Blum has been conceiving, developing and building brilliantly functional and ergonomic home storage solutions for over 60 years. Amazingly smooth, superbly damped motion for doors, pull-outs and lift systems combined with outstanding use of storage space is the Blum hallmark.
The Blum mission is summed up as “Perfecting Motion.” Their goal is to make the opening and closing of furniture all over the house—but especially in the kitchen—a special experience. The same goes for commercial offices, retail showrooms, hotels and food and beverage outlets.
Some of the Blum products include: AVENTOS lift systems, TANDEMBOX pull-out systems, TANDEM runner systems, CLIP hinges and ORGA-LINE dividing systems—all designed to inspire with perfect motion: movement so silent and effortless it has to be seen to be believed.
Blum-ing in Charlotte
Around the world some 6, 500 employees are working on behalf of Blum to create perfect motion in over 300 patented products. Internationally, Blum has seven factories in Vorarlberg, in Western Austria, as well as production facilities in the United States, Brazil and Poland, delivering to more than 100 countries.
“The company has its roots in Austria,” explains Blum USA’s CEO Karl Rudisser, “and our global headquarters is still located there today in a city called Höchst. Blum was established in 1953 by blacksmith Julius Blum, who, after World War II, began manufacturing horseshoe studs. At the time, horses were used in the area to pull the logs from the forest, and in winter, when the roads were icy, studs were incredibly helpful in traction control.”
As the company grew and expanded, the U.S. market for furniture manufacturing was growing, centered around the Carolinas and Virginia—Hickory, N.C., in particular. Rudisser, a native of Austria, who is proud to have worked in virtually every position within the company during his tenure, was tasked with determining where Blum would best be positioned for breaking into the United States.
“We began as a two-man team in Hickory during 1978, but by 1979, we moved to the Charlotte area,” Rudisser explains. “Initially, we brought the products in from Austria, warehoused them here, and then started selling. Although the furniture market was strong in the Hickory area, after careful thought, that really wasn’t our target industry. As we expanded, both in the United States and abroad, our eye was on serving kitchen designers and manufacturers as well as cabinetry professionals, with advanced concealed hinges, drawer systems, and seamless lift systems.”
Eventually, Blum began to bring the manufacturing of its products to the current location in Stanley, N.C., taking small steps along the way. By the early 1990s, manufacturing had become a key element to Blum’s business model in the U.S. Today, Blum’s U.S. location boasts over 380 employees and is comprised of a number of buildings, including an 85-foot tall, 37,000-square-foot automated warehouse that contains robotic cranes which handle everything from raw materials to finished goods, all of which are perfectly married together through innovative design.
Rudisser’s day-to-day operations include overseeing and leading teams, in addition to the company’s strategy as a whole, but he is also focused on organizational development.
“I have a lot of freedom to do things here as long as we are profitable,” comments Rudisser. “The owners are very open to providing freedom and allowing me to innovate. It has been a great experience for me to work here, and undoubtedly, we have a great team of people to work with, many of whom have been with us for over two decades.
“I moved here from Austria via England where I worked for two years, and started my family here in North Carolina. In fact, now I’m a proud grandfather. I think Blum is a great company, and as a family-owned business, which is unusual for a company of this size, I love the business model and atmosphere that Blum provides.”
Actually, it’s that family-owned sense that has allowed Blum to thrive. At the company’s U.S. location, a centralized lobby area exists that connects both the manufacturing side with the administrative office side, allowing employees from various departments to congregate, discuss ideas and experiences, and keep in contact regarding challenges that each side of the company is facing.
This type of interaction and feedback has proven to be invaluable to Blum’s growing success. Rudisser also credits Blum’s orientation process, something that is not only provided to employees upon hiring, but is also promoted throughout an employee’s career.
“We have what we call our orientation for all employees, and basically this is something that I am very much involved in. I want to make sure people understand our orientation, an outline of our philosophy, from managers on down,” Rudisser explains.
“We discuss things like what does it mean for us in business internationally, what kinds of products and services we provide, how do we see employees, how do we see society in general, what kind of organization we are. We have 10 subjects that we discuss in the orientation, and we take it very seriously that we spend the time to communicate our philosophy and culture to our employees.”
Apprenticeship 2000 A Game Changer
In adding to Blum’s innovative approach to employee relations, the company has also partnered with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) and other businesses in the community to participate in the Apprenticeship 2000 program. Through this program, senior-year high school students and CPCC students are able to not only learn valuable hands-on skills in the manufacturing and design industries, but they are also able to earn a paycheck while doing so.
