History of Joerns Furniture Company
The very word, "history," implies longevity. In this respect, with origins
in 1898, Joerns certainly has a "history." At the same time, it's probably
safe to say that the ability to adapt to the substantial changes that have
taken place since the turn of the century dictates whether an enterprise
has a history at all. There is but faint resemblance between the company's
original products and those of today.
Some would say that an organization's future requires that its history include the sustaining of trial and tribulation, of adversity. Such lessons keep alertness to danger signals keen, the willingness, even anxiousness, to change prominent. Such lessons temper fortitude to do what must be done. Three brothers, Charles, Paul and Frederick Joerns started a furniture manufacturing business in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1898. The company moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin in the early 1900's where Charles Joerns bought out his brothers.
Following a fire in its Sheboygan factory, Joerns Brothers Furniture Company was moved into an existing four story frame structure in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in 1927.
Through the 1940's and into the 1950's, the company prospered manufacturing elaborate and expensive bedroom and dining room furniture sold to retail furniture stores. In the middle '50's, outside management, brought in because of Charles' son, Frederick's, failing health, made a strategic move away from the company's traditional markets to lower priced units, a move which placed the business in serious financial straits by the late 1950's.
In 1957, Robert S. Livingston, a partner in the accounting firm of Seidman & Seidman, Grand Rapids, Michigan, was hired as General Manager. Bob Livingston retrenched the business and started a gradual withdrawal from retail furniture and entry into government contract work. Part of the retrenchment included a voluntary reduction in wages by 211 employees who were later fully repaid with interest. Ramond D. Nass, Frederick Joerns' son-in-law, joined the firm in 1959 and expanded the company's contract business into college dormitory furniture. Following the hiring of a metal engineer in 1960, Joerns entered the health care field in April 1952. Manual hi-low and fixed height hospital beds and three styles of cabinets and chairs were introduced to hospitals and nursing homes. Using its retail furniture experience, Joerns offered authentically styled furniture in a traditionally antiseptic-styled market, giving the company a special advantage in the nursing home market. The combination of well-engineered mechanical products and authentic homelike styling launched the company on its way to a dominant position in long term care.
Riding the market wave created by massive federal and state funding and reimbursement programs introduced in the early 1960's, the newly named Joerns Furniture Company's sales and profits grew dramatically throughout the 1960's. The company added electric beds to its product line along with new beds for the changing nursing home markets. The original wood factory manufactured cabinets and chairs for the healthcare markets and filled in with government contract work. Metal parts for all metal products were purchased from vendors off company owned tools and painted in a facility (eventually purchased) in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Green Bay plant assembled electric beds in addition to painting. Manually adjustable metal products were assembled in Stevens Point. Joerns merged with the American Seating Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a NY Stock Exchange Company, in November of 1968. Bob Livingston died suddenly one year later, at which time Ray Nass was named President of Joerns.
In early 1974, Joerns completed a 200,000 square foot Wood furniture factory (the first significant business) in Stevens Point's newly created Industrial Park, the first plant financed by Industrial Revenue Bonds in the state of Wisconsin. The new Joerns operation was intended to become an American Seating corporate wood facility in addition to manufacturing Joerns Wood products and assembly of manually operated mechanical items. Joerns entered the Doctor Examining Table market in 1975. Corporate marketing programs and products~ however, were not forthcoming and Joerns struggled under the added fixed overhead of the new plant. The parent company's own financial problems caused liquidation of sister operations. Fearing the same fate for Joerns, the original shareholders repurchased the company in January of 1930. Joerns struggled severely under double-digit prime interest rates from the repurchase in the early 1930's and constantly battled the task of filling the large Wood facility without proprietary products. For the second time since the 1950's, in 1982 Joerns employees sacrificed for the sake of the company through a reduction of wage rates with a payback agreement. In late 1982, the company unveiled a new strategic plan calling for substantial reduction of wood manufacturing, the installation of metal fabricating, metal finishing and assembly under one roof in Stevens Point and the closing of the Green Bay Plant. In 1983, the firm's name was changed to Joerns Healthcare to more properly depict the company's major business. The name Joerns Furniture Company was retained as a subsidiary of Joerns Healthcare since the company still has a major commitment to specific Wood institutional furniture markets. In mid 1983, management also announced that Joerns was one of four companies to affiliate, resulting in the formation of a new holding company, Sunrise Medical, a company founded on the principle that synergistic opportunities in sales and marketing existed for small to medium size healthcare manufacturers which would make the combined organizations stronger than on a stand alone basis. The formation of the new company also permitted a public issue of stock to generate capital for new products and plant expansions as well as to reduce conventional bank borrowing.
During FY/84, the synergistic theory was tested and proved with Joerns' introduction of its revolutionary Quick Change 3 in 1 Bed System for the Homecare market sold through the Sunrise Homecare sales force with the first year results of over $2.5 million in revenues. This figure has grown to $5.0 million in FY/88. The payback to employees was completed in half the time of the formal agreement.
