Thousands of people in Grand Rapids may remember the huge black plume of smoke over Garden Street on the south side of the city in May 2011, but that fire wasn’t the end of Kindel Furniture.
The fire actually was at the old Kindel factory — largely vacant since the company moved its operations in 2010 to 4047 Eastern Ave. SE as the result of its merger with The Taylor Co., which was located there. Kindel is still in operation on Eastern Avenue, with about 75 employees, but it parted ways last fall with Taylor.
Kindel is actively searching for another company to merge with or acquire and has hired the Grand Rapids firm of DWH LLC to help in that quest.
Last week, Kindel — the last remaining old-line residential casegoods furniture maker in the once-famous “Furniture City” — resumed its traditional presence in a new showroom at the spring High Point Market in North Carolina, after having stopped attending the market after the fall session in 2010. Kindel displayed new designs last week and announced its strategic plan to build a new portfolio of American-made, fine furniture brands.
Kindel’s origin goes back to 1901, when Charles J. Kindel started the Denver Bedding Co. there to utilize his mattress-stuffing mechanical invention. Beds were his forte; he also held patents on convertible beds, sometimes called davenport beds, which were his connection to the furniture industry. By 1911, he had plants in New York, Toronto and Chicago, and that year he opened a woodworking factory in Grand Rapids.
The Kindel family owned and managed the company until the 1960s, when the Fisher family of Muncie, Ind., acquired it. Today, Kindel is led by CEO Jim Fisher.
The Taylor Co. was a manufacturer of wooden and veneered furniture components for Kindel and other fine furniture makers, which led to the merger in 2010. A report in the Business Journal at the time said the intent was to take advantage of advanced manufacturing technologies emerging in a centuries-old industry. Taylor was the high-tech machinery wizard; Kindel was the powerful brand-name in a high-end consumer niche that placed great value on high-quality woodworking and wood finishing, much of which still required hands-on labor.
Fisher said the advantage Kindel saw in “the acquisition” of Taylor “was the equipment and more modern manufacturing techniques they had. I think the acquisition of their business was not as we had hoped, in terms of the synergy there. That didn’t pan out.”
When Kindel sold Taylor last fall, “it was good for both entities,” said Fisher.
Taylor is now part of The Worden Co. in Holland and has relocated there.
Fisher said the parting of ways was “a good fit for them and left us with a plant that had good bones and good equipment, and a little more space than we’d had over at Garden Street. Everybody’s good.”
Kindel’s annual sales now are running between $3.5 million and $4 million, according to Fisher, “and certainly we need to grow that.” To that end, Fisher said Kindel has retained DWH to help with “merger and acquisition efforts, to try to find better synergy and critical mass.”
“We are consultants,” said Remos Lenio, a managing director and one of five partners that head DWH, which was formed through the merger of DW Associates and Hartwick Capital in 2009. The firm employs 30 people and is located in downtown Grand Rapids at 180 Monroe Ave. NW.
“We help fix troubled companies; we help people position their companies so that they are performing, using best practices. We help people do transactional work, find acquisitions, finance them, and we’ll help people raise capital,” added Lenio.
Lenio was also at High Point Market last week “to birddog potential acquisitions” for Kindel.
High Point Market, according to its website, features about 2,000 exhibitors showing products that range from furniture to fabrics, floor coverings, lighting and more — “everything in home furnishings,” said Fisher. “It’s quite a market.”
When asked why Kindel stopped going to High Point, Fisher said the firm was then in a situation that involved the acquisition of Taylor and other financial constraints. At the same time, he said, “we were concerned about the relevancy of the show and the market.” There was also competition from a similar show in Las Vegas.
It should be noted that the furniture industry suffered seriously during the recession, which included a virtual halt in home construction in the U.S.
“When (home construction) goes in the wrong direction, furnishing of a home follows very shortly thereafter,” said Fisher.
“We are very optimistic and hopeful about the turnaround,” he said, quickly adding, “I wouldn’t call it a hockey stick, at this point,” referring to the angle of the upturn. “But certainly we feel more optimistic. Orders are certainly better than they have been.”
According to Fisher, the residential furniture market seems to have changed in America. Where once it was major retail stores going to High Point to place large orders, now it seems to be more of a show, where many attendees are interior designers looking for products they can recommend to their clients.
But Kindel is back, nonetheless. “I think what we found was that we really did miss the contacts, and especially the people from overseas, and we didn’t want to forgo that. So it was important for us to get back there, even if it wasn’t in the way that we had been there before,” said Fisher.
“Our challenge,” he said, speaking on behalf of the fine furniture industry, “is educating the younger generations on the importance of fine furniture, and pointing out the difference between imports and quality and fit-and-finish, and the fact that this furniture will last you more than a lifetime.”