Quality in, quality out at Wildwood
Multi-unit, residential and commercial diversification, under one mandate
Wildwood Cabinets quality has been recognized repeatedly over the years, both by customers and by peers. The Atlantic region of the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada (AWMAC) based in Dartmouth, N.S., recently presented a 2019 gold and a silver award to the Moncton, N.B., company for two residential design projects.
The current president of Wildwood, Romeo Goguen, founded the company in 1976 in an old house that has long since burned down. It originally operated businesses in the home building industry producing up to 100 homes per year, according to Goguen, creating an urgent need for quality cabinetry. “We were building a house once,” says Gogeun, “and we got caught short and had to order cabinets from Calgary. That is why we started to meet own needs and it went on from there.”
As Goguen recalls, the company started with two others, including his brother Gerry. “Today we have around 180 employees.
“We were selling cabinets to ourselves in the beginning, but afterwards we began selling to the public. Those builder operations do not exist now.”
The cabinet company has been at different manufacturing locations over the years, according to Wildwood director of operations Daniel Bourque. “Once we bought this manufacturing plant from another millworker,” say Bourque. “So, a lot of the duct work was already in place and the electrical components that we required.”
Wildwood now owns a sister countertop operation called Precision Countertops at a different location in Moncton, where it can process Corian, granite and laminate materials. “We do some assembly there for Tim Horton’s restaurants,” says Bourque. The dry-fitted assemblies are shipped to the restaurant sites where final assembly is done.
“I would say we now have probably got 150,000 square feet all together, including the warehouse and everything that we own,” says Goguen.
Precision Countertops manufactures and sells countertops for retail, with other manufacturers buying countertops from us, according to Bourque. “That is why the separate name and the separate division,” says Bourque. “Everybody knows that Wildwood owns it, but we don’t push the relationship. It sells to a lot of the local cabinet guys and do a lot of their countertops anyways.”
Bourque also believes that Wildwood’s diversification makes it a bit different than most cabinet companies. “It is rare that you will find a cabinet company that will be strong in the multi-unit business and be strong in high end residential, as well as commercial. We consider ourselves quite strong in all three.”
He points to examples of the company having done over 400 Tim Horton’s across Canada, high end kitchens at over a quarter of a million dollars, and “probably a thousand apartments and condos a year” throughout Atlantic Canada. “We do high end kitchens in Bermuda as well. But we are not a like most of our competitors in our area that sell through dealers. We do our own sales and installation.
Both Precision Countertops and Wildwood Cabinets have interior designers selling in their showrooms. Wildwood design consultants Anne Castonguey and Stacy Young won silver and gold, respectively, for the company at the recent AWMAC Atlantic awards.
One design consultant, however, comes from the cabinetmaking background. Jean-Paul Leger started out as a cabinetmaker and has been with the company for close to 30 years. At Wildwood, Leger began as a shop foreman, went into the engineering department and is now doing sales, according to Bourque.
Like many wood shops in the Atlantic region and across Canada, finding skilled people is always a challenge, so Wildwood has started to hire more and more immigrants. People from the Philippines, Ukraine and Russia have proven themselves dependable, good workers.
“It’s a mixture of people,” say Goguen. There are also a lot of women scattered around the shop, running CNC machines, routers, edgebanders and finishing. “We don’t count who’s doing what as long as they produce — the mix is good for our company and for the future.”
Staff retention at Wildwood is another one of its strong points. “If you look at the number of people who have been here for over 20 years, it is tremendous. We are very strong because of the dedicated employees who have been here for such a long time, that care about the company, and devote all of their skills to us.
Goguen notes that Wildwood is always looking for efficiencies and still depends on a large custom client base because of its market focus. “That is where we tend to be strong. We don’t have a catalog for you to pick from — we basically let designers design whatever they want, and we will build on spec. Because of our large group of craftsmen and specialty people in engineering, we are capable of tackling any type of project in the millwork industry or residential. And we have the multi-unit builder clients to fill in capacity on our equipment.”
Bourque adds that its multi-unit business helps in the winter time when the residential sector is not building. “It is a large part of our business because of its volume,” he says.
“We can describe ourselves as amass customization company,” says Bourque, “because we produce custom jobs in large volumes. It seems that everybody wants to mass produce, but they want to mass produce one SKU or a certain line of cabinetry in a large volume. We don’t try for that. We want the projects that nobody else is good at making. And be good at it on a mass scale. We are able to handle a lot of custom jobs at once.”
Because Wildwood controls every department, and therefore every step of the process, this allows for the company to succeed. As Bourque puts it, “a lot of the residential guys do not touch commercial. And a lot of commercial do not touch residential.”
The mass customization approach has meant that Wildwood Cabinets pursues a lean manufacturing philosophy of reducing waste from production processes. “We work hard on lean,” says Bourque, “it’s always an ongoing battle.” At the moment, a recent logistics software implementation in the shop is helping control the flow of parts. “Every day roughly 2,000 parts hit the floor — 2,000 leave and 2,000 come in. We have invested in this software to help us control and monitor where these parts are at, and to evaluate quantities and efficiencies.”
A huge software project for the company, it is also ongoing one that has been very helpful in keeping track of where the jobs are at, according to Bourque. Benefits have been to realize what production maximums, minimums and capacities can be. “It records everything,” says Bourque, “and helps to make sure that we have shipped 100 percent complete jobs — no missing parts. And we can concentrate on quality instead of trying to keep track of where everything is.
“Every day we try to measure the efficiency. That is an ongoing thing as well. Efficiency at the edgebander, at the spray line, at the cutter. Romeo looks at that every day — how many parts were cut per day? How many sheets, how many parts have been processed per day? It is a strong evaluator of how busy we are and how much stuff there is on the floor.”
A key issue for the company is to avoid bottlenecks on the production floor, something it finds to be a constant, moving target. So, Wildwood has discovered because it does commercial, multi-unit and high-end residential production, there is always something different causing a bottleneck.
“One day it could be the finish department and another day it could be the cutting department,” says Bourque. “It could be in the assembly or it could be in the custom department. It is never the same because we are always producing something different.
“If you are always producing the same line of cabinetry, a frame inset type of kitchen, means that you have the material on hand. You can get really, really efficient. Then to all of a sudden to go back to a commercial job with high pressure laminate and no paint is very hard. You have to make sure everybody is working at a constant flow and departments are efficient. I think over the years we consider ourselves pretty good at it.”
Solving issues such as bottlenecks means the company can properly satisfy its customers. “We have to satisfy the customer in quality and price,” emphasizes Goguen. “That is where we need to go for the future. If you are growing it is an issue, but if you are not growing it is a problem.”
According to Bourque, “if you don’t grow you are going to get swallowed. Today we are competing against not only Atlantic Canada, we are competing against the whole country and worldwide — especially when it comes to Chinese imports.”
Adds Goguen, “even when you are competing against other countries that don’t have the same standard and don’t have the same salary structure, we have to get the quality out. Because your customer will come back if you do have that. If you don’t, then your company isn’t getting a bigger piece of the pie.”
Bourque agrees, “we don’t stoop to their level. If we are higher on price, then we are higher on price. We buy the best products. We don’t use Chinese hinges, drawer slides or materials. We don’t want them. We strive for quality by using nothing but the best materials.”