A New Beginning for Wood-Mode

"For all the heartache and uncertainty evoked by the Wood-Mode saga, it also provides shining examples of resilience, adaptability and grit.”

authors Eliot Sefrin | September 6, 2019

The kitchen and bath industry received a dose of heartening news last month with the announcement that Wood-Mode, shrouded for months by speculation and uncertainty, will apparently experience a rebirth.

New ownership, by mid-August, had reopened Wood-Mode’s factory – 12 weeks after its sudden, unexpected closure – resuming operations after businessman Bill French acquired the company’s assets, sparing it from imminent demise. Wood Mode LLC, a new corporate entity, is accepting orders, shipping product and once again producing cabinets at the company’s Kreamer, PA factory (see story).

Wood-Mode’s new beginning stands in sharp contrast to the May announcement that the 77-year-old, custom-cabinet icon had no choice but to shutter its factory. Stunned employees were escorted from the factory, sales reps taken aback, vendors left holding unpaid receivables. Dealers, in the meantime, scrambled to find replacement cabinet lines, assuage anxious consumers and, in some cases, ponder the fate of their own businesses. The entire saga was marked by heartache and bitterness, shock and uncertainty, frustration and confusion.

Last month’s 11th-hour acquisition completely changed that narrative.

Acquiring Wood-Mode in the wake of all that’s transpired is a gutsy, inspired move. While French clearly views the transaction through a businessman’s lens, Wood-Mode’s acquisition also represents a noble gesture to a community decimated by the loss of nearly 1,000 jobs. While all those jobs won’t be restored, a workforce of up to 500 could possibly be attained, French says. That would be a shot in the arm to a lot of needy families.

French’s acquisition also preserves one of the industry’s most respected names. Wood-Mode, a pioneering firm known for innovation, craftsmanship and customer service, has long been considered the gold standard by which custom cabinetry was measured. It’s gratifying to know that the brand remains alive, even if the revivified company will operate on a far-smaller scale.

But heartening as the news is about Wood-Mode’s rebirth, it’s equally heartening to hear how the bulk of the company’s dealer network dealt with the recent chain of events.

Kitchen and bath dealers have always been a hardy, resilient breed, personified by an ability to adapt to the relentless churn of a fast-paced industry. Dealers, for decades, have coped with evolving design trends, changing lifestyles and family compositions. They’ve adapted to waves of new products, a changing competitive landscape and the advent of technological advances.

The Wood-Mode saga provides yet another example of that resilience.

Shaken by Wood-Mode’s closure, dealers nevertheless found the courage and wherewithal to meet the challenge head-on, refusing to quit. Replacement cabinet lines were found. Customer relationships were preserved. Businesses were redefined. Colleagues were thrown a lifeline. Dealers found a way to persevere, adapt, carry on.

And it wasn’t just dealers. Similar stories of determination, resilience and humanity have emerged across the industry’s entire supply chain. Laid-off employees rallied to each other’s side. Sales reps assisted customers. Manufacturers offered resources to beleaguered retail firms. The industry demonstrated that, in times of crisis it is, in many ways, one big family.

A great deal of work surely lies ahead. Wood-Mode’s ownership, among myriad challenges, will have to work diligently to rebuild relationships and regain the faith of an entire industry.

French, for one, says he’s optimistic about Wood-Mode’s chances and believes that the brand remains viable, despite all that has unfolded. He may be right. While rattled by recent events, many dealers seemingly remain loyal to the Wood-Mode brand and are expressing a willingness to continue with the company, though no longer necessarily on an exclusive basis. Time will tell how successful the company’s new iteration will be.

KBDN hopes Wood-Mode’s challenges can be put behind it, and that the company’s new beginning can open the door to a bright future.

Wood-Mode’s financial difficulties, regardless of their genesis, were unfortunate. So was the handling of the company’s closure. It sure would make an excellent chapter to Wood-Mode’s decades-long saga, however, if the company’s stellar legacy can somehow be restored. ▪

Editorial Eliot Sefrin KBDN September 2019 Wood-Mode

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