By Matthew Bradford
This article, Laurysen Kitchens Looking Beyond 50, originally appeared in Wood Industry Magazine on March 28, 2022. It was written by Matthew Bradford, a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge.
It’s been fifty years and three generations, but Laurysen Kitchens is as sturdy as the day it was founded (albeit with more than a few modern updates).
Founded in a 1200 sq. ft. garage in Ottawa, the family-run company has grown into a kitchen maker and product manufacturer for dealers and independent contractors throughout Ontario. And now, after decades of navigating fires, markets shifts, and pandemics, the Laurysen team has eyes on a new addition.
“The demand has been incredible, so we’re building a whole new plant from the ground up next to our facility in Carleton Place facility to keep up,” reports Bill Laurysen, COO, who runs the company alongside his sister Caroline Castrucci, CEO, and two sons Corey and Michael.
The 80,000 sq. ft. addition is being built to tie into Laurysen’s 28,000 sq. ft. Carleton Place facility. It will amalgamate all operations on the site and house administrative offices. When it opens in September 2023, the sales staff at the current Stittsville location will move into the newly acquired downtown showroom.
“We wanted to get closer to our customers,” says Bill. “The showroom is right in the middle of the town, where most of our sales come from.”
Laurysen’s expansion and showroom mark the latest moves in the company’s ongoing evolution. It was initially started in 1970 by John and Adri Laurysen, who decided early to focus on custom-designed European cabinetry.
“When Blum came to Canada, we were one of the first customers. My dad bought into that style and never looked back,” says Bill.
Both Bill and Caroline started working for their father at a young age, spending many evenings at the shop cleaning, sawing, or edgebanding. Looking back on those early days, Caroline says everything was done by hand.
“Designs were drawn by hand on graph paper, and all cut-lists and door requirements were calculated manually,” said Caroline. “To express an idea to clients, you had to do quick design sketches; there was no CAD software or 3D full-colour renderings back then.”
“It’s amazing how we ever got things done,” she adds.
Fast-forward to now, Laurysen has become much more tech-savvy, incorporating modern equipment and digital tools to stay at the top of their client’s radars. It also offers an expanded line of kitchen storage, countertops, hardware, and innovative products like its eco-friendly water-based UV finishing system and a line of formaldehyde-free melamine cabinets.
Bumps in the road
Like any business, Laurysen has navigated its share of obstacles. One of the most significant occurred in 1987 when a fire turned its original shop to ashes.
“That was our first setback, but thankfully, our customers and building partners all worked with us to get back on our feet,” recalls Bill. “A week after the fire, we were back to producing kitchens out of a barn while waiting for the building to be rebuilt.”
“Sheer grit and determination carried the day,” adds Caroline. “Not once did we say we could not do this!”
Of course, the latest hurdle arrived in March 2020 when Laurysen had to contend with the pandemic and the labour, logistical, and supply chain issues therein.
“It’s been very stressful for the last two years, but we never shut down, not even for one day,” Bill reports. “We did have some customers shut down, but two or three weeks later, they realized this wasn’t going away and had to continue building. And because they had closing dates, we had to honour their dates.”
As for staying in business in an increasingly competitive market over the years, Bill says the company owes its resilience to solid customer relationships and a skilled team of 100-plus employees, some of which have been with the shop for decades.
“For all of us, it’s about standing behind the work,” he continues. “We have customers who come back 40 years after buying a product needing a new hinge, and we’ll replace it for free.”
Of course, keeping the lights on also means keeping pace with market trends and recognizing reliable customers when they walk through the doors.
“Just because someone has a lot of work doesn’t mean you want to jump in bed with them,” said Bill. “That’s why we gravitate towards good-paying and reliable customers – the ones where you don’t have to extend credit or wonder if they’re going to disappear before they pay. The margins are good in this business but not great. All it takes is a couple of bad, high-volume accounts, and you’re done.”
Trading on reputation
The Laurysen family has spent 50 years honing its craft. Along the way, it has fashioned a trusted reputation among its list of long-time customers. The trick, says Bill, isn’t much of a trick at all.
“It’s just about using good quality equipment to provide a high-quality product and being someone your customer can trust to deliver. Advertising has worked for us, but word of mouth has kept us busy.”
That’s not to say Laurysen relies on word of mouth alone. Today, the company utilizes a robust website and social media to stay in front of modern customers.
“You’ve got to be careful, though,” Bill adds. “With social media, everybody finds out as soon as you do something wrong. But when you do something right, that’s when you want to get it out there on social media to let people know.”
Reputation is always an asset in the woodworking industry. And for Laurysen, part of its good name stems from giving back to its community. This includes donating kitchens to the Maycourt Hospice, supporting the Heart & Stroke Foundation, holding a fundraising dinner for stem cell research, or sponsoring or fundraising for local sports teams, among other initiatives.
Laurysen has much to celebrate after fifty years in the business. It also has new space and opportunities to look forward to in the days ahead. Asked for advice to pass on to up-and-coming shops, he adds, “There’s a lot of rewards are there, but you have to put the time and work in. That’s all there is to it.”
About the author: Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.