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Employment at Wood-Mode factory continues to grow; new owner optimistic going into 2020

KREAMER — The Wood-Mode factory that reopened under new ownership with 100 employees in September — months after its abrupt closure put almost 1,000 people out of work — has put 290 people to work as it enters 2020.

Middleburg businessman Bill French, who reopened the plant in Kreamer, Snyder County, said the outlook for next year is good for the custom wood cabinet manufacturer, with orders coming in and the business breaking even.

The main focus now is rebuilding the company’s relationship with dealers, which was damaged when the former owners of the factory abruptly shut down production on May 13, leaving 938 employees out of work.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on the road with dealers,” said French who estimates he has met 200 so far. More trips are planned, he said.

The former owners claimed the plant had to close because a prospective buyer backed out and the prime lender was unwilling to provide additional money to keep it in operation.

Dealers were hurt badly and in some cases have been cautious about returning, French said. The result of meetings with them has been generally positive, he said.

Dealers suffered because Wood-Mode makes custom-designed cabinets and some consumers went elsewhere after the shutdown, said manufacturing manager Bob Gessner.

Orders worth millions of dollars were in pipeline when the plant closed without warning, and only 15 to 20 percent of that product was wanted when it reopened, he said.

Much of the unfinished product has been re-purposed to fill new orders, he said.

Unwanted completed cabinets are being offered at a reduced price to those dealers who can work them it into their designs, Gessner said.

The new Wood-Mode is now operating at about 30 percent of its 2018 production level, French said. As of Friday, 7,266 cabinets have been built, Gessner said.

When asked if he’d anticipated the success the company has had since reopening four months ago, Gessner said “I did and I didn’t.”

“I knew our product had a consumer demand” but the “brand was tarnished by the shut down,” he said. “The challenge we have is recovering the trust of the dealers.”

Gessner credits the new Wood-Mode’s growth to a product that he says is equal to or better in quality than it was before, and 100 percent on-time shipping.

And that’s due to the 290 employees, all of whom worked for the former company. Others have applied for jobs and will be considered as orders dictate the need for more workers, he said.

French when he announced the purchase in August said the goal was to employ between 200 and 500.

The new Wood-Mode is a start-up company so everyone hired is considered a new employee, including Gessner who had 45 years with the former Wood-Mode company

One of management’s goals is to better communicate with employees, he said. He is on the floor at least three times a day, he said.

On Monday, French, who also owns Professional Building Systems in Middleburg, walked through the plant wishing each employee a Merry Christmas. “That’s something that never happened before,” Gessner said.

As a new company it is not a party to the class-action federal lawsuit that accuses the former Wood-Mode owners of violating the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act by failing to give workers the required 60-day notice of the shutdown.

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