Manufacturing and Retail

Vogt Industries seeks a successor

Drawer and cabinet hardware systems maker looks back on a ‘pleasing’ 50 years in business.

December 6, 2019
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Vogt Industries
Jim and Marcia Vogt have been looking to transition into retirement for the past several years. Photo by Johnny Quirin

As Jim and Marcia Vogt prepare to retire and transition out of their longtime business, they are reflecting on five decades of hard work in an industry with many ups and downs.

Jim Vogt’s grandfather, Englebert Vogt, co-founded Knape & Vogt in Grand Rapids in 1898 with his brother-in-law, John Knape. The company, still going strong over 121 years later, makes cabinet hardware and accessories, shelving and storage units, and ergonomic office products.

During his high school years in the 1950s, Jim Vogt worked summers in the plant at Knape & Vogt, learning the ropes of furniture making.

The Vogt family divested its shares when the company went public in 1961 and turned over leadership to Raymond Knape and Donald Knape, John Knape’s grandsons. This happened the same year Jim Vogt graduated college from the University of Michigan. He continued working for Knape & Vogt in new product development, marketing, pricing and “a little bit of everything” for another eight years, he said.

In 1969, he resigned and started his own furniture supplier, Vogt Industries. Years ago, he married Marcia Vogt, and the couple has a blended family of six children and 13 grandchildren together.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Vogt Industries has gone through many seasons of change over the years while keeping its core specialties: specialty drawer slides and inner cabinet hardware storage systems, primarily for the residential market and to a lesser degree for commercial markets.

Its customers include retail catalog companies and hardware distributors around the country, such as Rockler; Attwood Corporation, which makes marine LED lighting and boat accessories in Lowell; and occasional small-scale jobs for Knape & Vogt and other office furniture makers.

Vogt Industries also makes private-label, modular drawer-and-mailbox units for the Carson, California-based commercial and residential mailbox supplier Salsbury Industries, which in turn sells the units to the U.S. Postal Service for its facilities.

“It was 1973, ’74, somewhere in there that we got that contract, and we’ve been making them ever since,” Jim Vogt said.

In the past, the Vogts did a fair amount of business with various Amish furniture makers in Indiana.

Closer to home, they formerly supplied companies such as Benton Harbor-based Amana and Zeeland-based Herman Miller before those larger companies outsourced production to other countries.

Demand from the office furniture industry started to slide long ago when the rise of the digital age reduced the need for drawers in office desks to store paper, Jim Vogt said. Newer innovations, such as sit-to-stand desks, supplanted their predecessors.

Though it once was a $2 million company with two facilities and 35 employees across two shifts, the pace has slowed at Vogt Industries to a point where its elderly co-owners are able to do all of the production themselves with the help of one other employee in a mom-and-pop, labor-of-love shop at 4530 Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Blvd. SE in Kentwood.

“We have a complete shop here where we do all of our own roll forming, which, I don’t know if you’re familiar with roll forming, but you take a coil of steel, and you run it through a machine that gradually forms it into a channel or some other shape. We use all of that for our various tracks and things we need for our drawer slides. Then we have 20-some presses that do various stamping operations,” Jim Vogt said.

“Then, once we do all the metalworking on our products, we don’t do any finishing here; we either send them out to be painted or plated, and when they come back, we have a complete assembly area with lots of riveters and all sorts of equipment to do the final assembly. We make the complete product here, package it here and then ship it.”

Though still passionate about their business, the Vogts are looking to retire and sell the company, if they can find the right buyer. Jim Vogt had a heart attack this year on the Fourth of July — “I got to watch the fireworks from the eighth floor of Saint Mary’s hospital,” he said. Though he made a full recovery, he added, “You can’t do this job forever.”

The Vogts’ core business remains strong, they said.

“We’re still coming up with new ideas for home cabinetry, be it a kitchen, a pantry, a vanity in your bathroom or whatever. That market seems to still be strong. Everyone needs cabinets and drawers,” Jim Vogt said.

“Whereas you’ve still got your pots and pans in the kitchen, you don’t need a lot of paper storage anymore in your office furniture. The markets, they are a-changing.”

Jim Vogt said there have been plenty of “pleasing” and “not-so-pleasing” moments in business over the past 50 years. The common thread among his “fun” memories is that they all had to do with coming up with a new idea that was well received — either at a woodworking, machinery, hardware, or kitchen and bath trade show — or with a customer.

“We take a new product idea to the show and show it to people, and they are excited about it. And then that makes us excited about our success,” he said.

“A lot of it, too, is the relationships both with suppliers and customers that you build by being an honest, hardworking, fair-and-square type of business. We still have suppliers and customers that we’ve dealt with for 30, 40 years or more.”

Jim Vogt said he is much too old to act on the many ideas still on his list, but that’s where a potential successor could take up the baton.

“We’ve got some new stuff here I’m looking at that we don’t even make yet and may never make, but they’re great ideas, and people who we’ve shown them to love them, but I hope to bring them out or at least get somebody to make them if I don’t, or am not around long enough to do it.”

For now, the Vogts will keep looking for a buyer, as they have been for the past several years.

“We’ve talked to a lot of people who have come in and said, ‘Oh yeah, we like your operation’ and all that, but either they have the experience and not the funding or the funding and not the experience.

“We don’t need 1 million bucks; we’re not asking much for the company. It’s just that we’d like to keep it going; keep our products going, keep the tradition going.”

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