Commerce: Kwaterski Bros. Wood Products celebrates 35 years in business
Brothers Mike and Jim Kwaterski already had a history of working together – at a family-owned bait shop, for their father’s construction company, and as mechanics at a family marina – when, at 21 and 19 years old, they bought their father’s saw mill and became business owners themselves.
“It wasn’t really a business then,” Mike says. His father had purchased the saw a year prior for project building, when it was just a heap in someone’s yard. The seller helped them set it up and showed them how to use it. “It was a big learning curve,” he recalls, noting a lot of problems with getting a straight cut in the beginning.
When their father retired to Florida a year later, the young business owners’ most promising assets turned out to be exactly what they needed: a history of working well together and an exceptional work ethic handed down from their parents.
They weren’t in business for long before they were faced with a decision: pursue equipment that would make them more competitive in turning logs to lumber, or focus on using lumber to produce finished product. They chose the latter.
After 35 years in business, it’s apparent the decision was a good one.
“Working with people on the finishing end of completing their home, whether it be exterior or interior, helps us make their dreams a reality,” Mike says. “And we love that we get to be a part of what they see every day.”
Focusing on the finishing has opened a great avenue for creativity, he says. “We have things here that you simply will not find anywhere else.” Ideas come from sales staff, production workers and most times clients, who have an idea and want to know if the company can make it a reality.
Mike says these ideas brought to life by Kwaterski Bros. are usually picked up by other companies and found on their competitors’ websites. The most copied, he says, has been their Scan-log siding, which they introduced in 1988 and named after the type of log used by Scandinavians in log homes. A simple Google search for “scan-log” brings back over 15,000 returns.
“That scenario has happened time and again.” Mike just looks forward, focusing on productivity and the next creative product.
The benefit of an online presence outweighs the drawback of competitors taking their ideas. Because of online exposure and their ability to ship all over the United States, they have upped their claim from being the Midwest’s largest supplier of unique wood products to being the top supplier in the nation.
Besides innovative products, which follow the continuing trend of product customization, Kwaterski Bros. also has machinery not found anywhere else. Mike attributes his years at UW-Madison studying mechanical engineering and his work as a marine mechanic to helping him create custom-designed machinery.
In 1994, Mike and Jim moved the company from their original pole building in Three Lakes to a new facility on Hwy. 45 a few miles south of Eagle River. With 20,000 square feet, they added more advanced equipment and specialty areas, such as their prefinished department.
Prefinishing the wood on site benefits contractors and customers, says Tammy Klein, an administrative and sales professional at Kwaterski Bros. Clients don’t need to create a dust-free place to stain at the same home in which they’re trying to build. “Orders for prefinished product are up 70 percent since we added the service,” she says.
The demand for customized product has caused big changes in the company.
“I used to make our production schedule six weeks in advance,” Mike says. “Suddenly, our options weren’t enough.” They started to stockpile raw material instead, so they could be ready to go in any direction at any time. Now, they complete the orders as they come in, to the customer’s specification. “Our equipment did a complete turnaround. Now we are modular in nature, with a great number of our orders being custom special orders.”
They are also seeing a continued interest in the rustic look. People want the darker, thicker, bolder look of wood in their homes, and many are going with reclaimed material, Klein says. “The consumer likes the fact they have a reused product and have helped the environment. And they like that the wood comes with a story of what the product was used for in the past.” The company now also creates products that look reclaimed by hammering nail holes into clean wood and then roughing it up with a skip-sawn texture, she explains.
Along with being known for unique custom designs, Kwaterski Bros. focuses on products in siding, decking, flooring and tongue-and-groove paneling.
A recent showroom upgrade lets customers see 24 of the company’s 69 siding options, 25 flooring profiles, and almost 100 wall and ceiling options. A showroom carousel rotating display allows customers to view different combinations. “You can see what a certain floor would look like with a wall or ceiling pattern,” says Paul Jenks, sales professional.
In the past, the builder was the center of information, Mike notes. Because of the Internet, that has changed. “So many contractors today are working with clients who are supplying the products. They can find it online and they have ideas of what they want.”
Mike’s advice to other business owners: “Find a way of being creative, to set yourself apart. With the Internet, people are looking for creativity and can be exposed to your ideas and contact you right away. It is the way of growing your business in today’s world.”
Since last October, he hasn’t been able to bounce new ideas off his brother. Jim retired and moved to Oregon to be near his children and grandchildren.
“We knew each other’s step before it was made,” Mike says. “We worked side by side for 46 years.” But Kwaterski Brothers will continue and be just as successful for the next 35 years, he says.
“We have the best group of professionals underneath one roof that you will find anywhere. With a new website coming soon, a dedicated staff and a product that out-matches any other, we will always be a leader in this business.”
For more information, log on to kwaterskibros.com.
Jill Olson is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond and Living on the Lake magazines.