Rising From the Corporate Ashes

"In a year of unprecedented challenges, it’s heartening to close 2020 with the news of Wood-Mode’s seeming revival.”

authors Eliot Sefrin | November 20, 2020

Francie Milano, Jennifer Hissa, Scott Waldhauser and Jay Sponenberg have had a dicey roller- coaster ride across the past 18 months. Thankfully, it’s seemingly come to a rewarding conclusion.

Milano, Hissa, Waldhauser and Sponenberg are all principals at kitchen and bath design firms in New Jersey, Chicago, Maryland and Massachusetts, respectively. Each had been a Wood-Mode Inc. dealer for up to four decades. And each is among the expansive network of U.S., Canadian and South American dealers – many of them longtime, exclusive customers of Wood-Mode and its semi-custom line, Brookhaven – who were rocked to their core when Wood-Mode’s former owners announced they had no recourse but to abruptly shutter the financially troubled company’s factory in May 2019.

The unexpected closure, and resultant chaos and uncertainty, shook the entire kitchen and bath industry – blindsiding employees, dealers, sales reps, suppliers, subcontractors and homeowners – while prompting speculation about the factors that led to the seeming demise of an iconic, 78-year-old company that produced perhaps the industry’s most highly respected custom cabinet brand. Partially finished cabinet orders were left on the factory floor, kitchen and bath projects cancelled or left in limbo, suppliers owed money, showroom displays seemingly rendered extinct, and dealers left scrambling for replacement lines to fill the sudden void.

After all of that, however, there has been a dramatic and gratifying turnaround.

One year after reopening its Kreamer, PA factory, Wood-Mode has seemingly risen from the ashes, producing cabinets, rehiring employees, adding customers, and rebuilding relationships with dealers, reps and suppliers, according to Bill French, who acquired the Wood-Mode name – along with its factory, equipment, inventory and related assets – in August 2019. September of 2020 marked the one-year anniversary of the new corporate entity, Wood-Mode LLC. October saw the restart of cabinet shipments.

According to French, he and his management team have spent the past 15 months addressing a range of priorities, including rebuilding frayed relationships, rebuilding confidence and focusing on core values, while incorporating input from dealers into key areas of the business, including factory operations, marketing and new products.

Wood-Mode Inc. employed 938 workers at the time of its closure, down from 2,000 at the company’s height, prior to the 2008 recession. Wood-Mode LLC currently employs more than 400 workers and is targeted to reach 450 in 2021 – a projection, French says, that’s ahead of schedule and based on revenue and profit trends that will likely be exceeded.

The company had some 800 dealers at the time of its closure. The revivified Wood-Mode has about 650 dealers and is selectively adding more. Wood-Mode LLC has also tripled its production capacity since last September, with on-time and complete deliveries exceeding 95%. Both, French says, are historic highs.

Looking toward 2021, French says Wood-Mode is planning to continue investing in employees, marketing, infrastructure, reducing lead times, introducing new products and writing exciting new chapters in the company’s long, rich history.

All this, of course, is good news to dealers like Milano, Hissa, Waldhauser and Sponenberg.

In a year of unprecedented challenges, business setbacks, personal tragedy and widespread uncertainty, it’s heartening to close 2020 with a welcome bit of upbeat news. Hopefully, Wood-Mode’s resurrection will be the kickoff to more good news in 2021 and beyond.

Editor’s Note:

Kitchen & Bath Design News bids a fond adieu with this month’s issue to two of the magazine’s longest tenured and most esteemed columnists.

Mary Jo Peterson, CMKBD, CAPS, CLIPP, whose “Planning & Design” column has been a staple for years in KBDN, will assume a new role as a contributing editor, expanding the range of subjects she’ll research and write about. At the same time, Sara Reep, CMKBD, CAPS, ASID, CMG, CAPS, IIDA, author of KBDN’s popular “Inside Today’s Showroom” column, recently assumed a new position at cabinet hardware supplier Blum US.

KBDN is immensely grateful to Mary Jo and Sara for their years of insightful contributions to the kitchen/bath industry, and we wish the two of them fulfillment and continued success. ▪

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