Business

Family Kendrick Forest Products runs largest producing sawmill in the state

Brandon Timmerman sands the edge of a cabinet door in the woodshop at Forever Cabinets in Edgewood, Iowa, on Thursday, J
Brandon Timmerman sands the edge of a cabinet door in the woodshop at Forever Cabinets in Edgewood, Iowa, on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. The custom cabinet manufacturer is a division of Kendrick Forest Products, Inc. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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A northeast Iowa company has expanded from operating the largest producing sawmill in the state to running five companies related to woodworking.

The Kendrick Forest Products sawmill is located in a large building on 33 acres of land off South Washington Street, in Edgewood. Employees and visitors wear hearing protection due to the noise created by the large saws and material handling equipment used in the manufacturing process.

Yellow catwalks in the mill provide visitors an opportunity to see and smell each step of the manufacturing process. From the time a rough log enters the mill and bark is removed until lumber is headed to an inspector for grading takes about an hour and 20 minutes.

Each log is squared off with large saw blades up to 47 feet long, creating boards that are moved and sorted according to quality and species. An operator sitting in a glass booth directs the cutting of each log with multiple passes of the saw to obtain maximum yield.

Eleven varieties of trees become lumber and veneer products. Walnut is the best-selling wood, but red oak, white oak and hard maple also are popular along with ash, basswood and elm.

Outside the sawmill, logs are stacked before moving into the sawmill. Kilns dry green lumber and walnut is steamed to create a darker color.

Tim and Rhonda Kendrick and their four adult children — Morgan, Andrea, Kirby and Kerra — are the nucleus of an extended family of relatives and employees who operate the business.

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The company, which employs 115 people full time and another 15 part time, started in 1983. The logging and sawmill company produces green and dry lumber, railroad ties, veneer logs and mulch from more than a dozen tree species.

“My son, Kirby. takes care of our log sales,” Rhonda said. “We export to about 22 countries and he will go to Dubai next month. He sells to customers with manufacturing plants as well as wholesalers.”

Kendrick buys standing timber and cut logs from private owners as well as the state. The company employs its own logging and hauling crews.

“We also sell our lumber domestically and internationally,” she said. ”We sell dry lumber to manufacturers as well as to people who distribute it to different parts of the country.”

Green lumber needs to be dried and we initially sold it to companies that had drying kilns, Rhonda said. In 1987, the company invested in dry kilns so it could dry the lumber itself.

“We didn’t anticipate the volume of dollars that was going to be necessary to carry the additional inventory,” Rhonda recalled. “You put the wood outside separated by sticks to let it air dry before you put it in kilns.”

She said the company began using its kilns to custom dry green wood for companies to keep its kilns running efficiently.

“When we were able to fully fund it ourselves, we slowly quit doing the custom work,” she said. “A company that was buying 90 percent of our mulch announced that it was going out of business.

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“I told our employee who was selling lumber at that time she needed to find a buyer for our mulch. I talked with someone I knew who was planning to build a mulch packaging plant in Wisconsin. He sells to big box stores and I asked him to build the plant here.

“Pretty soon, we were building a mulch plant here.”

In 2016, a coloring and mulch bagging line was installed at Kendrick, which ships product all across the Midwest. The company bought a small cabinet shop in 2001 and moved it to Edgewood to use lumber produced by its sawmill.

Forever Cabinets by Kendrick moved to a remodeled 36,000-square-foot building six blocks from the sawmill in 2017. It builds custom cabinets for kitchens, bathrooms, entertainment centers, bars, laundry rooms and offices as well as specialty furniture.

Designers employed by the company meet with clients, do appropriate measurements and draw up specifications for everything from “soft close” hinges, drawer slides, handles, knobs and other specialty hardware to the exterior finish.

“I think people want an experience, so we try to put that experience into the process,” said Morgan Christen, human resources and marketing manager. “They are going to get a good product that fits them and their lifestyle.”

The face frames and most cabinet doors are made of solid hardwood grown in northeastern Iowa, milled in the sawmill and dried in dry kilns powered by sawdust. Sides and floors are constructed of three-quarter-inch birch plywood.

In the sign business

In rapid-fire fashion, Kendrick launched three companies in 2017 that draw on its expertise with wood products.

Kendrick Home, which was introduced at the Atlanta Home and Gift Market in July 2017, manufactures wooden signs sold to large box chain stores.

“My sister, who runs Just for You, our retail store in Dyersville that displays our cabinets, asked if we could make better quality signs than she was able to purchase,” Rhonda said. “Morgan and I saw a printing machine in Atlanta at a show and I flew out to California to take a further look at it.

“We bought the machine and we were in the sign business.”

At about the same time, production was increasing in the company’s sawmill.

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“We were producing a lot of shims, the outside of a log that is trimmed off,” said Morgan Christen. “Shims are typically a lower value part of a log, so we needed to find a way to add value to those pieces.”

Shimlee, a company launched in May 2017, prints customer-supplied photographs on the reverse side of the shims. The customer uploads their photograph to Shimlee, selects the size of the product and pays for it, and the finished product is shipped to them.

“We needed more space in our office for dry lumber sales, so we decided to move our showroom to the same building where our cabinets and designers are located,” Morgan said.

“Who is going to a showroom in Edgewood, Iowa, just to look at cabinets? We needed to generate traffic and get people to come through our door so it would pay for itself.

“If they are buying cabinets, they are probably buying lights, rugs, chairs and home decor. Why not offer it all? And that’s where the Markket came about.”

Markket — formed from Morgan, Andrea. Rhonda, Kirby, Kerra, Edgewood and Tim — is a two-story, open-air store with over 6,000 square feet of showroom, home decor, lighting, rugs, bar stools and other items for the home.

The store also carries the Magnolia Home line of furniture, accessories, lighting, rugs and paint.

Thomas Hunt, Kendrick safety director, said there is a strong emphasis on lean manufacturing with employees going through training and constantly looking for operating efficiencies.

Nothing is wasted, including the sawdust that is burned to heat the dry kilns and generate electricity for part of the facility.

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Kendrick Forest Products has become a tourist destination in northeast Iowa with adults and students viewing how logs are transformed into finished products.

As for the future, Rhonda said the company is fielding inquiries from “major players” for additional products from its Kendrick Home unit.

“We have a lot of opportunity with Kendrick Home,” she said. “There are some items that may be a little bit different from what we are currently doing.

“We feel that we have the people to figure it out and get it done.”

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