November 29, 2012

QUARTER CENTURY OF QUALITY - Oakwood Industries Celebrating 25th Anniversary

The CNC router operator at Oakwood Industries works on a series of manufacturing steps for a pair of table inserts. The new machine is one of the major upgrades that have occurred at the Memphis furniture manufacturer in the past 25 years.

Oak furniture is marketed not only for its quality looks and classic style but also for durability and longevity. For the past 25 years a local manufacture has been churning out heirlooms that have helped put Memphis, Missouri on the map for fans of hand-crafted, hardwood furniture.

Oakwood Industries is celebrating the company's 25th anniversary with a special open house sales event going on now through next week as the company mark's a quarter century in business.

What began as a husband and wife business in Memphis making unfinished hand-crafted chairs has grown into a multi-lined furniture manufacturer that does business across the Midwest.

In October 1987, Clay and Ida Mae Zimmerman founded Oakwood Industries. Clay developed the idea for the project while visiting an acquaintance in Delaware and spent two months training to learn the craft of furniture making.

Zimmerman was no stranger to the business world. The entrepreneur had been a co-founder of the County Cooked potato chip factory in Memphis.

When he returned from Delaware that fall in 1987, his next venture was unveiled on Highway 136 at the former site of Fasco, an Allis Chalmers dealership that had closed.

The company, which consisted of the couple plus the first employee, Luke Fox, began turning out chairs. However they quickly discovered that market for oak chairs, went hand-in-hand with tables.

As the manufacturing expanded to include dining room tables and hutches, the company caught its big break. In 1989 Oakwood Industries began marketing furniture in Kansas and Nebraska.

"At that time, the colonial, early American style, was in high demand," said current partner Travis Martin. "Once the Kansas market opened up for Oakwood, things started to take off."

Over the next 25 years the Memphis business has grown to employ 30 workers at the main office in addition to three independent satellite assembly shops in the county.

The growing workforce is responsible for manufacturing handcrafted furniture from oak, cherry, maple and quartersawn oak.

The wood comes straight from the mills in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and various other locations where the species are native.

The kiln-dried wood is delivered to Memphis by the truckload. The furniture panels are processed locally along with additional components.

Since 1987, the company has expanded to offer full lines of dining room furniture as well as bedroom sets in a variety of styles, not to mention 20 different finishes.

The hand-crafted furniture manufactured at Oakwood Industries goes through a number of stages of sanding and finishing to insure quality standards, which have been around for 25 years, are met.

As the business grew, ownership was expanded into a partnership, with Luke Fox, Martin, and Alvin Musser, Jr. joining the team. Clay and Ida Mae Zimmerman took leave to travel to Romania with their family, where they served for more than a decade in missionary work, before returning to the states a few years ago. The couple moved to Farmington in 2009 where they opened a furniture store featuring Oakwood Industries' wares.

Over the past 25 years, the business has grown beyond the Kansas and Nebraska markets, expanding into Iowa and Illinois as well as across Missouri. Overall, Oakwood furniture is sold in approximately 80 stores across the Midwest, not to mention the local showroom right here in Memphis.

In 2001, Oakwood Industries constructed a warehouse, west of the main office. The storage space has come in handy, as the company is churning out roughly 1,000 tables a year not to mention 6,000 chairs annually.

The company continues to make technological advances in an effort to stay ahead of the growing competition in the furniture industry, particularly coming from China.

"Imported furniture has dramatically impacted the industry for all manufactures, not just Oakwood," Martin stated. "Furniture is a labor intensive industry, so companies that are located in foreign countries where labor costs are significantly lower than in the United States, obviously have a marketing advantage."

That's why companies, like Oakwood, continue to make quality improvements.

In 2011, Oakwood Industries installed a new CNC Router. The computer-aided system insures improved accuracy for crafters forming furniture components. The superior craftsmanship is marketed under a Made in the USA label in an effort to promote the local industry.

For 25 years now, Oakwood Industries has gone one-step further, marketing the small northeast Missouri town where it all started back in 1987 adding the label, Made in Memphis, Missouri.

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