PHOTO: The new, 45,000-square-foot warehouse at Oak Street Manufacturing connects to the older one.
PHOTO: Employees keep busy in the new Oak Street Manufacturing warehouse. (Photos by Pete Temple)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
A company that started with a single, half-time employee and is now up to 36 has marked its latest expansion: a 45,000-square-foot warehouse out on Welter Drive in Monticello.
Oak Street Manufacturing, the restaurant furniture supplier that was founded in 1995, opened the new building to employees on Sept. 1. The building will help the company expand its warehouse and production.
The new building, connected to the first warehouse that was built in 2010, is designed for the efficiency, convenience and comfort of the employees.
“We spent a lot of money on dust control, and all the things that go with making it a nicer place to work,” said company president Tom Bagge. “It does more than provide more space; it also makes life easier for the employees.”
The building stands 27 feet tall, or 2 ½ feet taller than the first warehouse.
Mike Beck Construction of Cascade built the building. Monti Plumbing, Heating & Electric did the electrical work, and Kraus Plumbing & Heating provided the plumbing.
The new building, like the previous one, is air-conditioned. It has efficient lighting, including daylight windows to help light it.
“They provide some outside lights so it’s not a tin can you’re sitting in. We put in as many energy-saving things as make sense.”
The company wants not only for the employees to have a nice place to work, but also to be paid more.
“Eventually, we would like to be the highest-paying factory in town,” co-owner Tom Bagge said. “The only way we’re going to be able to do that is to take those low-paying jobs, eliminate them with automation, and move our people up to jobs that can afford to be paid more, because they are value-added positions.”
“Tom has worked really hard on that recently, and I think the (employees) are just eating that up,” company vice president Cindy Bagge said. “It has allowed us to grow and to provide better jobs, cleaner jobs, ones that are probably more interesting and challenging.
“Many of our employees are cross-trained,” she added. “That’s valuable for us, so that if somebody’s gone, we don’t fall apart. But they also don’t get stuck doing the same thing, and they get a better understanding of the entire process.”
Having production facilities on-site is also good for those who work in the front office.
“It helps us, as sales people, to see the process of production,” said Michell Parrish, a sales representative who has worked at Oak Street since 2000. “Now, if we have a question, we can go back there and stand for 15 or 20 minutes and see exactly how that stuff is being put together.”
The new building is not all that is new at Oak Street; the company has added dining chair and bar stools. It is proud of the fact that these and other products it sells to wholesalers are American-made.
“There are certain products that we have to outsource, and that has allowed us to complement our line.” Cindy Bagge said. “But whenever we look at purchases, we want to buy American-made whenever we can, and we think we do that as well as, or better than, anyone else.”
“There are a lot of companies that look for that,” said Trish Tuetken, a sales representative who has been with the company since 1999, “especially when you’re selling to VFW halls or Legions. They want an American-made product.
“That’s why we’re adding more and more American-made products, just because of the demand.”
The company uses contract manufacturers in Sharksville, Pa. and the Chicago area.
Oak Street began as a production facility on, well, Oak Street.
“When I first started it was just the back side of the Pizza Ranch building, and then the building across the alley, and then we expanded two different times,” said Gary Langel, the company’s production manager and an Oak Street employee for 17 years.
“When we went into the distribution of regular furniture and outsourcing some of our products, we needed more warehouse space,” said co-owner Cindy Bagge. “It got real tight real fast.”
Tuetken said she has seen her job change as the company has grown.
“We did quite a bit of office (supplies) in the beginning,” Tuetken said. “Then it switched gears to primarily restaurant items.
“When I first started, we didn’t have a dealer database, so that was something that we had to grow. At first it was pulling up the Yellow Pages and finding restaurant suppliers and just knocking on their doors.”
As business grew, so did the product line.
“Our product base went from a handful of items to a catalog full of stuff,” Parrish said. “So it’s really important to try to keep up with what we’re bringing in, and have a solid knowledge of what the product is, so you know what you’re talking about when a customer calls.”
Part of the company’s success is its attention to detail and in serving the customer.
“We take care of our customers as if they were our own kids, basically,” Tuetken said. “If we have a deadline or a due date, we make sure we hit it. We’re up front, and make sure they’re supplied with all the newest product information.”
It has paid off. Few know that better than sales representative Matt Polansky, who was an Oak Street customer when he worked at Rapids Wholesale Equipment in Marion, and has since joined Oak Street.
“I’ve known Tom and Cindy for a lot of years,” Polansky said. “The opportunity came up, they called, and I jumped on it.
“They’re great people, they work very hard, they sell a quality product for a decent price. Their work ethic and the way they do their business; that’s why they’ve expanded the way they have.”
PHOTO: Restaurant booths manufactured at Oak Street await shipping.