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Blum dedicated to a vision of perfect motion

While it has a Stanley address and a Mount Holly telephone number, cabinet hardware manufacturer Blum is firmly entrenched in eastern Lincoln County.
That’s according to general manager and chief executive officer Karl Reudisser.
“When we came here in 1979 from Hickory, we didn’t get any economic incentives from Lincoln County, and we didn’t want any,” he said.
Blum U.S. is the North American subsidiary of Austrian-based Blum, founded by Julius Blum in 1952 as Julius Blum Furniture Fittings Manufacturing.
Established in 1977, the U.S. operation of Blum was housed in a warehouse in Hickory.
Two years later Blum moved to a 15-acre site in Stanley, establishing an assembly and distribution operation that would come to be known as Building Expansion 1.
“This building housed administrative offices, warehouse, a samples area, a small cabinet shop, and an assembly operation for Blum,” said Reudisser.
According to the website www.blum.us, machines were added for attaching dowels to hinges.
Over the past 26 years, eight expansions have brought the plant to over 400,000 square feet.
Currently, Blum U.S. is preparing the finishing touches on a 50,000-square-foot warehouse.
The company is also planning on adding three tandem manufacturing lines, where tandems for cabinet drawers can be produced in less than two seconds.
Tandems are drawer slides that are concealed underneath a cabinet drawer. It’s also known as “drawer runner systems.”
“The beauty of the wood is exposed,” said Reudisser.
According to David Billerman, vice-president of production for Blum, the move is “technically challenging” for Blum, a plant that’s 80 percent automated.
“It’s something new for us, since we’re used to working with teams of six,” he said. “With this new operation that’s set to go online next spring, we’ll actually be working with teams of 20.”
Reudisser added the total company investment by spring 2006 will easily be $30 million with the warehouse and new production lines.
“Owner equity is put back into the company. If it’s a difference between a new yacht or a piece of automated machinery, the owners will buy the machinery,” said Billerman.
The facility on Old Plank Road off N.C. 16 currently houses a shipping and receiving area; hinge and drawer runner manufacturing; assembly lines; profile-stamping machines; pretreatment and powder-coating lines.
There is also an 85-foot high product storage building with an advanced automated retrieval system with a capacity for 12,000 pallets and a 22,000-square-foot shipping warehouse equipped with automated conveyor equipment.
“After spring 2006, there are no other plans to expand,” said Reudisser.

Unaffected by market fluctuations
Billerman said that Blum’s success doesn’t largely depend on the housing industry.
“When the housing industry goes through a down period, the remodeling industry is right there to take up the slack,” he said.
Billerman said that Blum U.S. holds 22 percent of the American market for cabinetry fixtures.
“If someone wanted to spend $10,000 to remodel their kitchen and they wanted to use high-end Blum hardware, they’d probably spend between $700 and $800,” said Billerman.
Worldwide, Blum has 17 different divisions, boasting sales worldwide of $1.045 billion in 2004-05, up 18 percent from the previous year.
The company employs nearly 4,200 people, 3,500 of those in Austria. Sales worldwide for Blum are around $217 million, with the number expected to be $243 million during 2005-06.
The plant in eastern Lincoln County employs around 400 people with plans to add a few more jobs after the warehouse expansion and new production lines are put in.
“Our main product is concealed hinges,” said Billerman.
When asked how many hinges Blum U.S. produces per year, Reudisser did not want to answer.
“I don’t feel comfortable answering that because of competition here in North Carolina,” he said, “but it is many.”
Blum’s main competition in the U.S. is Salice, an Italian company operating out of Charlotte that imports hinges; Mepla, a Thomasville-based importer from Germany; and Grass, an importer from Austria.
One key that separates Blum from its competition is efficiency.
“We can ship products within three days, that’s our goal,” Billerman said.
He adds that efficiency in preparing orders to ship is also a chief complaint from their customers.
“Some people say we ship orders out too fast. They go out and then customers are calling the next day wanting to change their order. There’s nothing we can do,” said Billerman.

Apprenticeship
Blum is one of a handful of companies that work together in an apprenticeship program through Central Piedmont Community College.
“It was founded in 1995, and currently we have 11 apprentices,” said Billerman.
The apprentices go through a four-year program and are trained to become technical specialists. All of the participants are selected, and at the end of the program, the participants receive a CPCC diploma and a journeyman apprentice degree.
For Reudisser, the apprenticeship program has a special place in his heart.
“I am Austrain born and came up through the apprenticeship program,” he said.
While Billerman could not say how much Blum’s investment is in the apprenticeship program, he called the amount “significant.”
“We keep six or seven instructors in house for the program,” he said.
by Jon Mayhew

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