Returning to Grand Rapids’ roots
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The growth of a Grand Rapids furniture company is good news for America’s Furniture City.
Although the city was once considered the nation’s capital for furniture making, the local furniture industry hasn’t seen much growth in recent years.
But there are bright spots — including Kindel Furniture Co., a luxury furniture manufacturer located in approximately 100,000 square feet of space at 4047 Eastern Ave. SE.
“Kindel survives today because we’ve been able to change, grow and evolve,” said Amy Wolbert, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “I like to say Grand Rapids is a furniture city, and we’re returning it to its roots singlehandedly in this factory because we’re hiring furniture craftsmen. That hasn’t happened in a long time.”
In the last two years, Kindel has purchased two out-of-state furniture companies, has added staff and is looking to add more, Wolbert said. The two furniture companies were purchased for an undisclosed sum.
“In 2014, we purchased another lovely furniture maker from (Evansville) Indiana called Karges Furniture, and then last year we purchased another furniture maker that had closed its doors in (Denton) North Carolina called Councill Craftsmen,” she said.
“They are both luxury brands — heritage brands. Councill was established in 1973; Karges was 1886. They’re companies like us: small, make-to-order, all about the luxury detail that’s important to furniture consumers.”
Kindel, which has been in business since 1901, moved Karges and Councill production into its Eastern Avenue location. Although most of the employees did not move with the brand, Kindel did receive the companies’ intellectual property, inventory and some equipment, Wolbert said.
More than 50 of the products Kindel now makes are products it has never made before, Wolbert said, adding that its craftsmen now have “800 news things to learn.” The Councill catalogue alone was 240 pages of furniture that Kindel is learning to make, she said.
“This evolution with the two additional brands — the three of us are called Kindel Grand Rapids. We call it Kindel Grand Rapids because it’s really important to note that we moved the two acquisitions to Grand Rapids,” she said.
“The industry is fragmented and there are small companies like ours that find it challenging in the industry to make furniture on a small scale, that will do one-of-a-kind pieces and make custom changes to products. Both of those companies did that kind of work, and we recognize that as a way to make us stronger.”
With the addition of the two companies has come the need for more skilled laborers. In the last year, Kindel has hired 20 full-time employees in the areas of CNC, machine, assembly, finishing and upholstery, said CEO Rob Burch.
The company, which now has about 90 employees, is still looking to add 10 more full-time employees in those areas, but especially in assembly, he said.
“What we’re hoping is that there are people with experience who are later in their careers — or if they’re retired and they want part-time, we’re open to that, too. We want people with experience, or people without experience who are open to learn, and have a great work ethic,” he said.
Kindel is expecting major growth in 2016. At some point, the company is going to need to move into a larger space, but for now it’s going to handle its growth by adding a second shift, Burch said. That change will take place within six months and will allow the firm to increase capacity, he added.
“One of the needs we meet is, in addition to being the last one standing of these great Grand Rapids furniture companies, we’re also one of the few manufacturers in luxury in our aesthetic that does custom work,” he said.
“We just think this is a wonderful thing for Grand Rapids. For us, luxury is handcrafted, and we’re the last one left in Grand Rapids and we’re probably one of the last in America with these pricepoints. It’s an art form.”