KI Furniture

Major manufacturing in Pembroke

The custom furniture market has a global leader with a highly successful Canadian component: KI Furniture. Specializing in custom order furniture and wall solutions for a number of industries, KI tailors its solutions to specifically meet the needs of the sectors in which it supplies: education, healthcare, government and corporate. KI has six worldwide manufacturing facilities, one of which is located right here in Canada in Pembroke, Ontario. The facility has been in Pembroke for 17 years and manufactures office filing systems: large lateral and smaller pedestal filing cabinets, as well as desks, privacy screens and workspace solutions. As a division of KI International, KI Pembroke produces a number of items for the corporation, 95 per cent of which is produced for shipment to the U.S. market. The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Dan Mellen, General Manager, and Rudy Witlox, facility controller, about the Pembroke facility, its position within the international KI group, and its plans for the future.

KI International

Since 1941, KI Furniture has been a market leader in custom furniture for specific core markets. Leaders of innovative design, customers have the option of purchasing furniture solutions that fit specific sector needs. Witlox explains how KI’s biggest customers are in sectors such as healthcare or education, so the type of furniture orders received are for lecture halls, maternity wards, or reception seating. “It spans much further than just desks or workstations,” he says. The ability of the company to create tailor-made furniture for large sectors of the economy is a competitive advantage which has served the company well.

Mellen and Witlox note the importance of KI’s Go-To-Market strategy, a business plan which has undoubtedly been an integral part of success. The strategy is essentially to service the needs of multiple sectors and actively seek out business on a continual basis, which has been a definite business boost. Mellen is proud to say that while many of the company’s competitors are down 30 to 40 per cent in business this year, KI is down a mere two or three per cent on the year. Mellen explains, “Because they have five markets which they go to, and they go out and get the business, when one of them is a little bit slower, nine times out of 10 at least one of them will be a little bit stronger, so that corporately keeps KI very strong.” As the manufacturers, this continual business is a positive force for the Pembroke facility.

The Pembroke manufacturing facility

The Pembroke manufacturing facility has experienced an impressive period of improved productivity over the last several years. KI has a six manufacturing facilities and in the last two years the Pembroke location has gone from the lowest ranked production facility to the most improved. “Our goal is to be the No. 1 facility in the next two years,” notes Mellen. How does it plan to accomplish this? It will continue to focus on lean manufacturing, in terms of both optimizing processes and reducing waste. There have been a number of initiatives taken by management in recent years, such as putting everyone in the plant through a four-hour lean manufacturing training session. It has also joined forces with the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium of Canada to provide on-site and ongoing training for upper and middle management to identify opportunities within the plant where improvements can be made.

Processes and improvements

The processes and products in the plant have had little change over the last 17 years, which on the one hand is a testament to the facility’s expertise, but is also a nod to the room for improvement. Says Witlox, “The challenge has been how do you diversify your product offering and at the same time become more efficient and more cost effective to your consumer?” First on the list was bringing in a lot of different, modern equipment and technology. For example, 17 years ago there were two wet paint lines in the plant and today it runs about 85 per cent in a powder booth, which is more environmentally friendly, safer for those working in the booth and also bonds better to the metal giving a better quality product at the end of the day. There are also small changes being implemented in the fabrication department. “We have a lot of high speed presses that don’t run anywhere near capacity,” explains Witlox.

“We are bringing in smaller, more versatile equipment that allows us to adapt and run different products out of one machine, rather than have a machine dedicated to one thing.” It is small changes such as this have helped productivity to improve so dramatically over the course of the last few years.

KI Pembroke will continue to follow its recent trend of improvement and has plans to grow and diversify. Orders that the facility receives are produced with a two-week lead time. That is, there are 10 business days for production, no matter the size. Says Mellen, “We don’t put volume limits on orders. When the order comes in we are happy to have the business and take the challenge to get the orders to our customers on time.” Clearly a source of pride for the team, Witlox adds that the facility has a 99 per cent customer satisfaction rate in regard to punctuality—most orders do indeed get out the door in time. It is attention to customer satisfaction such as this which will prompt repeat business and keep KI Pembroke’s reputation shining.