A structural engineer, Ralph Fehr’s involvement in the woodworking industry came at the behest of his brother and a friend, who had purchased a small business. Fehr began helping with equipment-related projects, before soon joining as a partner.
“I think not being a ‘real’ woodworker myself has forced me to allow decisions regarding many aspects of the work to be made right on the factory floor,” said Fehr, president and operations manager at Elias Woodwork. “Empowering the front line worker close to the customer to make decisions has proven to be most efficient. We hire talent and train well. Internal training in our fast-paced world of changing styles and product offerings has become one of our major strengths.”
Another strength, and also a mantra, “is to not cut costs close to the customer.” As product moves throughout the production cycle, “we use less and less automation and take more and more time to assure the final quality entering the paint and finish facility, where we spare no expense in getting the job just right,” he said. “These steps are the cornerstone of customer satisfaction and make it palatable from a cost point of view. Quality always has to be job one.”
Fehr added, “I am proud of the attention to detail, overall quality of work, and ownership our staff exhibits and the reviews this gets from customers every day.
“This doesn’t happen without a catalyst. I would have to say that planning succession and assembling a team of next generation co-owners and a good supervisory incentive system implementation is personally my proudest achievement.”
Under Fehr’s leadership, Elias Woodwork has become a major player in the wood components industry — and it continues to innovate. Among the projects underway is an online ordering system that is customized and configured to each customer’s product mix and specification. “We are very excited about the possibilities this has for our customers’ experiences.”
Plans also call to consolidate Elias Woodwork’s three closely located factories into two by spring of 2019. “We see some efficiencies and reaction speed improvements made possible by this move so everyone is excited for this to happen,” Fehr said.
The firm is equally involved in the community, aiding on large scale projects such as the construction of a “lake,” beach and meditation garden for a summer camp, Heritage Park, and a hospice care facility.
In his free time, Fehr enjoys being with his wife, entertainer/performer/singer/songwriter Julie C. Myers and seeing her perform. “I was a musician in my college years and still tend to live out my own musical ideas through her vicariously.”
Education: Structural Engineer
Number of years at the company & industry: 36
Best advice: Learned from his father, “I should resist habits…and to think fully about the implications of my actions no matter how small and insignificant. Deal with the details and the big things will fall into place as they should.”
Who have you tried to emulate? I take inspiration from several people. Johnny Buhler (Farm King Ind.) once said “Never cry about a bad deal…just move on as quickly as you can.” I’ve admired a local entrepreneurial family (PW Enns, Triple E RV) for taking care of and inspiring their employees. I also take many lessons and examples from my father, David H. Fehr, one being the pursuit of excellence should be an enjoyable journey and not an inconvenience on the way to chasing profitability.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.