Genesis Casket Sees Layoffs as Temporary; Looks to Ramp Up Production

March 30, 2012
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Article Originally appeared in the Memorial Business Journal and was repost with permission

Last week at the ICCFA convention there was small chatter about Genesis Casket company layoffs. I was told it was the buzz of the convention, which is completely false. I did talk with Genesis Casket president Tony Colson, and Vice-President Joe Weigel about the layoffs and they were very upfront and open about the situation. They did enforce that these were not all job cuts and that they planned on bringing most of the employees back in the near future. I made an arrangement with both Tony and Joe to do a follow up video interview with them in the coming weeks to get an update on the layoffs, production, and their projections for where Genesis was headed. You can expect that interview to be posted soon.

As Genesis Casket was entering the market, executives were optimistic that its line of caskets would be well received by customers. And while that anticipated side of the business was received as anticipated, certain manufacturing realities forced the company to lay off 41 of the company’s 126 workers in early March.

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Joe Weigel, vice president of sales and marketing for Genesis, admitted that the company might have been overly optimistic as production ramped up in January. But he added that with the “rightsizing” of the company’s work force on March 6, Genesis has made strides to get its manufacturing back to where it had projected it would be.

The Genesis Casket plant uses what Weigel called some of the most technologically advanced equipment presently in
use for manufacturing caskets, including one of the world’s largest metal stretch benders, and the operation makes extensive use of other robotic machinery. Adapting this technology to the product line took some time.

“When we started this year and we put together our plans and our staffing, we thought we’d be rolling with 18 models of 18-gauge metal caskets to go with our wood caskets,” Weigel said. “The fact of the matter was that when we looked at things in late February, we had only six of those 18-gauge casket models available and we had staffed up the whole organization to be selling 18 caskets in the metal line.”

That reality, coupled with the fact that Genesis was overly optimistic with some of its manufacturing projections, resulted in an overstaffing situation.

“What that meant was that we had to take a hard look at things and make the cuts we did,” Weigel said.

In addition to the staffing decisions, Genesis curtailed any immediate needs to open additional distribution centers in the first half of this year. “We had planned on opening two or three more before the end of June,” Weigel said, noting that those facilities, planned for Knoxville, Birmingham and Atlanta, would have continued the company’s plan to extend its distribution reach south along the I-75 and I-65 corridors to the Gulf Coast.

“We have decided to stick to the eight we have open right now,” he said, identifying facilities in Milwaukee; Chicago;
Detroit; St. Joseph, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Winchester, Kentucky; and Nashville.

The good news is that within the last two weeks, Genesis has run all 18 of its metal casket models through the manufacturing system and has made an acceptable model for each of the caskets, as originally planned. That doesn’t mean they are available yet or that Genesis has stocked its inventory, but the company has worked out any bugs in the manufacturing process of those models. Genesis also offer nine models of wood caskets (four in its domestic line and five in the global line).

“What that means moving forward is that we should be in the market with those caskets within the next 30 to 45 days,” Weigel said. “As we ramp up those sales, we fully expect to start bringing some of those employees who have been laid off back this summer.” Weigel was hesitant to predict that all of the laid-off employees would be back, but he did say the company would bring them back as warranted.

“After every employee had their exit interview with HR manager, [Genesis President and CEO Tony Colson] made it a point of personally wishing them well, and almost to the person, the employee would say they like what the company is all about and when business picks up to call them back,” Weigel said. “We would love nothing better than to hire every one of those individuals back, but we’re going to do it on a cautiously optimistic basis and bring them back as warranted as our sales increase.”

When the company announced in a January 17 press release that the company had begun production of its caskets at the Indianapolis plant, Colson said, “In the very short time since beginning production, we have seen a robust reaction to our products and received very encouraging feedback from funeral directors with respect to family satisfaction.”

Despite the layoffs, which took place March 9, Weigel said the company was well received on the exhibit floor at last week’s International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association Convention in Las Vegas. “No one we’ve talked to said anything about any letdown in product quality or delivery service,” Weigel said. “They understood we were rightsizing the organization based on the sales we had, not on what we hoped sales would be tomorrow.”

Weigel also said that the company had a number of people, including some from the West Coast, asking for the product. “We have actually taken some truckload orders [for locations outside the company’s delivery area],” he said.

“When the layoffs took place, we only did have six models in production,” Weigel added. “Since that time, we have added two more units to the mix that we now have in distribution, which makes it eight. The other 10 models that are planned to be in the market – we have now run them through the system, we have worked out the bugs, we’ve dialed in the paint process to the point where marketing, sales and operations have all signed off on them. Now it is simply a matter of dedicating a day to make model A and model B and get them out into the marketplace and let the customer see them.”

Genesis Casket is created in partnership with Gestamp North America Inc., a global supplier of structural steel components and metal stampings for automotive companies worldwide.

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