Community is at the Heart of this Family Business
Good forest management and fine-crafted wood products are the foundation of Kendrick, Inc. in northeast Iowa. There’s also a real sense of community and giving back that has been part of this family business for more than 30 years.
Black walnut, with its rich color and lustrous finish, is a favorite hardwood for traditional furniture and architectural millwork. It’s timeless and classic, and it’s the signature bestseller for Kendrick, Inc., a company that has built a reputation for beautiful wood products, from custom cabinetry to personalized signs and photo wall art.
“It’s the characteristics of it, the beauty of that wood,” says Morgan Kendrick, who grew up surrounded by wood manufacturing and the forests near her hometown of Edgewood, Iowa, population 870. “I think the look of black walnut is very appealing with darker, more brown tones. It’s got the attractive grain, so it’s not too drastic, but not too subtle.”
In fact, black walnut is considered the most valuable timber tree and is native throughout the state of Iowa. While Iowa continues to rank as the leading producer of walnut, the forestry operation of Kendrick, Inc., Kendrick Forest Products, continues to earn the reputation of being a top resource for American black walnut to those across the globe.
A family company
Morgan knows all about wood, from logging, to milling and manufacturing, to new product development to reach a broader customer base. She’s the marketing director and human resources manager for the company that has grown from 50 to 115 local employees who come to work every day with a “let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it attitude.” She’s equally gung-ho!
Morgan’s grandfather owned sawmills in Edgewood in the 1950s. She and her two older sisters and younger brother have all joined the family wood business, Kendrick, Inc., proudly owned and operated by their parents, Tim and Rhonda Kendrick, since 1983.
The company expanded a few years in, adding dry kilns to dry lumber for furniture, flooring and cabinets, becoming a full-cycle woodworking company with a focus on exceptional quality. The Forever Cabinets line is known across the state for its fine workmanship and custom design. Kendrick has also diversified with a mulch wood chip coloring and bagging line for landscaping, and now ships mulch all over the Midwest.
“From a couple loggers and a truck, it just kept growing,” Morgan says. She and her siblings all chose to stay with the family and work to grow the business. “I went to college to study psychology and worked for Walt Disney World for a while. We all had the opportunity to see what else is out there but our hearts were in our family business, working together, and in our small community.”
It’s the kind of town where knowing your neighbors and supporting the local economy is second nature. Kendrick, Inc. sponsors events like the county fair and helped set up a daycare for children of employees and others in town. The company’s employees are volunteer firefighters, serve on the economic development board and coach Little League.
Indeed, “We are very community-oriented,” Morgan says. “We are all able to work together and help each other out. We work as a team and I think that’s important because everything plays a little role in the success of a community and how it thrives. In the end we are going to get back what we put into it – whether it’s the foot traffic in our community to sustain our businesses or the employees moving to town creating an education system where they would want to raise their kids.”
The team also enjoys company gatherings like grill nights and Cajun boils. And they’re known for the parade float they make out of wood every year – trains, the Budweiser Clydesdales, a firetruck, a bull – that often incorporates hydraulics. The end of June is a big weekend where about 10,000 people come to Edgewood for the pro rodeo, a demolition derby and the parade. “We actually have other towns asking us to bring our floats to their parade, so we get pretty booked up,” shares Morgan.
Big moves and profits for Kendrick, Inc. followed in 2017 when the company opened its 6,700-square foot retail store, The Markket, which doubles as a showroom for the cabinets that are manufactured in the same building in the remaining 30,000-square foot space.
That year also saw innovation with products that make use of excess lumber, like shims, from the sawmill. Kendrick founded its online company Shimlee (from shims!) to sell custom photos and signs on wood, and also launched the extensive Kendrick Home line of wood décor with images and typography, available in stores across the country and several online retailers.
Natural wood accents are certainly in high demand, bringing a real warmth and comfort to both modern home design and more traditional spaces. “It’s a natural product; I think it’s timeless,” Morgan says. “Just the beauty of it. When you see wood, it’s more heartwarming than looking at a piece of plastic. You have that cozy feel. Over time, trends change and shift, but wood will hold its ground.”
The inspiration for Shimlee came after the idea of utilizing leftover wood to make wooden home décor signs. “We thought if we could print graphically designed images on wood, why couldn’t we print photographs? That excited us and we thought that it would be really cool to print photographs for a different market,” she says. “It’s a product that everyone would want to buy but we look at who is ready to buy – the couple who just got married or the parents who just had a baby. Photographers can offer this to their clients. It’s hard to get people to take their photographs off the digital world and put it out in front of them. So, it’s a lot of showing the product to people and getting out there to trade shows so they can see them in person.”
Since last year, the company has been intently focused on the expansion of its Kendrick Home, Shimlee, and Forever Cabinets product lines, through both commercial wholesale and its retail store, and this has led to an increase in sales of 400 percent. Clearly, the new ventures and vision are paying off. The push now is attending trade and home shows to continue the amazing growth, and working closely with local high schools and community colleges to attract young people to entry-level positions in the field.
As Morgan explains, “We want to meet the increased demand but then ensure that we have everything done on our end so that our employees have the best experience, too. We want to give attention to where things are needed. We want to make sure we can also train the next [generation of] leaders.”
Of course, the knock against wood products is that you’re cutting down trees. But if you take a closer look at the industry, it’s really about robust forest management, harvesting the trees to benefit the surrounding trees and produce healthier forests.
This is also a message Kendrick, Inc. wants to share, Morgan says. “I was told growing up that my parents shouldn’t cut down trees, but people don’t know that there are more trees in America now then there were 100 years ago. It’s a great renewable resource. Intentional harvesting protects against wildfires, allows new growth, and contributes to a healthy, sustainable timber, so it’s important.” This twin task of protecting the health of the forest and creating a beautiful product is where Kendrick, Inc. truly shines.