KPI Concepts Inc.: Manufacturing Store Fixtures and More

Craig Upton founded KPI Concepts Inc. (KPI) in 1984 out of a small setup in his garage. “I had worked for General Electric and Caterpillar before setting out on my own,” he says. “We’ve changed quite a bit over the years. We started out as Kitchen and Counters Plus, and then Kitchens Plus, and now we’re KPI. KPI doesn’t stand for anything; we just liked the sound of it.”

Upton’s team and facilities are larger now, too. KPI employs roughly 100 people, and the company has grown several times to add more space for manufacturing and distributing store fixtures.

The first move was in 1986 when the company’s success had outgrown the garage. In order to accommodate the growth, KPI constructed a 4,200-square foot facility. “My first thought was, ‘Wow this big building will last forever,’ and lucky for us, a year later the first of six expansions was constructed,” says Upton. “That totaled 42,000 square feet.”

Upton’s thought didn’t last long as KPI continued to prosper. In 2009 KPI purchased a second location, which started with 65,000 square feet. In 2012 the company then added 35,000 square feet to accommodate KPI’s growth in the wind industry.

For now, KPI is headquartered in Burlington, Iowa, where the team produces the majority of its offerings in house. “We manufacture internal wood components for the wind turbine blades,” says Upton. “We really pride ourselves on being a U.S. manufacturer. Most of KPI’s sales are in the U.S., but we’re doing a bit of international business now. We’re shipping products to Brazil and Canada.”

Diverse Product Lines

KPI designs and manufactures custom wood laminate check lanes, service counters, shelving, custom cabinets and accessories for retailers in the U.S., and now internationally. Functionality and durability are key goals in the final product, and the team at KPI strives to offer customers competitively priced fixtures that meet unique specifications in function and appearance.

“At KPI, we practice Lean manufacturing and are continually improving efficiencies in machinery and processes,” says Upton. It is evident that KPI’s goal is to keep costs as low as possible for its customers, while also trying to figure out how to lower prices.

“We’re trying to diversify as much as possible,” says Upton. The team offers custom design services to all clients. After an initial consultation, the team utilizes CAD technology to lay out designs. The planning software is integrated into precision control CNC machinery, guaranteeing a product that matches the design.

The team has established longstanding relationships and partnerships alike within a loyal customer base. KPI’s customers include many chain operations, which offer opportunities for geographic growth.

“We started building products for Aldi, the grocery chain, in 1986,” says Upton. “We’ve manufactured checkout lanes for them, as well as specialized shelving that the groceries are stocked on. I think watching Aldi’s efficiencies all these years has fostered KPI’s efficiencies.”

The team at KPI has also worked with Best Buy, Family Dollar and Home Depot. In addition, KPI manufactures check lanes for Target and Midwest grocery chain Hy-Vee.

Niche Market Management

Upton reports that KPI had little trouble throughout the recession. While the construction industry slowed down, the grocery business has not. “Diversifying has really helped us get through it,” says Upton. “We’re in a good little niche. Everybody has to get groceries. It’s economically stable.”

KPI is focused on grocery fixtures, but Upton and his team are not afraid to branch out. In fact, in 2008 the company took a step in an unexpected direction. “Siemens is just down the road from us,” explains Upton. “They make windmill blades for the large wind farms you see, and they require internal wood components to manufacture those. So, four years ago, we got into the wind industry. Manufacturing these wood components fits our core competency.”

Upton prioritizes relationships. “We’re always marketing ourselves,” he elaborates. “Our strategy is to be very efficient and really good with the customers we already have. We don’t drop the ball, and our clients know they can count on us. The focus is to make sure we’re efficient and comfortable with our current customer, before taking on additional customers.” Upton knows as well as anyone that the best marketing tool a company has is a good reputation. Therefore, Upton continues to build upon KPI’s knack for quality products and reliable service.

“There’s a saying: It’s better to be lucky than good,” says Upton. “Well, I believe KPI has been blessed with being both lucky and good. Otherwise, I might be still dreaming and looking outside that garage door. Thank you, team.”

Upton’s positive reinforcement and a team he can be proud of have allowed KPI to remain stable, and experience steady, gradual growth. “We’d like to get bigger in the next few years,” says Upton. “We want to expand on what we’re doing now and hopefully diversify more. We have a few ideas for things we aren’t doing yet, but could be possibilities for diversifying.”

As with any good entrepreneur, Upton is always looking for the next step in business. KPI Concepts Inc. has established diverse capabilities and strong relationships that the team can build upon for years to come.