Apex Homes of Pennsylvania President Lynn Kuhns is keenly aware of the shock and fear being felt among Wood-Mode officials and former employees in the wake of the Kreamer company’s abrupt closure on Monday.
“We went through this several years ago,” he said of the financially troubled time endured by the Middleburg company known in 2012 as Apex Homes Inc. “It was on a smaller scale than Wood-Mode, which is a much bigger company.”
It was 2012 and Apex, a modular home manufacturer located along Route 522 not far from the Wood-Mode plant, had fallen into bankruptcy just 22 years after it was founded.
A group of Apex managers, including Kuhns, worked with an outside investor and purchased the company in 2014. With the aid of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the company now operates under the name of Apex Homes of PA and continues to make modular homes and some cabinetry while employing about 130.
In the years leading up to the purchase, Kuhns said, “I never gave the employees false hope. I always gave them the facts; good, bad and indifferent. I did the same thing with builders and vendors.”
Keeping an open communication helped weather the storm, he said.
Only one vendor and one builder left for good and on Aug. 1, the company will celebrate five years under the new name.
By maintaining an open dialogue about the difficulties the company was facing, Kuhns said, many of the employees felt they were a part of the process even as the company cut employee pay, eliminated fringe benefits, company picnics and monthly luncheons.
It paid off for the employees who stayed and today Kuhns said he has already hired seven displaced Wood-Mode workers this week and is looking to hire up to a total of 30.
“We’ve been trying our best to meet with each (of the 100 or so) applicants. We are trying to hire enough to increase our production. We have a backlog right now,” he said.
Former Wood-Mode employees still reeling from the abrupt closure of the plant that had more than $100 million in product orders and are now questioning the management practices.
They’ve complained about the lack of transparency from the owners. Despite rumors of troubles for several months, employees said upper management has refused to answer questions.
The Daily Item’s repeated requests for comment from owners Robert and Brooks Gronlund and human resources director David Scarr have been unanswered.
Impact on the community
Area small business operators are hoping for the best; either Wood-Mode is purchased or the displaced employees find work in the area.
“It’s already slowing down,” Harvey’s gas station and convenience store manager Dee Seely said of the number of customers the Middleburg business has had since Wood-Mode closed Monday afternoon.
“We always had a lot of people stopping in for drinks and sandwiches every day between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.,” she said.
The silence has been “eerie” said Linda Reichenbach, manager at the Quick Stop adjacent to the Wood-Mode plant.
She and co-worker Brook Aumiller said they’ve become accustomed to the sounds of the plant in operation and daily visits of workers. To have the bustling activity come to an end so abruptly has been jarring.
Wood-Mode’s closure is much more than a loss of revenue for small businesses nearby.
“This is a small village store. It’s a community,” said Reichenbach, who along with Aumiller, has relatives who lost their jobs when Wood-Mode closed this week.
Ruhls Pizza shop owners Don and Veronica Ruhl said they don’t know how the company shutdown will impact their 14-year-old family-owned restaurant located behind the now-shuttered Kreamer plant.
Their initial concern is for the customers who over the years have become friends.
“We’ve gotten to know them and their children,” said Don Ruhl.
Several laid-off workers even asked how they were faring since the closure, a gesture of concern that Veronica Ruhl said: “pierced my heart.”
In the immediate aftermath of the closure, the Ruhls have not seen a slow-down and they are confident that the business they’ve built will not be threatened.
“We have faith in God,” said Veronica Ruhl.