Kitchen & Bath Design News

JUL 2019

Kitchen & Bath Design News is the industry's leading business, design and product resource for the kitchen and bath trade.

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Page 12 of 67

Demise of an Iconic Cabinet Brand (continued from page 5) But Wood-Mode, like many companies, was doubtless wounded by the recession, its nancial challenges resulting in a steady stream of layos, salary cuts and various forms of corporate downsizing. An inux of capital was aimed at enabling the company to restructure debt and generate liquidity. A nancial turnaround team was also put in place. But those moves apparently weren't enough to reverse the downward spiral – and quite possibly may have exacerbated it. Corporate belt-tightening can often boost short-term nancial performance, but it just as often tends to put longer-term pressure on operations, stiing investment in the kind of initiatives that once fueled success. Banks and other lenders demand a return; loans require repayment. Cost- cutting also inevitably tends to weigh on nancially stressed companies, sucking the oxygen from them and exacerbating their seemingly inexorable decline. Add to that the ever-rising costs of hardware, compo- nents and equipment, and it's easy to see the corrosive impact all of it might have had on Wood-Mode's bottom line and ability to meet its obligations. Then there were likely internal factors. Wood-Mode doubtless faced genera- tional changes not atypical of companies approaching their th year in business. The company's founding fathers, years ago, passed from the scene. Key executives and one-of-a-kind artisans retired or departed the company, leaving an unllable void. Wood-Mode, through no fault of its own, likely lost some of the lifeblood and inspira- tional leadership that once propelled it. Were mistakes made? Maybe. Could de- cisions be second-guessed? Perhaps. Might the company have been spared? That's open to conjecture. While Wood-Mode may be yet resur- rected through acquisition or an injection of capital, time is swiftly running out – if it hasn't already. All of which, while emotion- ally wrenching, seems, in light of every- thing, almost inevitable. Even the best-run businesses don't enjoy interminable lifespans. The tide of change is inexorable. Companies come and go. Even iconic brands can fall. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, Wood- Mode was one of them. ▪ "There was no indication that Wood-Mode was in any kind of trouble," said Joe Chorba, owner of the West Wyoming, PA-based Chorba's Cabinet Shop, an exclu- sive Wood-Mode dealer for 25 years. "To be left out in the cold like we were was some kind of shock," said Chorba, who had five orders in the pro- duction pipeline at the time of closure. "Everything was running smoothly, as far as we knew, right until the end." Chorba, who initially feared his dealership would go under, says that he's determined now to remain in business, and has already picked up at least one new cabinet line. He vowed, however, never again to assume the risk of carrying a cabinet line exclusively. Similar sentiments were expressed by Jennifer His- sa, owner/designer at Greater Chicago Kitchen and Bath in Evanston, IL. "I had no idea [about the closure] before time; it was a shock," said Hissa, who is also determined to carry on. "I'm not going out of business," she told KBDN. "I've been doing this for 22 years, and we're moving forward with a new plan. What choice do I have? I've heard of so many people shutting their doors. It's been a big shakeup in our industry. People I've talked to are seri- ously broken up. It's such a shame. "Some people are just lying on the floor crying, but ultimately you have to pick yourself up," Hissa said. "I'm a positive person, and you have to say: 'I can't change [what happened], so what am I going to do next?' I have to keep moving forward. I have no choice." Hissa said her dealership will have a "grand opening once I have some new products in the showroom so I can showcase what we're going to do moving forward. But I don't think I'll ever do an exclusive showroom again after what happened." As far as Wood-Mode displays are concerned, she says, "I'll probably have a big showroom display sale at some point. The displays [are still valuable because they] show my design ability. And I can't a–ord to re- place them all right now, so that's something we'll do in time and some lucky clients will get some great deals on displays." For now, Hissa said, working with her customers is her top priority. Hissa, like other dealers, said she was extremely proactive and "very open with everyone" in light of the minimal amount of information she was receiving from Wood-Mode, calling all her clients within 24 hours, "because I didn't want them hearing about it from someone else." She said that all her clients "have been very positive, very understanding. "Clients have been amazing about it, really under- standing and patient," she said. "I have clients who have their kitchens torn out who are waiting for cabinets, and they've been tremendously patient. It could have been a disaster. But I think it's all in how you handle yourself and your business, and how you handle your clients. "My clients trust me," Hissa observed. "They trusted me with a big investment, and they trust me to do right by them, to communicate and be honest and get their project done." Lee Ann O'Daniel, owner of San Luis Kitchen Co. in San Luis Obispo, CA, told KBDN she appealed fruitlessly to Pennsylvania oœcials, urging them to get the Wood-Mode factory reopened. She has since abandoned that e–ort, she said, and is "well on our way to moving on with Plan B." According to O'Daniel, a Wood-Mode/Brookhaven dealer for 36 years, she had nine orders worth thou- sands of dollars in the system at the time of closure, with other designs completed though still unordered. The closure, she said, "was shocking. We had no clue. We were dumbfounded." O'Daniel said she is determined to remain in busi- ness, however. "I do not give up," she said, noting that she has already picked up other custom cabinet lines, despite the challenges of starting from scratch and learning new pricing, ordering and nomenclature. Cus- tomers, for the most part, have been sympathetic and patient, she added. "It was not a great situation, having all my eggs in one basket," O'Daniel said of her relationship with Wood- Mode. "But they supplied everything we needed, and it was much simpler than carrying multiple lines." Alan Zielinski, CKD, owner of Nile, IL-based Better Kitchens, Inc., the longest standing Wood-Mode dealer in the Chicago area, said his company had about half a dozen projects in the pipeline at the time of the closure. According to Zielinski, whose dealership was estab- lished in 1956, the Wood-Mode closure "blindsided" him, as it did others. "I [was] surprised," he said. "It can't be for a lack of orders, because in talking to other dealers through the e-mail chain, we all have projects underway." Zelinski said his Wood-Mode rep "has been doing a tremendous job in trying to communicate with us [and] has been working very diligently to try to get product that has already been manufactured loaded onto trucks, so we can satisfy our customers. We've been telling customers that 'we don't know the exact outcome of this but stand by us because we're going to do everything possible to make sure our projects get completed.'" "Wood-Mode is attempting to help, and I get it, they're in a really tough spot," Hissa added. "If we have things completed in the warehouse, they've been trying to get us that. But things in production, I don't think we're going to see them. And I have no idea whether I'll get paid for deposits I've already put down on cabinet orders." Many dealers, while undecided, say they'd be hard-pressed to remain with Wood-Mode should the company be acquired or otherwise reopen. "I'd have to see what [damage] was done to their reputation," Hissa said. "Wood-Mode was an industry leader, and they might be again if the right people were on board. But I'd have to see what happens." But regardless of how the unfolding drama plays out, Zielinski, for one, says he is grateful for the level of support he's been receiving – not solely from his rep, but from throughout the industry. "I want [people to know] what a wonderful industry we're in," he said. "We've associated collaboratively with many colleagues for many years. I've had friends who are cabinet manufacturers call to o–er us the abil- ity to service our customers. Other dealers I'm closely associated with have called and said, 'Alan, we want to help you take care of your customers. You can use any of our product line or materials. That's a resource we'd like to o–er to you.' "That's the 'family aspect' of this business," Zielinski said. "And that's what has touched me the most." — Eliot Sefrin, KBDN Publisher Emeritus July 2019 • 13 EDITORIAL

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