thought that people want,” Arbogast says.

The ability to match finishes, door styles and other elements to living room furniture has increased Wood-Mode’s “RoomScaping” cabinetry production to 15 percent of its business. With the variety of options available, Arbogast predicts this segment will increase even more in the near future.

Construction Makes the Difference

The degree of customization, box material and other subtle dimensional changes is what separates the two lines. One constant is door production.

“We don’t try to separate them on quality,” Arbogast says. “Also, whether frame or frameless, customers have certain expectations which we have to meet.”

One of these expectations is turnaround time. Although the company produces rails, stiles and door panels for stock, cabinetry is built on a just-in-time basis. Wood-Mode Inc. typically offers a 6 to 7 week turnaround time on its Brookhaven products, and 8 to 10 week turnaround time on the Wood-Mode line. Highly customized projects, or those involving the formulation of a new finish, may take longer.

Another expectation involves product quality. At Wood-Mode, this begins in the redesigned, 10-acre lumberyard and new 25,000-square-foot lumber processing facility.

Wood-Mode works with approximately 30 vendors to supply the cherry, maple, oak and pine used in its products. Although the lumber is graded when it comes in, Wood-Mode recently instituted its own grading and sorting system for internal use.

     
 
In City Lights, Brookhaven Colony cabinetry is given a contemporary look. Two finishes — Cinnabar with a graphite glaze and Hazel on the side panels and trim — complement the metallic laminate on the island platform and the snack bar. Ground glass inserts in several cabinet doors and low voltage pendant lights add to the look.  
     

Inside the lumber building, a new 160-foot Mellott System grading line is equipped with an electronic eye to “read” the width and length of the boards. An automatic turner flips the board, enabling the operator to examine both sides for any defects. “He then enters the information into the controller, which marks the boards with chalk lines signifying their grade determination,” explains Bob Gessner, plant manager.

The lumber is then brought to a new Automated Lumber Handling system for sorting by grade and length. “This system can handle 50,000 to 60,000 board feet per shift, compared to the old system which could only handle 22,000 to 25,000,” Gessner adds.

A bar coding system tracks the raw lumber for inventory purposes. Wood-Mode bases its inventory on the projected order rate. In February, for example, the company had approximately 2.6 million board feet on hand.

Wood-Mode also does its own lumber drying. It recently invested in three American Wood Dryer computer-controlled kilns, and plans to purchase additional kilns in the near future.

According to Gessner, the lumber area coordinates its schedule with the rough mill area. Thus, the kiln-dried lumber can be moved through production in a timely manner.

In the rough mill facility, a Mid-Oregon lumber optimizer works at speeds of up to 150 feet per minute to scan and mark the boards for defects. The boards are then sent to a GreCon optimizing saw. The saw optimizes its cuts based on the defect location and cutlists. According to Gessner, an average of 230,000 to 250,000 board feet per week are run through this plant. “Some months we’ll run close to 1 million board feet, depending on the job orders,” Gessner says.

A recent addition to the rough mill facility is a Weinig Hydromat moulder which is used alongside five older Weinig moulders. “We purchased the Hydromat to help us keep up with capacity. It also maximizes set-up time,” Gessner says. “All our moulders are versatile; they’re not dedicated to just one profile. When you have machines dedicated to just one profile, you run into the problem of not being able to meet demand on one machine, while others are sitting idle. We have to be ready to meet any changes,” Gessner adds.

Although the assembly plants work on a JIT basis, the rough mill area produces parts for internal inventory.

To produce the panels, strips are glued together and clamped on a Taylor clamp carrier. Cut as a square blank, the panels are processed on a Tagliabue shaper/sander. Interior stiles and rails are made on a custom-made machine.

Doors are then assembled with interior stiles and rails. In the panel plant, a Tagliabue combination machine shapes and sands outside profiles in one pass. The machine is capable of machining multiple profiles.

“Up to this point, there is no difference in the construction of the doors between frame and frameless,” Gessner says. The differences come into play in the case construction. The boxes used in Wood-Mode’s framed Design Group 42 are made of furniture-grade plywood. Particleboard is used to manufacture the boxes in the frameless Design Group 84 line. A slightly thinner particleboard is used in both Brookhaven I and II lines, although the framed Brookhaven II does offer plywood as an option.

To produce the veneered panels, a new Sennerskov veneer hot press runs in 8-hour shifts, laying up two 8-foot panels simultaneously. Two Black Bros. presses apply vinyls and other overlays onto the panels.

The company recently replaced an older Holzma panel saw with a new Holzma HPP11 Profiline for cutting panels and box components for stock inventory. “Because of the increased speed and efficiency, we were able to cut this machine down to one shift,” Gessner says.

An older Giben angular panel saw is also used to perform ripping and crosscutting of large panels. Gronlund says the company plans to purchase another panel saw within the next few years.

Once the panels are cut to size, they are sent to one of two older Morbidelli point-to-point boring machines for 32mm drilling. A brand new Morbidelli feedthrough boring and doweling machine, purchased from SCM Group, will be in the plant soon and replace one of the older machines. According to Gessner, this new machine will give the company additional capacity and faster setup. “We’ll keep one of the older ones for added versatility and flexibility,” he adds.

