From start to finish

Vertically integrated Wellborn Cabinet likes having complete control of process and product

By Jim Leute

Paul Wellborn would be among the first to admit that plenty of successful cabinetmakers buy most of their components from suppliers.

But his family-owned Wellborn Cabinet has thrived into its third generation by making a majority of the components that go into the company’s lines of kitchen and bath cabinets.

“It’s really the early DNA of this company to do manufacturing by using vertical integration,” said Stephen Wellborn, the company’s director of product research and development. “By making as many parts of the product in-house, from the sawmill to the panels, through complete doors and drawers and other parts of the product, Wellborn has complete control of the quality and the shipping lead time of the product.

“If you make all the parts that make up the end product under one manufacturing roof, you have complete control over all of the outcome.”

The company’s DNA can be mapped to the beginning when Paul and his brother Doug founded Wellborn Cabinet in 1961 in Ashland, Ala.

The siblings started in a 3,200-square-foot building making low-cost kitchen and bath cabinets. They specialized in contract sales for government-financed housing.

In 1986, Paul Wellborn bought the company, became sole owner and changed the company’s customer base largely to residential kitchen and bath dealers.

Wellborn has since increased in both size and product selection. It now has six product lines that offer a whole-home cabinetry solution. 

Paul Wellborn is the company’s president and chief executive officer. Five children−Tammy Padgett, Angela O’Neill, Stephen Wellborn, John Wellborn and Jason Wellborn−are board members and active in management of specific areas of the business.

A third generation including several grandchildren and others work in various areas of the company. Today, Wellborn Cabinet makes cabinets from start to finish at its 2-million-square-foot facility.

Stephen Wellborn said maintaining all levels of the cabinet-making process in one facility allows Wellborn to ensure the quality craftsmanship for which the company is known.

“When it came to making or purchasing components, my father had a lot of knowledge and capabilities,” Wellborn said. “He tended to lean toward doing it his own way, in terms of quality and efficiency, and that has been the basis for the vertical integration we have today.”

That’s doesn’t mean Wellborn, which now employs about 950 people, is still making cabinets the same way it did in the 1960s and ’70s.

Wellborn has evolved its processes to be a survivor and leader in an ever-changing industry ravaged by recession just a handful of years ago.

Wellborn said today’s manufacturing strategies retain a high level of production, a quick turnaround and a strong focus on quality.

The manufacturing process, he said, has changed because product diversity is much broader than it was in the company’s early years. 

“There is a combination of in-stock unfinished parts and a large amount of build-to-order,” he said. “This supports the mass amount of product door styles, finishes, cabinets and the ‘You Draw It’ (customization) program from Wellborn.”

Just before the recession, Wellborn expanded its panel-processing plant, where the company does its own sheet stock veneer and laminates its own plywood.

“This is a tough industry to compete in, and we focus more on service and quality,” Wellborn said. “Doing virtually everything ourselves gives us the ability to deliver orders on time and complete.

“We believe that gives us an advantage. That said, there are lots of successful cabinetmakers that buy their components. It’s just what works for us.”

The company’s vertical integration positions Wellborn to compete in an industry that’s becoming more and more fierce in the mid-price cabinet lines, said Angela O’Neill, Wellborn’s director of marketing.

“Before the recession, things weren’t as price driven, but now we’re seeing the market is buying down price points,” she said. “Consumers are much more savvy, and thanks to sites such as Houzz and Pinterest, they have so many more choices, and they want them at lower prices.”

Wellborn said his company is similar to other manufacturers: As the product mix increases, manufacturing must adapt and change.

Wellborn uses a blend of mass production with customization cells to deliver products on time and complete. 

“The custom cells in manufacturing help support the product mix,” he said. “With the 70/30 rule, you sell 70 percent of 30 percent of your catalog offering, and the 100 percent product mix constantly increases in the mid-price cabinet market.”

Wellborn has several lead times to support the brands it manufactures. Generally, it has either a 13-day and 18-day ship lead time from the order date. Lead times are dependent on door style selection, and other lead times expand to six weeks to include inset door profiles and the company’s “ColorInspire” and “You Draw It” programs.

Wellborn said the kitchen and bath industry is on a growth pace, and Wellborn is seeing a similar increase in its sales numbers.

In general, that’s due to an improving economy.

In specific, Wellborn said, it’s because the company is growing and has many new products to serve the changing design trends.

“The kitchen and bath industry was hit hard,” he said.

 “We’re not back to our full capacity, but we’re certainly in a growth mode and getting aggressive in a lot of areas.”

Wellborn’s Select Series, its “good” price point, had a significant launch into this year for a product that offers more selection. That supports the price conscience needs in today’s market, he said.

Other new product launches include transitional door styles with clean line details, he said.

Next year, Wellborn will launch Aspire Cabinetry, a full-access frameless line that will support other new trends in the kitchen and bath industry.

Wellborn also introduced ColorInspire, which offers more than 1,000 paint selections. The “You Draw It” program provides most of any cabinet design not found in the company’s massive 700-page specification catalog.

While Wellborn’s cabinet business has evolved over the decades, much of it is still grounded in the strategies Paul Wellborn employed while working around central Alabama in the 1960s and ’70s.

“The entire Wellborn family of employees takes great pride in producing quality cabinets,” Wellborn said. “All of our kitchen and bath cabinets, including doors, drawers and face frames, are hand crafted right here in Alabama by dedicated Wellborn employees.”