Going through COVID has been a test of will for businesses across the country. For Kendrick, Inc. in particular, it’s reinforced the importance of being part of the community and helping people out.
The northeast Iowa company runs the largest producing sawmill in the state on a 33-acre site in the small town of Edgewood. The company produces green and dry lumber, veneer logs, railroad ties and mulch from more than a dozen tree species, including the prized American black walnut, and sells lumber domestically and internationally to 22 countries.
The company’s sawmill and woodworking facility has even become a tourist destination in the area so visitors can receive a guided tour, complete with headsets to hear their guide and use as hearing protection, and can see how logs are transformed into finished products.
But what’s top of mind these days? Giving people hope at a time when they need it most.
“When things started closing down and people were getting worried because they didn’t know what to expect, we wanted to spread positivity,” says Rhonda Kendrick, who has owned the family business with her husband Tim since 1983. They’re the second generation to take the reins.
The couple’s four adult children – Morgan, Andrea, Kirby and Kerra – are also at the heart of the extended family of relatives and employees who operate Kendrick, Inc.
“We started to print yard signs with messages like, ‘We’re all in this together’ and put them in our yards and our friends’ yards,” she says.
Soon the Kendricks had donated a dozen signs to each of the surrounding communities – and started making custom yard signs for people who wanted to share the sentiments on their own lawns, including birthday and graduation celebrations.
The company is also helping seniors in long-term care homes who have been isolated by the pandemic, by donating handcrafted wood art signs for birthday gifts and prizes for bingo wins. “That’s been a really fun thing to do to let these people know they’re not forgotten. There’s a lot to be said for giving back,” Rhonda says.
And giving back is a long-held Kendrick tradition.
For instance, the company helped set up a daycare so working parents could access quality care for their kids. The team also sponsors the local fair and hosts social barbecues. For Edgewood’s annual Rodeo Days celebration in June, the Kendrick, Inc. team is front and center with one of the largest floats in town.
Don Kendrick Sr. started the business in the 1950s and continued to run it until the late 1970s. After being owned by someone outside the family for several years, his sons took the business back over in 1983. At the time, they were just two young loggers with a truck, but Kendrick, Inc. has always had big aspirations.
Since coming back into the family, the company has grown from 12 to 156 employees (the largest employer in town), and has earned a reputation for high-caliber workmanship and using every part of the log – and that means every part. Even the sawdust left over from milling is burned to heat the dry kilns and generate electricity for part of the facility.
Kendrick, Inc. has also diversified in recent years by adding four companies to the mix: Forever Cabinets by Kendrick designing and producing fine custom cabinetry; Shimlee, an online personalization company where people upload their photos and they are printed on wood – or they can design their own custom wood signs; The Markket, a two-story retail store and showroom and Iowa tourism destination; and Kendrick Home, which designs and produces a line of wood decor sold by retailers throughout the U.S.
“We’ve been working a lot more closely with our mom-and-pop shop retailers; knowing how COVID has changed their business, we are trying to find ways to help them,” says Rhonda’s daughter Morgan Christen, Marketing Director and Human Resources Manager.
“This has been a difficult time. When they couldn’t be open, our Kendrick Home team helped them set up online sales, and created unique pieces to draw people to their store when they were able to open.”
In fact, Kendrick, Inc. has made headway during the pandemic, expanding its workforce as demand – especially for its wooden sign products – has surged. Wood is a renewable resource that brings a sought-after beauty and warmth to furnishings – and who wouldn’t want some uplifting typography on their walls right about now? “Life is better when we’re together” and “Live for the moments you can’t put into words” are sunny reminders that life is worthwhile, no matter what adversity comes your way.
As Rhonda says, “Home is like a safe retreat, now more than ever. When people can’t go out and spend money on vacations and things, they can make themselves happy with a new piece of art at a relatively inexpensive price so they don’t break the bank.”
She is proud to say how well Kendrick, Inc. has weathered the pandemic, being diligent about health and safety for employees and customers, and being flexible for staff who are also parents, juggling work and the demands of online schooling for their kids.
“Everyone has different fears and beliefs on how things should be handled,” Rhonda adds, “so we’re working together to get through this because we can get through it.”
She says that marrying into the sawmill business and working alongside her husband all these years has been an advantage. “I hear so many people say, ‘how can you work with your spouse?’ Well, I love it. I really do enjoy working with him. We’re not sitting across from a desk all day, each day, but at night when we get done working, we can talk about things. It’s just a lot of fun.” Retiring from the business isn’t even really on the radar because Rhonda and Tim live next to the mill.
The tree symbol, found on every Kendrick Home product, emphasizes the company’s commitment to protecting the environment and living sustainably. The lumber industry is really about good forest management – harvesting the trees for healthier forests and clearing the dried wood to protect against wildfires.
“Since we do have all four of our kids in the business, I feel like we have a vested interest in keeping the trees sustainable so they are there for future generations,” says Rhonda. “We also own timber ground and the kids are always out in the timbers. The trees are such a big part of our life.”
The company’s foundation truly is rooted in family, which makes the tree illustration in the Kendrick Home logo so fitting – a strong family tree that will nurture the business for the generations to come.