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Blum is an innovator in cabinet hardware manufacturing

Monday, March 5, 2007

Products made by Blum Inc. aren’t easy to see but the building can’t be missed.

Located on Old Plank Road near South Highway 16 in the Lowesville community, the contemporary building has a large glass and metal front with dramatic angles. The modern materials and design aren’t cold or unwelcoming, though. Instead, the L-shaped front and semi-circular visitors’ parking lot are built to give an embracing effect.

“We pay a lot of attention to that. We want people to visit,” said Karl Ruedisser, CEO and company president.

Blum makes functional hardware for cabinets – door hinges and drawer slides – at its Lincoln County plant.

The company sells its products in the United States and Canada to both kitchen manufacturers KraftMaid and Merillat and to commercial hardware distributors.

Blumotion is one of the newest developments. The device which works with cabinet hinges creates a soft-close, keeping doors from slamming. Another new addition is the drawer divider, designed to aid in organizing.

Blum’s products are considered functional and don’t include the decorative handles found on the fronts of drawers and cabinets. However, because trucks from furniture companies are often at the company to pick up orders, a common misconception is that Blum makes cabinets.

Because its products are often used in new homes, business has steadily increased over the past decade along with the boom in the housing market. A 2005, 50,000-square-foot expansion project included an addition to the warehouse, injection molding and production expansion. After completing an expansion in January 2006, the increased warehouse and logistics area freed space for additional assembly lines creating 70 more jobs.

Over the past six months, a decline in the housing industry has resulted in a slight downturn at Blum. Ruedisser doesn’t think the effect will be long lasting.

Today the company employees 450 people from the west and east sides of Lake Norman and other parts of Lincoln and Mecklenburg counties along with Gaston County.

Ruedisser moved from Austria to Hickory in 1978 to open Blum’s American operation. After a short time in Catawba County, he realized the company would need better infrastructure to grow. Driving around the region, Ruedisser found the Old Plank Road property. He moved the company to Stanley in 1979. Located 30 minutes from Charlotte yet in a rural area with plenty of space to build, it was the best location. The proximity to Lake Norman, Charlotte and rural areas also meant employees moving here from other regions would have several options in where to live.

“I think that was a good decision then and it still is,” Ruedisser said.

The company president has been in North Carolina for several decades now and plans to stay.

“I fell in love with North Carolina, the mountains, the beach. That’s why I’m still here,” he said.

He may even have relatives here. “Ruedisser” is the original spelling of “Rudisill,” a common surname in this area. When he retires, Ruedisser plans to research the connection.

During the first years here, Blum did sales and distribution. In the 1980s it moved into simple assembly. Full-fledged manufacturing started in the 1990s. The contemporary building which houses administrative offices was recently completed and marked Blum’s tenth expansion of its Old Plank Road facility. Additional products are made at Blum’s locations in Austria, Brazil and Poland. It also has subsidiaries and representatives around the globe.

When the company couldn’t find workers with the needed skills to staff its expanding operation, it took a cue from Austria’s education system and began a four-year apprenticeship program. Students start during the senior year of high school, spending four hours in class and four at the company. Following graduation, they become full-time Blum employees. After 8,000 hours of training, 1,800 of those hours at Central Piedmont Community College, apprentices earn an associates degree in manufacturing technology and journeyman’s certification for the state Department of Labor. Apprentices are paid for their time at the company and in class. Tuition and books are paid also. The program costs the company $150,000 per apprentice. Upon graduation jobs are guaranteed though graduates aren’t obligated to stay with the company. Over the past 10 years, 30 apprentices have gone through the program and 82 percent have stayed at Blum.

“We trust them. It’s a good package,” said Andreas Thurner, apprentice manager.

In the current apprenticeship program, there are 17 Blum employees. Eight more apprentices from Timken are spending time at Blum in a partnership between the two companies. Four full-time trainers work with the group using $1.8 million in equipment.

“It’s quite a commitment,” Ruedisser said.

Julius Blum began the company in 1952 in Hoechst, Austria. Today, there are over 4,500 employees. It remains a family company. In the 1980s Blum’s sons Herbert and Gerhard were put in charge of day to day operations. The elder Blum died in October.

The company supports the Lincoln County Chapter of the Red Cross, Relay for Life, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Gaston College Lincoln Campus and the Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce.

 

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