I was surprised but not shocked when Wood-Mode Custom Cabinetry officially closed their doors and up to 2,000 Pennsylvania workers lost their jobs Monday afternoon. The unfortunate closure is not only a hardship for plant workers and management but also a blow to the regional cabinet dealers that sold Wood-Mode and their semi-custom cabinet line Brookhaven.
The reason the closure wasn’t such a surprise to me was that as the owner of a cabinet dealership I closely monitor our industry and try to make adjustments to how we do business almost on a daily basis. Wood-Mode on the other hand was unchanging in their business model almost to the point of arrogance. When I heard the news of Wood-Mode’s closure, I shook my head and thought back 5 years to when we met with Wood-Mode representatives to discuss Main Line Kitchen Design carrying the Wood-Mode brand.
It was very apparent during those meetings that both companies were taking a very different approach to selling cabinetry. Wood-Mode had little interest in Main Line Kitchen Design’s online marketing strategy or in generating any kind of significant internet presence themselves. Time and efficiency were paramount for me but was not really valued by Wood-Mode. They felt that pricing and designing fine kitchens needed to be done in the systematic fashion they had used for decades and speeding up the process wasn’t needed.
I believe that kitchen designers showing customers what their kitchen will look like in three dimensions and determining how much it will cost as we make changes is essential. This can be a problem with custom cabinet lines like Wood-Mode because they offer so much customization that using CAD software like 20-20 or ProKitchens to show and price their cabinetry isn’t possible. Pricing a kitchen in these custom lines can be a great deal of work and take a ridiculously long time. Main Line Kitchen Design solves this problem by designing the highest end kitchens we sell in slightly less expensive cabinet lines and simply making a good guess on how much more the cabinetry in the more expensive custom line will be. We don’t actually know until sometimes weeks after we sell these very expensive kitchens exactly how much money we will make. We live with this problem so that both our time and our customers time can be spent effectively. This time is money concept was lost on the Wood-Mode reps we spoke with. They poo-pooed our technique believing that selling fine cabinetry didn’t require the speed and computer visualizations I did.
The custom cabinet market has suffered the last ten years as semi-custom cabinet lines have continued to offer greater customization. And the difference between fine custom cabinets and less expensive brands is not as obvious in the full overlay painted cabinetry that is very popular today. It is inset and beaded inset cabinetry and the fine furniture stains and other more complex finishes that distinguish the highest end cabinetry from less expensive brands.
The custom lines that will survive in today’s market need to change with the market and recognize that making their products more designer and customer friendly is essential. This is why we carry and sell both Brighton and Wellsford custom cabinetry. Besides making beautiful cabinetry, both these custom lines make our design process easier. We may not find out how much the custom cabinetry we sell will cost us until weeks after our customers order their kitchens, but our designers and customers spend their time more efficiently and with fewer frustrations. Making the design process easier and more cost effective is one reason that Main Line Kitchen Design has grown over 20% each year we have been in business.
I’m hoping that everyone affected by this sad turn of events adapts and finds new work. Living in a time of rapid change can be both exciting and frightening. Often when something like the Wood-Mode closing occurs, I think of my grandfather who was born before automobiles and yet saw a man land on the moon. He worked for a single company his entire life, starting as a box boy and retiring as a CPA. Today this would almost certainly never happen.
As our society continues to change I marvel at the changes and root for a better world…
… and as Julia Child a trend setter and culinary pioneer born a little after my grandfather would wish her viewers …