Kindel merger with The Taylor Co utilizes manufacturing technologies

August 22, 2010
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The Kindel Furniture Co.’s merger with The Taylor Co. and its subsidiaries to serve the fine furniture and wood components industries worldwide was announced last week with the intention of taking advantage of advanced manufacturing technologies emerging in a centuries-old industry.

John Van Zee, 54, president and co-owner of The Taylor Co., will serve as president/CEO and become co-owner of Kindel after the companies merge.

“The message that we continue to convey to all of the stakeholders regarding Kindel is that there will be no tangible change with the end product,” Van Zee told the Business Journal. “There is a passion with the Kindel customer base (regarding the quality of the company’s products), and we intend to keep it that way. How we get there is what we will take a closer look at, including how technology is utilized.”

Van Zee noted Kindel’s design process has used traditional approaches that impede production in the fast-paced environment necessary to compete in the furniture business. “It’s antiquated and doesn’t add value to the end product. Even before the product gets to a piece of machinery, we will look at how we are designing it. There are powerful design tools that we utilize and plan to invest in even more going forward.

"The Taylor Co. methods will only enhance what people value in Kindel furniture," Van Zee said. "We will be using computerized machining methods on many components to ensure accuracy and precision while maintaining the Kindel heritage that includes hand carving and decorating, luxurious upholstered details and fine finishing."

Van Zee stressed the hand-carving element will remain in place. “Hand carving is important to our customer base; they expect that. A lot of handcrafting takes place in the sanding and execution of the Kindel level of finishing. But we need to invest in technology and training. If we don’t do it, our competitors are going to. We can’t remain neutral is the gist of it. If you’re standing still, you can’t gain ground.”

The merged companies will offer four major branded product lines under the Kindel parent corporation: Kindel and its brands, The Taylor Co., Taylor Millwork and the Superior Furniture Co. brand that The Taylor Co. acquired in 2009.

Officials at Kindel and The Taylor Co. have been in discussions for several months regarding the merger, said James A. Fisher, 64, current CEO of Kindel and executive vice president of the Fisher Properties of Indiana Inc., based in Muncie. Having held an ownership position in Kindel since 1964, the Fisher family is the sole shareholder in the company.

Fisher will remain on the board of the new Kindel Furniture Co. as its chairman.

Kindel currently employs 83 full- and part-time people, and The Taylor Co. currently has about 64 full-time employees. Van Zee said that while it is early in the integration process, he expects there will be consolidation of the positions that will reduce that total number of full-time and part-time employees at the merged company, but it is undetermined at this point what the total number of employees will be. He said the company will try to retain workers wherever possible.

"This is a textbook example of how two companies with complementary business structures can merge to create a much stronger corporation," Fisher said. "Kindel is providing the reputation earned over the past 109 years, experience and techniques of Old World craftsmanship, designs and licenses, and customer relationships. The Taylor Co. is contributing advanced techniques in woodworking and modern business methods that will make Kindel much more 'custom capable,' which is the inescapable trend in fine furniture buying today."

Fisher said that while Kindel has embraced lean manufacturing techniques during the past two years, it still relied on some manufacturing processes that constrained it from easily customizing orders and scheduling appropriate lead times. The Taylor Co. has developed proprietary methods of building fine furniture components to order through the use of computer routers and other automated equipment.

Fisher and Van Zee expect the new company to reap significant benefits from the merger by consolidating manufacturing spaces and applying modern business methods to Kindel. Over the next few months, Kindel will move manufacturing operations from its multi-story, 170,000-square-foot facility at 100 Garden St. SE into the single-level, 92,000-square-foot building that the Taylor company occupies at 4047 Eastern Ave. SE.

“One of the key elements is the inefficiency of the Garden Street building,” Van Zee noted. “It was a state-of-the-art building a hundred years ago. Now, a multiple-story building creates waste. The product travels too far and there is too much opportunity for damage. It also is an energy-inefficient building.”

Van Zee said The Taylor Co. has “continually invested in precision automated equipment used in processing wood. This more efficiently duplicates what Kindel already has on its floor, which will make for a rapid and smooth move of the Kindel operations to the Eastern Avenue facility.”

The merger will mark the third time in the past two years that The Taylor Co. has brought more work into its Eastern Avenue facility. In spring of 2009, the company purchased the assets of Superior Furniture, at the time based in Lowell, and moved the manufacturing to Grand Rapids. Established in 1936, Superior Furniture manufacturers and sells occasional and cocktail tables, chairs, stools, benches and bedroom furniture in more than 50 finishes.

In September last year, The Taylor Co. acquired the assets of Quality Door and Trim in Holland and moved that operation to the Eastern Avenue facility. This division, now called Taylor Millwork, manufactures interior and exterior doors, as well as cabinetry for both commercial and residential applications.

"We expect to provide our customers with an even wider range of high-quality products than were sold under the Kindel brands," Van Zee said. "It's no secret that buyers today want choices. We are now able to better accommodate their desires, not only from a design standpoint, but with more nimble service and a broader range of prices."

During the past few years, Kindel has been developing new lines of furniture that appeal to a larger cross-section of interior designers and commercial and residential customers. Highly regarded for its reproduction furniture, the company updated its offerings with the Dorothy Draper and the Knowledge Collection line of mid-century modern design. The merger will enhance Kindel's ability to efficiently customize existing products, improve its quality and delivery, and facilitate a growing demand for one-of-a-kind offerings.

"Our furniture style has a broad range," Fisher said. "While we will continue to serve our customers who appreciate our luxurious, highly polished furniture, we've also added a lot of new and interesting pieces that come in a variety of lighter colors and finishes."

Kindel is the last remaining manufacturer of residential case goods in Grand Rapids, once the nation's capital for fine furniture. With roots reaching back to 1969, The Taylor Co. in Grand Rapids is a manufacturer of high-end, wooden and veneered components to Kindel and other fine furniture manufacturers.

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