WORTHINGTON, Iowa — Dennis Kramer believes the success of his Worthington business is largely due to how little it does.
Heritage Wood Products focuses almost exclusively on radius millwork, creating the curved wood pieces that form the trim, molding and window casings in homes.
“We are good at what we do because we specialize in it and it is all that we do,” Kramer said. “It is not a sideline for us, and that is a big part of why we have been successful.”
Heritage Wood Products sells its creations to companies in the millwork and vinyl window industries. Kramer said he has customers throughout the Midwest and East.
He has carved out a particularly large niche in the Minneapolis luxury home market.
And while he does not sell to many local customers, he has earned the attention of local economic development officials.
Karla Thompson, executive director of Dyersville Area Chamber of Commerce, said the artistic ability showcased at Heritage Wood Products is “fascinating.”
“What (Kramer) does is a very skilled art and very hard to find,” she said. “It is incredible that someone in the small town of Worthington, Iowa, is helping build these multimillion-dollar homes.”
OPERATING IN OBSCURITY
Kramer purchased the business that ultimately would become Heritage Wood Products in 2001. The company operated in New Vienna for the next three years.
In 2004, Kramer moved the business to a newly constructed, 8,000-square-foot building in Worthington. Heritage has expanded twice since, adding 4,000 square feet to its production space and building a 2,600-square-foot storage area.
Despite operating in Worthington for 15 years, many people remain unaware of what occurs within the facility at 301 Eighth Ave. NW.
Most people assume Kramer’s business belongs to Century Building Products, which operates a nearby facility. Kramer relishes the anonymity.
“I don’t encourage a lot of extra foot traffic, just because it takes a lot of time to wait on them and I don’t have a lot to sell them,” he said.
Kramer noted that the only product he sells on a retail basis is live edge slabs, which can be used by woodworkers to create tables and other items.
The business employs four full-time and five part-time workers.
“They are mostly retired guys, who are still young enough that they want to stay active,” Kramer said. “I work with their schedule, and it works out well for all of us.”
Employees at Heritage learn the highly specialized craft of bending wood. And while different products have slightly different processes, most of the jobs completed at the Worthington facility follow a basic formula.
Kramer and his staffers start with thick pieces of wood, which are initially too large to bend. They saw this wood into thinner pieces and sand them down until they are as thin as an eighth of an inch — small enough to contort and bend to certain specifications.
These thin pieces are then stacked and glued together. The connected pieces now form a larger piece of wood that retains the pliable characteristics of each smaller piece.
Once the glue dries, the product is manipulated into the perfect shape.
Kramer often uses CNC routers for the precise angles demanded by the customer. Some products are shaped on forming tables, which use a combination of stainless steel and clamps to create the specific radius.
On some of the larger projects, Kramer will make a brief visit to a site to “eyeball” the home and see how and where his creations might fit. The majority of the time, however, he works off of drawings from the customer.
LUXURY HOME NICHE
The trajectory of Kramer’s business changed in a major way about a half-decade ago, when Heritage Wood Products began working with customers in the luxury home market.
He said his company’s products typically end up in homes ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 square feet. These homes have a median price tag of $10 million, and Kramer recently completed work for a house valued at more than $100 million.
He acknowledged that navigating this market can mean working with “a very demanding customer.”
However, he has become accustomed to meeting their high expectations.
“Rich people don’t mind parting with their money as long as they see value in the product you are selling,” he said. “That means high quality, on-time performance, and, of course, it has to be the right fit.”