In the assembly plant, framed cabinet boxes are mortised and tenoned and doors are added. The frameless boxes are run through a recently purchased Morbidelli Author 504 boring machine, then assembled with the doors in place.

Edges are banded on a Homag single-sided edgebander, recently purchased from Stiles Machinery. Another new edgebander, an IMA single-sided machine which the company purchased to improve setup time on custom banding operations, is located in the custom panel operations building.

Finishing Touches

Wood-Mode is well-known for its hand-buffed finishes. In addition to its customized finishes, the company stocks 70 to 80 different types of finishes.

For the Wood-Mode line, the multi-step finishes are offered in stain, opaque, light heirloom, dark heirloom, black heirloom, cottage, vintage and physically-distressed low sheen, in a wide variety of colors. On Brookhaven cabinetry, a baked-on sealer and catalytic varnish is applied over the stain.

Finishing materials are applied by Kremlin spray guns. Wood-Mode also uses both a Cefla flatline finishing system and Berkmann custom color finishing system. According to Gronlund, the company is planning upgrades to its finishing area in the near future.

“You have to constantly improve — sell the sizzle,” Gronlund says. “Our goal is to make sure we continue to have the high-quality look people want.”

Tale of Two Cabinets: Wood-Mode and Brookhaven

It’s subtle differences that separate Wood-Mode Inc.’s Wood-Mode and Brookhaven cabinet lines. Both can be customized, although the high-end Wood-Mode line has a higher degree of customization. Both feature solid wood doors and multi-step finishing processes. And both are available in full lines of frame and frameless construction.

In terms of sales revenue, Brookhaven accounts for approximately 55 percent of Wood-Mode Inc.’s sales. Introduced in 1989, the Brookhaven line signified the company’s debut into the semi-custom market and its second entry into the frameless market, following the success of Wood-Mode’s Design Group 84, which was released in 1984. By 1990, frameless cabinetry accounted for approximately 30 percent of corporate sales. By 1992, that figure jumped to 60 percent, where it continues to hold steady today.

In 1993, the company added a framed line to Brookhaven. “The biggest reason we brought out the framed Brookhaven line was because 85 to 90 percent of cabinetry sold in this country is framed. People are invariably looking for framed because that’s what they’re most familiar with, so when they come to a dealer, that’s what we want to be able to show them,” says R.L. Gronlund, CEO and chairman.

“We’re not putting more emphasis on marketing one over the other. For a customer, there’s a big benefit to having both styles available.”

Frameless preferences tend to be in the large metropolitan, “less traditional” areas. More traditional areas, such as the general Midwest, tend to prefer framed construction, commented Larry “Bud” Arbogast, vice president, sales.

A brief description of the lines follows.

Wood-Mode Line

Available with a lifetime limited warranty, the high-end Wood-Mode line differs from Brookhaven in that it has a much higher degree of customization with regards to mouldings, turnings, insets and finishes. Multi-step hand-rubbed finishes are offered in stain, opaque, light heirloom, dark heirloom, black heirloom, cottage, vintage and physically-distressed low sheen materials in a wide variety of colors. The company can also custom manufacture finishes in its on-site paint lab. Gloss or matte finish laminates are also available.

Two lines of Wood-Mode cabinetry are available: Design Group 42 traditional frame construction and Design Group 84 frameless construction.

For the manufacture of Design Group 42, select cherry, maple, oak and pine is screened and then dried in the company’s own computerized kilns for use in the cabinet doors and drawers. The dovetail drawer boxes are made of solid maple, 58-inch thick on the sides, fronts and backs, with a 316-inch plywood bottom. The drawers utilize a full-extension Blum drawer undermount slide system, for wider interior storage space. Furniture-grade plywood is used for the cabinet box construction.

Doors in the Design Group 84 frameless line are of similar construction to those of Group 42. Furniture-grade particleboard is used for the cabinetry cases, which are lined with white laminate, natural maple vinyl or maple veneer. A Blum 125-degree opening self-closing hinge system is used to attach the doors to the boxes.

Drawers are available in either dovetail construction or with Grass’ Nova white epoxy metal sides and bottom.

Brookhaven Line

With a 10-year limited warranty, the Brookhaven line is also available with solid wood dovetail drawers. The European-style Nova (Grass) drawer systems is also available on the Brookhaven I frameless line.

Brookhaven I features fully-concealed Blum six-way adjustable hinges which open to 107 degrees. Brookhaven II features Blum fully-concealed or full 180-degree opening hinges.

Cabinet boxes are constructed of particleboard; plywood is optional on Brookhaven II. Interior surfaces are covered in either a solid or wood grain overlay to resist moisture, stains and fading.

Like the Wood-Mode line, cabinet doors are also made from solid wood. For Brookhaven II, they can be specified in either full overlay or traditional reveal styles. The finishing process involves using a deep-penetrating stain over which a baked-on sealer and catalytic varnish are applied. The surface is hand-buffed to a satiny sheen.

Options available on the Brookhaven include: glass mullion doors, corner turn-out cabinet, pull-out pantry, pull-out towel bar, double wastebaskets, wine rack and tray partitions.

— Karen Koenig

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