Wood Industry Market Leader: Bill French, Wood-Mode LLC
October 8, 2020 | 11:20 am CDT

In business, people often talk about a “white knight,” meaning someone who swoops in at the last minute to rescue a struggling or failing company. Bill French is the white knight who rescued Wood-Mode in 2019 after its long-time ownership suddenly shut the doors.

“I have been a part of the community where Wood-Mode is located for a long time,” said French. “I remember the day Wood-Mode, Inc. closed in May of last year. I know that the closing had a lot of impact on the industry as a whole, but I knew people who had worked at Wood-Mode and saw the impact on this community as well. Soon after they closed, I knocked on Wood-Mode’s door, handed them my business card and said that I wanted to help save jobs.”

That led to French buying the assets of the company and reopening the plant while hiring back hundreds of the workers who had lost their jobs. But reviving Wood-Mode wasn’t easy. Not only did he have to resuscitate production, but also French had to repair relationships with the dealer network, which had been left out in the cold by the sudden closure.

“The experience I have had with the Wood-Mode family over the last year is amazing to me and one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “The people of Wood-Mode, from our reps and dealers to our employees, have been so encouraging, and I am consistently amazed at the way people have engaged and supported the new Wood-Mode. It has been exciting but also humbling.”

French previously had two decades in the home building industry through his company Professional Building Systems Inc., which makes modular homes and apartments. But taking on a cabinet manufacturing company was new.

“I often get thanked for buying Wood-Mode, but it is the people of Wood-Mode who make the difference,” he said. “High-end, custom cabinetry was new to me, so I needed to listen more than talk. Since last fall, I have met with over 200 of our dealers and their input has been so valuable. I also walk our factory floor and get input from our employees. If you are willing to listen, you can learn a lot.”

French acknowledged that dealers were worried Wood-Mode’s reputation for quality might suffer. “I still remember hearing back how thrilled dealers were when they unwrapped the cabinets,” he said. “It actually got to a point where dealers were having unveiling parties when they received their first shipment, so their customers could see them.”

Quick Glimpse:

• Education: BA Economics, Stanford; MBA Harvard
• Number of years at the company: 1
• Number of years in the industry: More than 20
• Word that best describes you: Genuine
• Business mantra: Focus on building relationships, listening and responding.
• Best advice: To always be realistic, look forward, not back, to listen to others and to ask for advice while always doing the right thing.
• Who have you tried to emulate: My father because of his values, leadership skills and encouragement.
• Top priority: Continued focus on maintaining Wood-Mode’s reputation for top quality, especially in the area of cabinet finishes.

About the Wood Industry Market Leaders: This marks the 12th year Woodworking Network has paid tribute to outstanding men and women that have made an impact, not only at their companies, but within the various wood products industries. Since 2009, more than 80 industry professionals have shared their influencers, insights and strategies.  Read more about the 2020 and past honorees at WoodworkingNetwork.com/Market-Leaders.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editor of FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.