Building on Its Workforce, Facilities, and Products

Elias Woodwork

Elias Woodwork has enjoyed a momentous year since Business in Focus profiled the company in May 2018. The custom wood products manufacturer in Winkler, Manitoba has experienced record-setting growth, added new staff, received high-profile industry awards, and enhanced its products and services.

“The biggest change in the last year is our major production expansion in our rigid thermofoil and laminate products,” says Sales and Marketing Manager Jeremy Funk. “We have had rising demand for these types of products over the last couple of years and are working to satisfy that and continue our steep growth trajectory. We also see more opportunity in markets where these product materials are used.”

Another big development is the launch of AccessNow Online Ordering which was introduced in December, 2018. This unique online ordering portal allows customers to log in anytime from anywhere and access customized quotes, place orders, view invoices and track shipments. Access Now is a live portal into their Elias Woodwork account with insider access to products and services, saving them a significant amount of time by cutting out the middle man. Customers no longer have to wait for a quote and can access pricing any time. This will expedite their ability to submit quotes to their customers at a moment’s notice and ahead of the competition.

Some things, thankfully, remain the same; the company still makes most of its own products, for example. “I would say about ninety-five percent of our products are manufactured in our facilities. The products that we don’t manufacture are mostly cabinet hardware items,” he says.

These products are sold in a wholesale, business-to-business fashion to clients in the kitchen and bath, commercial millwork, and automotive sectors. Among other items, Elias makes drawer boxes, wood kitchen accessories, curved doors, mouldings, and cabinet posts. The firm will work with developers, contractors, architects and designers to provide customized wood products for homes, banks, retail outlets, hotels, and other projects. Wood products for the automotive sector are often used for recreational vehicle (RV) interiors.

Business is booming at Elias Woodwork. “We broke our own growth records in 2018. So far, through the first half of 2019, we have set monthly growth records as well and are on the path to our highest sales year ever,” reports Funk.

The company now employs 370 people, up from 340 people last year, at two facilities in Winkler and Morden, Manitoba. Its location in Southern Manitoba, near the geographical center of North America, is extremely advantageous. From this base of operations, Elias can ship quickly to clients across the continent, a good thing given that many of its clients require speedy turnaround times.

The firm embraces practices such as lean manufacturing and just-in-time delivery when possible. “These principles have benefited the company in cost savings and more efficient process flow,” states Funk.

Also helping Elias thrive are suppliers that are trustworthy “and willing to partner with us to achieve our goals. Our key suppliers have found that this benefits them as we are loyal to companies who share a ‘partner’ attitude with us. Of course, high-quality products and timely delivery are a must, but a supplier who actively works with us to solve problems and make improvements is key,” he adds.

The company traces its roots to a small outfit founded by one Peter Elias, who built cabinet doors primarily for retail customers around Southern Manitoba. His business was originally based out of a garage on the family farm. In the early 1980s, the company was acquired by a pair of brothers, Ralph and John Fehr, who moved the operation to Winkler and greatly expanded it. It is still owned and operated by Ralph, together with some minority shareholders.

Elias Woodwork is in the midst of a massive reorganization. “We are in the process of moving production from one of our Winkler facilities to expanded space in our Morden facility. This move will add 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space and will house our expanded rigid thermofoil production area as well as more space for quality inspection and packaging. We are excited about this move as well to further streamline our production and shipping processes through two facilities instead of three,” states Funk.

The expansion has required and increase in the number of employees, and the company’s prerequisites are a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard. “Skills and experience are obviously an asset, but skills can be taught,” explains Funk.

“We employ people in a wide variety of positions, from entry level staff who have no experience in manufacturing to machine operators and technicians of very high skill levels. Therefore, our training programs are key to making sure our production efficiencies and product quality levels are kept high. Each new employee goes through a general orientation process and then detailed training in the appropriate area,” he says. It also provides a benefits package that includes insurance coverage, paid non-statutory holidays, referral bonuses, flexible schedules, and more.

Elias Woodwork has also been earning industry recognition. In April of this year, it took home its second P.W. Enns award in the category of business excellence at a gala hosted by the Winkler and District Chamber of Commerce. “This was the second business excellence award that we have won from the Winkler Chamber of Commerce. The award is for business growth, contribution to the community, and overall business excellence. It was an honour to receive, especially considering the great companies in our area,” says Funk.

“What made this award very special in this particular year was that Winkler was just named the number two most entrepreneurial city in Canada the week before the awards gala. To win a top business award in such a strong business community was an honour.” The entrepreneurial city listing was put together by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). Winkler was rated the second top community for entrepreneurship in 2018, after first-place winner Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory.

On top of this, Funk himself was included in a ‘40 Under 40 Class of 2018’ list, sponsored by the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America (WMMA). The list was announced in the summer of 2018 and is designed to “celebrate the next generation of industry professionals who are making an impact of wood products manufacturing in North America,” explains the Woodworking Network.

Another development comes in the form of digital marketing. In the spring of 2019, Elias Woodwork launched a brand new website with new features and enhanced navigation. It’s important to recognize that your website is not only a vital tool required for sales and marketing, it represents your company, its products and services in a global market and often acts as the first point of contact with many of your customers.

“We felt it was time to give our website a fresh look and modernize it with a new design and interactive components that will allow our customers to navigate with ease, find the products they are looking for, discover new products and get inspired by the gallery products and finishing options that they can add to their design toolbox.” The company continues to market aggressively online and in industry print magazines. “We also exhibit at several industry trade shows, publish a monthly newsletter, and produce customer-specific marketing pieces. We believe in showing the beauty and quality of our products through samples and offer free sample kits to help our customers with the sales process,” adds Funk.

With this is mind, the company also opened a new showroom in its Morden manufacturing facility. This showroom features four beautiful kitchens which showcase some of Elias’ most popular current and trending products including innovative storage solutions. Along with working kitchens, many cabinet door and countertop samples are on display.

The company wants to continue its diversification efforts “into non-wood products such as rigid thermofoil and laminate,” while never losing sight of its core wood products business, says Funk.

Regardless of how the company expands, it is extremely important to remain on top of design trends. “A constant challenge in our industry is the ever-changing trends in kitchen and interior design. This requires daily attention from not only our design and marketing staff, but also sales, customer service, engineering, production, and quality control. All of these departments must continually evolve to satisfy the demands of the trends in the industry.” It is safe to say that Elias Woodwork will meet this challenge as it grows.

Given Elias Woodwork’s longevity, the company is clearly on the right track. “We are celebrating our thirty-sixth year in business in 2019, and we have seen many businesses in our industry come and go. We have been greatly blessed by God over the years. The parts that we can control that contribute to our success are our hard working people and the incredible ingenuity of our staff. Also, our product and industry diversification has proven to help us through some tough economic situations and grow our reach,” he says.

Elias Woodwork shares its good fortune with the community and is heavily involved in charitable work, supporting a very long list of organizations including Children of Hope, the Pembina Counselling Centre, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Winkler Amateur Soccer Association, Winkler Community Foundation, and others.

As for the future, he offers a very optimistic forecast. “We definitely see our company continuing on the path of growth. We feel that continued growth is very possible with our current infrastructure and position in the market. I see our Assemble On Site (AOS) cabinet program growing significantly in the coming years, as well as our cabinet door and supporting products in both the new kitchen and renovation industries.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

December 8, 2019, 1:27 PM EST