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Kenowa Industries: Creating Custom Solutions

Kenowa Industries specializes in equipment-handling solutions for companies in need, as well as fabricating customized equipment to make those solutions possible and creating designs to tie it all together. So it seems only fitting that Kenowa has created a customized solution for its own business strategy.


The privately held company with facilities in Holland and Lansing once relied almost exclusively on automotive-related clients, and when the auto industry began to stagnate, so did Kenowa. In 2004, the company lost its bank financing, but was able to negotiate an agreement with Huntington Bank days before Kenowa was scheduled to close its doors.


Clearly, it was time for a custom solution.


"In 2004 and 2005, the company made a concentrated effort to look outside of the auto industry," says Mark Doyle, sales manager and spokesman for Kenowa. "Then in 2006, we started picking up business in the medical industry, in lumber and in aerospace. Then the real downturn hit, and it was a good thing we had begun to diversify.


"Otherwise, I don't think we would have survived."


The company has more than survived. It has reinvented itself, paring down its workforce, doing business "the way it's supposed to be done," according to Doyle, and instilling life into an organization that once was on the brink of nonexistence.


Kenowa has 25 employees, with annual sales averaging about $4 million. These numbers both are down significantly from the troubled period of 2004-06, but it is a case of being half as big and twice as smart, says Doyle.


"We had sales of about $7 million then, but gross sales weren't translating into profit because of the way the business was being conducted," he says. "There were 45 employees, and we were selling too low. Now, our sales numbers are smaller, but we're much healthier than we used to be."


The irony of Kenowa's company reorganization is not lost on Doyle. Kenowa itself is in the business of helping companies physically reorganize. It custom designs carts, dollies, racks, wire baskets and work stations to help create solutions in shipping and receiving, assemblies, packaging, manufacturing work cells, science labs or research facilities.


There are other companies that custom design similar equipment, but few offer Kenowa's full-service, start-to-finish treatment. Kenowa representatives make on-site visits, survey the needs of a company and then take those needs back to a design team at either its Lansing or Holland facility.


There, in-house designers draw up CAD (computer aided design) plans to create solutions for the client, regardless of the problem presented. This is far more than custom making some equipment. It is visualizing, understanding, conceptualizing and solving.


"With 32 years of manufacturing experience, we are able to turn concept drawings into reality," says Ed Amaya, who co-owns the company with Mike DeVries and serves as Kenowa President. "We can take a project to paper, send it to production, determine dimensions, tolerances and structural soundness to make sure we get it right the first time.


"Our design-to-application approach is why we retain our customers."


Kenowa has kept certain longtime automotive customers, clients Doyle refers to as "bread and butter." The company also has added more than a dash of seasoning to its customer base, including companies in the textile, lumber, medical supply and furniture industries. In 2009, Kenowa took its first venture into the renewable energy industry by adding a solar panel manufacturer to its client roster, taking on an order for carts used to remove glass solar panels from the end of a conveyor line. The cart was custom designed the conveyor line, which transports panels robotically to shelves on the cart.


"When we closed that deal, they told us, 'You guys are the only ones that are going to be able to get this done,'" Doyle said. "We've had a lot of good moments in this company, and that was really a big one."


Doyle says he can't predict how many such "big moments" lie ahead for Kenowa, and he insists that's the beauty of the business.


"It's not like selling pens or cups where you have a certain quota to meet and you know that you'll make X amount of money," he says. "You might make 10 small sales or one memorable deal, you never know. Unpredictability is one of the reasons this business is so interesting."



Jeff Barr loves stories, to hear them and to tell them. He can be reached at barrj88@gmail.com.


Ed Amaya and Mike DeVries

Mike DeVries

Ed Amaya

Kenowa exterior

Various products in the shop

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved

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