“In the early ‘90s, when we started manufacturing in the Charlotte area, we constantly brought people over from Austria, mainly technicians, and they would stay for a couple of years and then go back,” explains Rudisser. “To find and train skilled workers, we wanted to start an apprenticeship program, which is very common in central Europe, so we partnered with five other companies in the Charlotte area that had the same interest in such programs.”
Rudisser goes on, “We approached CPCC and they were very excited about the idea, and we basically took the curriculum that the schools teach in Austria or Germany or Switzerland, translated it, and CPCC took it almost verbatim and started the program. Our high school students attend class during the day and then they come to learn at Blum. In the second year of the program, post-graduation, they work four days here and go to CPCC for one day for physics, math, communication skills, and so on, and they get paid for their time as well.”
Through the program, which encompasses three different sections, apprentices are able to take advantage of dedicated, experienced training instructors who not only provide classroom learning, but also hands-on learning that demonstrates real-world scenarios that an apprentice may encounter during the manufacturing process. Each apprentice will need to complete 8,000 hours over four years in order to graduate and be considered for a position within Blum, and the program is recognized by a variety of institutions, including the Lincoln County School System, Gaston County Schools, Mecklenburg County Schools, CPCC, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the last of which provides graduates with a Journeyman’s Certificate upon successful completion.
Rudisser explains that the Charlotte’s growing and vibrant potential was a major draw in locating Blum’s U.S. operations.
“My wife and I like to go to movies and plays, and in the past, we’d go to New York in order to get our fill of culture and lifestyle, but now, venues such as the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center offer so much that we have no reason to travel for entertainment. In addition, this location is perfect because you don’t have to be directly in the city, but we have access to all of Charlotte’s amenities.
“People can live on Lake Norman,” Rudisser continues, “we’re only about 30 minutes outside of the city, but if somebody wants to live in the country, they can do that as well and still have easy access here. People have the choice as to where they can live and still comfortably work with Blum.”
In the end, although Rudisser has an Austrian upbringing, he states that he, and Blum, recognize and embrace the need for the company’s Charlotte-area location to be American in culture. Upon forming Blum USA, Rudisser fully embraced the culture of not only the United States, but also of the Carolinas.
“We didn’t want to imitate an Austrian company, we wanted to be an American company and adapt to the culture. As a result, we’ve become a very attractive employer for people who look for longevity, people who want to work with and retire from a company. The bottom line? We want people to stay with us for a long, long time. We offer attractive benefits, health care, vacation, and sick leave, things like that. We’re very flexible with work time, and we speak to our people’s needs.”
With around 25 subsidiaries, as well as manufacturing sites in Austria, North Carolina, Brazil, and Poland, Blum, is able to provide attractive employment options around the globe. As the CEO of the American branch of the company, Rudisser provides guidance for five different departments, including human resources, logistics, production, and sales and marketing, the latter of which uses trade publications and trade shows in order to promote the brand.
“We have a large sales organization of about 50 people,” says Rudisser. “They’re in territories and they basically call on distributors that sell our hardware or the direct kitchen manufacturers.”
“We work with mainly kitchen designers in the Charlotte region and around the world,” he continues, “but also woodworkers and cabinet makers as well as original equipment manufacturers.”
A Win-Win Situation
Although woodworking has been around for thousands of years, Blum relies on technology in order to design and manufacture its many products in the 21st century.
“Technology is definitely the most important thing for us,” describes Rudisser. “Whether in our manufacturing facilities or in our partnerships with kitchen designers and installers, technology is at the heart of what we do each and every day. Technology is also at the heart of our apprenticeship program.
“These are very technical people who have big ideas. If we aren’t able to offer the latest in machines and devices, we wouldn’t be able to appropriately teach or keep up. Technology in terms of energy also fuels our business here. One of the major draws to the Charlotte region is that energy costs are low.”
Looking to the future, both in the Charlotte region and globally, Blum is poised to expand as a result of technology. Through its partnership with CPCC and other companies, Blum has a more selective hiring process that allows it to recruit more skilled and qualified employees. This translates to increased productivity, which in turn leads to higher revenues.
Rudisser comments, “Technical positions will always require a more rigorous screening process, but being within the Charlotte area is always a plus in attracting the right people.”
“I think the future is very positive for manufacturing in general. There’s been a trend of companies moving back to the U.S. in recent years. I think, partly to be in closer proximity to the customer. It’s very important that materials are available right away, and that’s one of the many advantages that Charlotte offers to Blum.
This is a tremendous market that continues to have positive growth, and that’s what’s important for us, both in terms of professional success and in terms of personal satisfaction.”