It all started decades ago with Mr. Peter Elias, on his yard in a small garage in Blumenfeld. A one-man woodworking shop creating kitchen cabinets for himself, and then, a few friends. And here we are today, with Elias Woodwork celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The pages on those early days start in 1978, and quickly turned to October 1983 when the business was bought by John Fehr and Ron Elias. John's brother Ralph joined the ownership group shortly after. From there, the story of Elias Woodwork began to be written, with the business moving into its original Winkler shop during Christmas 1983, followed by the building of its first facility on Badger Avenue in 1986.

Elias Woodwork produces custom millwork, custom profiling making of mouldings, some turnings, and everything needed to supply a kitchen build including doors, cabinet boxes, drawers, mouldings and the hardware.

With a diverse product line, Elias Woodwork has grown rapidly over the years, and continues to grow today.

"We did a little research the other day for our company newsletter, looking for old photos and trying to come up with a timeline of when all the steps of growth happened," explained Ralph Fehr, President and Chief Executive Officer. "It’s really difficult, with only a few of us having been there for the entire duration, but going through this exercise it seems we never really took a break. We built many of the buildings with our own employees during the first 25 years, and there was always something under construction.  We can simply say it was demand, but it was really the ambition of the people we were working with, to satisfy the sales possibilities that seemed to exist."

Fehr noted they have doubled manufacturing output every four years since 1983, pretty much like clockwork.

"Obviously that becomes an outrageous task when you get to the size things are at now, and we all didn’t think this could go on for some time, by now, but it is," he added. "It’s a testament to the ambitions of our management team to stay ahead with plans, and every one of our employees to follow through and make these things happen."

Now, every business faces challenges, particularly at start-up, something Fehr reflected on.

"We worked 60 to 70 hour work weeks for probably the first 15 years, working out the kinks and making processes more efficient, while getting the work out the door," he shared. "We’ve survived several recessions, a complete meltdown of our customer base in the U.S. during the subprime mortgage collapse, and have had to reinvent ourselves to some degree each of those times. I think it’s best you don’t have a crystal ball to see what’s coming in most cases, but work hard to create opportunity out of hardship whenever it comes your way. There often is a way."

Along with facing, meeting and overcoming those challenges is the need for the business to continue to evolve and review its focus, something Elias Woodwork has done consistently, too.

"We used to manufacture dining furniture, but no longer do that," he said. "We just couldn’t keep up with the growth needed to satisfy the demand in the kitchen component side of things, and decided to drop furniture in about 2008. We decided to become more focused on the kitchen industry, which has become really complex with all the styles and materials used. We worked really hard to be able to supply all the colours and coating methods popular these days in order to be a one stop shop for a kitchen manufacturer or a renovation contractor."  

Alongside those changes has been the ongoing expansion of production facilities and other internal moves to make Elias Woodwork even more successful.

"We recently completed construction of a new factory in Winkler, located just east of our existing buildings there," noted Fehr. "It’s one of the first construction projects where we hired a contractor to do everything, but pack in the base for under the building.  We are just moving into it now, and moving our cabinet box making from our Morden location into it. There are a few new high-tech pieces of equipment we are getting trained on, but also a lot of existing equipment is being brought over. The shop floor layout will be better, and more efficient, and of course have a lot more room to grow, and hopefully create a few jobs along the way, once again."

The growth and success the company has experienced has been positively impacted by where it's located, right here in the Pembina Valley, with Fehr pointing to the enthusiastic workforce as just one of the positives of being here.

"We are very blessed to be here, and it’s kind of why we want to put on a celebration open to the public," he said. "We are grateful to be working with the people in this region. It’s a big extended family, and people are not afraid to learn new things on the job, not afraid of change in the workplace and not afraid of what might be around the next corner. We all work hard, we work fast and we work a lot."

poster for Elias Woodworkin 40th anniversary

Elias Woodwork is hosting a 40th anniversary celebration, for the entire community, Saturday, September 16th at its Morden location. It will be a full day of free family fun, ending with fireworks in the evening. There will be more than twenty inflatables for the kids, food trucks, A Country Princess, face painting and lots of entertainment. Quonset Brothers hit the stage at 4:15pm, Leather and Lace at 5:30pm and Canadian rock icons Trooper wrap up the night beginning at 7:30pm.

"Our 40th year is significant for me as I’m ageing, and I could be retired by now, but still love what I do," shared Fehr. "We want to throw a party, firstly, for the employees and their families. They make everything happen. Secondly, for the public. This area was singled out as the 'Most Entrepreneurial Region' in Canada a few years ago, and the hundreds of business start-ups over these last years bear witness to that. We are all in this together. We are a collection of people willing to take risks, and individually, we are pretty good at assessing these risks, boldly going forward on a great adventure each day. I love that, and I want to celebrate that."  

Looking ahead to Saturday, Fehr had this invitation.

"We at Elias Woodwork are pumped about putting on a party to celebrate the 40 years these cities and villages, and all the other businesses, have been working with us to create such a great sense of community," he said. "I invite everyone to come enjoy an evening of music, food, and conversation."