Completing the turnaround

By late this month, Baird Display Inc., a division of KBRK Inc., will move from West Allis to an 85,000-square-foot facility in Pewaukee.

Baird Display, a designer and builder of point-of-purchase displays, now occupies about 100,000 square feet of space in its West Allis facility, which it has occupied since the 1960s.

Neal Wickert, the president of the company, said the firm wanted to move to a more modern facility with a better layout.

“(The new building) is 85,000 square feet, but it has 25 -foot ceilings,” he said. “We can do some upper storage. And it’s on a 7.5-acre lot. We can add another 50,000 square feet of space if it’s necessary.”

Baird Display’s new facility at W220 N507 Springdale Road is just west of the intersection with Bluemound Road, and minutes from Interstate 94. Its current facility in West Allis is near a residential neighborhood, and large trucks need to navigate down Hawley Road and South 60th Street to get there.

Baird Display paid $3.1 million for its new building in Pewaukee, Wickert said. It has spent about $700,000 on remodeling and retrofitting the facility, and will spend about $100,000 to move its operations, Wickert said.

The company currently leases its space in West Allis and decided that owning its new headquarters and manufacturing facility was its best option.

“Our mortgage payment will be less than what we’re paying in rent,” Wickert said. “And we can get the upside of a real estate play (some day).”

The company’s move to a new facility marks its resurgence from Wisconsin Chapter 128 insolvency proceedings three years ago.

In 1994, Baird Display had about $32 million in revenues. The company lost a large portion of its work with Miller Brewing at the time, Wickert said, and revenues declined to $17 million in an 18-month period.

By 2005, Baird Display’s revenues had declined to $13 million. And at least $5 million of those revenues were from accounts that were not profitable.

Wickert and a group of three Baird employees – Timm Rutkowski, Terry Krause and Mildred Baumler – purchased the company out of bankruptcy in late spring, 2005. Wickert was initially contacted as a business turnaround consultant. He joined the ownership group after the purchase and is now the company’s president.

“I liked the opportunity after seeing so many deals in my time in the (turnaround) business,” he said. “I like the business and the partners. There’s a good work ethic here and it made sense to me.”

One of the first decisions that the new ownership group had to make was to walk away from some of Baird Display’s work that was not generating enough revenue. One of the clients it had to walk away from was Budweiser, Wickert said.

“That was $3 million in business, but there were $2.5 million to $2.6 million in costs before commission. And the salesman was making $250,000 to $300,000 on the deal. It was a low or no margin business.”

Baird Display also walked away from a relationship with Sealy Posturepedic, which both low margin and outside of the company’s core competency in point-of-purchase, Wickert said.

When it entered bankruptcy in 2005, Baird Display had about $13 million in revenues. During 2006, it walked away from about $5 million in unprofitable contracts and had about $7.3 million in revenues. But by 2007, the company rebuilt its revenues to about $12 million, Wickert said, largely through new business.

Baird Display anticipates similar revenue levels this year, largely because of the move.

“We’re not actively pursuing anything above our core business,” Wickert said. “It’s not that we’re not willing to start relationships. And we’re actively pursuing business to put on our books for next year or later this year.”

Wickert and Baird Display’s management team believes the company will have 10 percent or more revenue growth in 2009.

When it emerged from Chapter 128, Baird Display had 70 full time employees. The company now has 44 full time workers, but uses 60 to 120 temporary workers in its assembly area.

“That was part of the restructuring process,” Wickert said. “We asked ourselves ‘What can we do that would be a flexible work force that fits our business model?’ And instead of having 30 to 35 full time assembly workers, we have more of a plug and play model on a daily basis. We have a flexible work force that matches our business levels.”

Baird Display Inc.

Current address: 5325 W. Rogers St., West Allis
Future address: W220 N507 Springdale Road, Pewaukee
Industry: Point-of-purchased display design and production
Employees: 44 full time, 60 to 120 temporary assembly workers
Revenues: $12 million in 2007
Web site: www.bairddisplay.com

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