Top-drawer operation

Burgeoning woodworking firm part of trend of hiring non-Hutterites to work on colonies

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When Pauly Kleinsasser of Springfield Hutterite Colony hired his first non-colony worker, he didn’t know how to write him a paycheque.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/05/2018 (1612 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Pauly Kleinsasser of Springfield Hutterite Colony hired his first non-colony worker, he didn’t know how to write him a paycheque.

His Hutterites employees aren’t paid. They aren’t even allowed to have bank accounts. All property is shared communally.

Kleinsasser eventually figured out how to do a payroll, including a benefits package. Fifteen years later, that employee still works for the company, Springfield Woodworking, and is one of 45 non-colony employees at the company today.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Springfield Woodworking general manager Pauly Kleinsasser travels to Europe to buy equipment for the colony-run operation. Its workforce includes 45 people who aren’t colony members.

Springfield Woodworking, now the third-largest kitchen and bathroom cabinet company in Manitoba, is part of a growing trend in which non-Hutterites work for Hutterite-owned companies. Three-quarters of its 60 full-time staffers are from off the colony, including six sales staff in Winnipeg.

Kleinsasser said the 100-member colony couldn’t support the company by itself. It also has to tend to 7,500 acres of farmland and a farrow-to-finish hog operation. “We’re short-handed on the farm side as it is,” he said.

The company keeps breaking sales records on a monthly basis, he said, and is looking to possibly expand a fourth time next year. It currently makes 13 kitchens a day, or about 3,500 per year.

A sign of its success hangs proudly in Kleinsasser’s office, on the colony about 50 kilometres east of Winnipeg, just off Highway 15.

It’s a white Winnipeg Jets jersey autographed by the team. “We just did (Jets general manager) Kevin Cheveldayoff’s kitchen two months ago,” Kleinsasser explained. “We’re doing kitchens for a lot of high-profile people.”

One of the gripes against Hutterite colonies in rural communities is they don’t contribute much economically to an area. They are self-sufficient in many ways and tend to buy in bulk from major centres.

But more and more colonies are entering manufacturing and becoming valuable employers. Some of the other colonies hiring off-colony labour include Allsons, a welding company serving Crystal Spring Hog Equipment on Crystal Spring colony near Ste. Agathe, which employs from five to 10 non-colony welders.

EcoPoxy of Oak Bluff Colony, east of Morris, employs five non-colony members, mostly in finance, and plans to hire a few more. Acadia Colony, near Carberry, employs about five non-colony staff at Community Truss, which makes floor and roof trusses.

As well, a number of non-colony staffers work in manufacturing at Heartland Colony near Hazelridge, down the road from the Springfield Colony.

Kleinsasser and his uncle, Ruben Kleinsasser, the colony minister, started the business in the colony’s carpentry shop by making bedroom furniture for neighbours outside the colony.

“One day a neighbour came by and said he needed a kitchen. I said we’re not in kitchens. He said, ‘I’ll be your first one.’” Ruben eventually left the business but his son, Ruben Jr (“Ruby, we call him,” said Kleinsasser) has come on board.

The company doubled in size seven years ago when it moved its showroom off the colony to an industrial area of Transcona in Winnipeg. “From there it went kaboom. God just opened up his blessings to us,” Kleinsasser said.

“Because of their workmanship and quality, they’ve gotten more business,” said Grant Fisher, owner of Fisher Global Sourcing, a consultancy and sourcing company in the cabinet industry, who assists Springfield Woodworking.

Some special features that distinguish Springfield Woodworking cabinets is thicker wood — 5/8ths of an inch thick for the drawer bottoms and backs — and an especially hard UV-cured finish to its cabinets used by only one other company in the country.

Kleinsasser concedes he’s not what people think about when they think of a Hutterite. “I’m on the road just about every day” meeting customers and promoting the company, he said.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Nathan Wollman, who is from the Springfield colony, checks the inside of a cabinet with other staff who are not from the colony in the background.

He’s been to Europe six times to buy equipment. “The Hutterites are not afraid to go to Germany and invest in machinery,” Fisher said.

Kleinsasser also attends trade shows across North America. “The kitchen industry changes so often with styles,” he said, comparing trade shows to a fashion show. His company can’t afford to ignore trends.

“Hutterites are known as farmers. In the last 25 years, colonies started to go towards manufacturing. In manufacturing, you get to go all over the world,” Kleinsasser said.

Fisher said colonies often lack someone such as Kleinsasser to promote their products. “Someone has to go out and sell, like say a half-million dollars worth of cabinets to an apartment block, so all of the people on the colony benefit,” Fisher said.

“You know who my best salesman is? God. That’s who I depend on,” responded Kleinsasser.

Colonies typically branch out when a population reaches 120 to 150, an optimum number to run farm operations, according to Hutterite experience. But farmland prices have increased so much that colonies started to turn to manufacturing, which allows them to grow bigger and not branch as often. “With manufacturing, now colonies can get up to 200 people, if peace can be kept,” said Kleinsasser.

Springfield wages are on par with the competition’s and perhaps a little more, Fisher said. Seasoned employees make $18 to $20 per hour, and painters earn as much as $22 per hour.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Isaac Kleinsasser (left) and Edwin Kleinsasser are two of the 15 colony members who work at the shop.

Springfield employees also have top-of-the-line health and dental benefits; the coverage is 80 per cent for dental work, for example. The company doesn’t deduct premiums from employee paycheques, but rather swallows the cost.

While Hutterite employees aren’t paid, a colony member is basically cared for from cradle to grave, including on-colony care for the elderly. All their meals are paid and once they marry, they get a fully furnished house.

Colony members receive spending money when they go into town. Depending on how rich the colony is, each individual over age 15 gets a small allowance. The company also has about 15 part-time employees, teenage girls and young women, who do sanding work in the morning.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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