Also in FY/84, Joerns completed its $3.0 million facilities' consolidation mentioned above which brought all operations under one roof and launched the company into welding, including robotics, and state-of-the-art metal finishing through the installation of a new powder coating metal finishing system and assembly of metal products in Stevens Point. Initial and small bending operations also commenced at this time. The Green Bay facility was sold. In late 1986, a $3.6 million dollar addition and internal renovation project was begun which added more bending, cutting, punching and boring operations in the metal plant along with new high boy warehouse and shipping area completed in late 1987. A high tech electronic assembly area was also created for in-house assembly of electronic components and new electronic products introduced. In addition to the new electronics operations, Joerns now enjoys the unique advantage of having state-of-the-art fully integrated metal and wood factication operations within the same 260,000 square foot manufacturing facility. Additional square footage in the same building houses the company's offices, engineering lab and showrooms.
In July of 1987, Joerns hosted a manufacturing conference for all Sunrise Corporate and Division executives introducing Sunrise's of Pursuit Excellence program. Pursuit of Excellence is an all-encompassing program including Just In Time inventory theories, Total Quality Control/Zero Defects philosophies, extensive, company-wide Statistical Process Control, all aimed at World Class Manufacturing status.
In August, 1987, Ray Nass was named Chairman and Mark K. Patrick was appointed President of Joerns Healthcare, only the eighth General Manager of President in the company's history. Mark Patrick was the first Vice President of Marketing of Sunrise Medical, also one of Sunrises original executives when the company was formed in 1983. Therefore, in spite of a history spanning nearly one hundred years, Joerns has enjoyed a strong continuity in management. Joerns employs a total of 362 people. This includes 242 associates who are members of Local 333, Upholsterer's International Union (UAW-CIO affiliate); 26 field sales people; and 94 office, clerical, supervisory, engineering and management associates.
The community of Stevens Point and the surrounding area are known for an almost limitless supply of pure water. This has made potato growing (which requires sandy soil and abundant irrigation) a major industry and was key in the start up of a local brewery now over one hundred years old, which still prospers today. The Wisconsin River, which winds through the city and the proximity of pulp in Wisconsin's forests likewise have made the area one of the nation's major paper producers.
The Industrial base is further shored by two furniture manufacturing companies (one being Joerns), millwork operations, potato processing plants1 steel and precision machining facilities as well as two major printing/publishing firms. Recent years have seen new businesses move to the area and existing companies expand, a testimony to solid, Midwestern work ethic.
The biggest employers are Sentry Insurance Company (an international enterprise with 3,000 employees) and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with an enrollment of 10,000 students. The State's largest Savings and Loan is based here, as is one of the State's major wholesale food distributors. These large "white collar" industries have spawned access to outstanding cultural activities including the community's own symphony, a highly touted Area Community Theater and the widely renowned "Children's Arts" organization dedicated to the introduction of the arts (theater, music, dance, painting, etc.) to pre-school children.
The University annually hosts the National Suzuki Institute, which is the official sponsor of the Suzuki method of musical instrumentation. The University was also the nation's leading proponent in spreading the concept of Wellness with University staff and the community having been featured frequently on national television programs including "Good Morning America" and the "Today Show."
The Stevens Point area is very youth oriented. The local YMCA has the largest membership per capita in the United States. Outstanding youth programs in athletics for both girls and boys are abundant. The community also features excellent public school and private school systems. The by-products of our youth programs are the statewide reputations of our high schools' boys and girls athletic teams where it is common for our teams to be competing in the finals of state championships. The University has gained national prominence in NCAA Division III basketball, football, track and cross-country.
Besides the natural beauty of Wisconsin's forest, lakes and streams; the area has numerous parks with playground, swimming and winter sports facilities. There are three 18-hole golf courses in the immediate area. One, on the grounds of Sentry Insurance, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, is said to be one of the finest new professional courses built in the world in recent years. The course at the Stevens Point Country Club is heralded as one of the few best in the State and has often hosted the Wisconsin (amateur) State Open. Because of Stevens Point's Central location, the University, one of the State's largest firms (Sentry) being based here; the community is regularly visited by Presidential candidates during election years as well as by candidates running for State and National elected positions.
Stevens Point is a proud community and the people at Joerns demonstrate the pride and enterprise characteristic of Central Wisconsin. Sunrise Medical, Joerns' parent, is a consortium of small to medium sized companies that primarily specialize in the manufacture of durable medical equipment used in the recovery and rehabilitative stages of healthcare. The company was founded on the principal that, strong synergies exist in sales and marketing whereby products normally sold in certain market segments could be sold in others through specific sales organizations dedicated to given markets. In part through a public issue of shares in November 1983 (SunMed, National-Over-The Counter), Sunrise has acquired over 15 companies and has grown through acquisitions and internal growth from $52.0 million in sales in FY/84 (June 30th) to in excess of $150.0 million in FY/88.
Submitted by: Ray Nass, 2003