By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP —
A day after witnessing a fire destroy his Grove City business 3 1/2 years ago, Will Knecht vividly remembers walking through the ruins with his insurance adjuster.
“He told me, ‘Be prepared to be out of business for nine months,’ ” said Knecht, president of Wendell August.
Unfazed, Knecht and his employees pulled together and within five days had the metal giftware company’s workshop up and running at a new location and its office operations established in two weeks. Help came from everywhere, workers, the community – even complete strangers.
“Western Pennsylvania is such an amazing place,’’ he said. “The people just wrapped their arms around us.’’
Standing in his company’s newly completed $8 million complex on Thursday in Springfield Township, Knecht watched as shoppers bought merchandise on this first day of the “soft’’ opening of the retail store. Comprising 52,000 square feet, the complex has all the company’s needs in one location – retail, production, offices and warehouse.
The retail store’s design has a combination of modern, vibrant colors with snazzy shelves but still keeps the company’s historical American look with woodwork throughout.
Designed by Jerry Herschman, a Cleveland architect and a Knecht friend, new ideas for the business were created within the design. In the back office everyone, save for the company’s chief financial officer, works in an open, cubicle-like environment – including Knecht.
“People were a little nervous about this,’’ Knecht acknowledged of office workers. “But we want to have a collaborative, collegial place to work in.’’
To compensate for the openness, several conference rooms were created where private discussions can be held. Other features in the office include TV monitors that will continually post financial and production numbers that the staff can see daily.
“We always want to be on top of what we’re doing,’’ Knecht said.
An area was created where employees can create displays and practice presentations for trade shows, which are vital for sales.
Also, extra office space was created to allow for future growth. A key reason the business moved its base from downtown Grove City to the rural Springfield Township site was it now sits on a sprawling six acres versus the cramped confines of its former location in a residential neighborhood.
“We didn’t want to box ourselves in,’’ Knecht said. “We wanted to have room to grow.’’
A separate room just off the retail store is a company history room, which was still under construction on Thursday. When completed, it will trace the history of Wendell August from its beginning in Brockway, Pa., to the present. The company was founded by Wendell McMinn August, who moved the business to Grove City in 1932.
Deeper inside the building are the production operations. And yes, the business will continue its previous hallmark attraction of allowing shoppers to tour the production area and watch as workers create molds and giftware.
“We’re still in the final stages of how the tour will flow through here,’’ Knecht said. “But it’s something we definitely wanted to have here.’’
Over the years, Wendell August – the company has dropped the word “Forge’’ from its name – has expanded its horizons to include licensing rights for professional sports merchandise and into purses, jewelry and pewter goods. But the top seller for the business remains its Christmas ornaments.
The public ceremony for the official opening of the store will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The business is located on Route 208 next to My Brothers restaurant, west of Grove City Prime Outlets.
A devout Christian, Knecht, spoke of God and the Bible often as he toured through the large complex. In looking at where the company has now arrived from an event that easily could have been its demise, he said he never lost faith or felt the business would collapse. The building’s true resource, he added, isn’t in the here and now.
“I think it’s going to be the seed of a great and long future for Wendell August.’’