02/07/2008 - 22:00

Integration key to success

02/07/2008 - 22:00

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Kitcraft Kitchens began in a small showroom and assembly area in Wangara in 1999 and in seven years has grown to eight locations throughout the state, with all manufacturing and assembly done in-house.

INTEGRATED: Kitcraft Kitchens founders Leon Freese (right) and Armin Bartels made the decision to bring manufacturing and assembly in-house to maintain quality control. Photo: Grant Currall

Kitcraft Kitchens began in a small showroom and assembly area in Wangara in 1999 and in seven years has grown to eight locations throughout the state, with all manufacturing and assembly done in-house.

The company, which primarily deals in renovations, allows customers to choose a kitchen style from its showroom and immediately see their soon-to-be kitchen as a three dimensional display on the Kitcraft computer, with most orders completed and installed within three weeks.

Company founders, Leon Freese and Armin Bartels, migrated to Australia from South Africa in 1999 and 1998 respectively, deciding to leave a country they felt had limited opportunity and was becoming increasingly dangerous.

"We worked on neighbouring farms, with very close families that go back generations," Mr Freese said.

"We decided there was not much of a future... in South Africa and we then decided to move out. When we came out here we had to set up some sort of business and the kitchen stuff came along through a third party and before we knew it we were so deep into it...we just carried on with it."

For the first two years, Kitcraft would take orders from clients and then outsource the manufacture of all the kitchen components to local manufacturers.

However, after experiencing problems with local suppliers not sticking to agreed finish dates, the company moved into manufacturing to ensure installation dates were met and within their control.

"We started buying stuff locally and we found the service here was terrible...We basically had to vertically integrate to make our time," Mr Freese said.

"The secret of our success is that competitors took eight to twelve weeks [to finish a kitchen] and we cut that right down to three weeks... At the time people would tell you it's impossible to do a kitchen in three weeks, but we knew from South Africa you could."

"It was the most frustrating part [relying on manufacturers] and that is when we made the decision to do it ourselves because we couldn't rely on them," Mr Bartells said.

"The way we work now is if that is your installation date, that's it because otherwise it affects all different trades, your plumber, your electrician, your tiling, everything that goes with it."

With neither Messers Freese or Bartels experienced in cabinet making or kitchen manufacture, they had to look to other methods for self-producing all the kitchen parts they required.

"One of the things is we aren't cabinet-makers by background, and because labour is so expensive here, we started looking at machines to do the work," Mr Bartell said.

"It's very automated now...mainly Italian and German machinery. Basically you draw your kitchen on the computer, the customer accepts it and it produces our cutting lists and feeds it straight to the machines," Mr Freese explained.

"What happens on the machine is the worker puts the panel on and then the machine cuts it."

Though the use of machinery helped the company to manufacture its product quickly and efficiently, there was difficulty finding the right staff to help their business grow.

The business employs a mix of local and overseas employees being used.

"Again the worst thing was trying to find the right staff and we've managed to bring in a lot of guys from the UK and South Africa," Mr Freese said.

"It's getting a bit easier now [to find staff]...but especially the last two, three years it was really hard to find anybody."

"It's getting the right people in. One thing we do is look after our key staff very well...because that is the key to success," Mr Bartells said.

Kitcraft, which employs around 50 staff, has eight locations stretching from Joondalup to Albany, with Mr Freese and Bartells owning six of the current stores.

The company won the innovation award in the recent Local Chambers business awards.

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