Northwest Business Magazine

Milestones: Andco Kitchens & Baths Celebrates 85 Years


Meet a kitchen design company that got its start as an electric shop and never stopped seeking new ways to appeal to its cusotmers.

Current and former owners of Andco Kitchens & Baths, Paul Johnson and Roger Olson, at the Andco showroom on Perryville Road in Rockford. (Christin Dunmire photo)

For the past eight decades, Andco Kitchens & Baths, Inc., has provided quality cabinetry and countertops to both builders and retail customers. While the company headquarters is at 2241 15th St., Andco maintains a customer showroom at 540 S. Perryville Road, Rockford.

It hasn’t always been easy, thanks to a tumultuous economy, but the Rockford-based company continues to persevere. “Andco has survived because of the dedication from our employees,” says owner Paul Johnson. “We take care of our customers and aim to make them happy.”

The company has a long, rich history. It was started by C.E. Anderson. Born in Pecatonica, Anderson worked on a farm before he and his wife moved to Rockford, where he took a job as a carpenter for Rockford Security Company in 1922.

Six years later, he started CE Anderson Electric Co., a radio and electric shop in the Lundstrom Peterson Building on 7th Street. The retail business sold cabinet and tabletop radios, vacuums, ringer washers, and other small appliances.

“Business was well received,” says his son-in-law, Roger Olson, who eventually took over the company. “He had his struggles, but he worked night and day to keep things going. He had a lot of get up and go.”

The business, then known as Anco Distributors, a division of CE Anderson Electric, started selling pre-built metal cabinetry to area contractors around 1945. Before World War II, cabinets were typically custom designed and built by a carpenter on the job site. This was a time- consuming, labor-intensive and costly process.

In 1953, Anco moved to a new building with a warehouse on 5th Avenue, which today is Colorlab Custom Cosmetics. Three years later, mass produced wood cabinetry became available, and Anco began offering wood cabinets manufactured by Carr Co. to its contractors. Anco Company was one of the first in Rockford that sold and stocked the ready-made cabinets.

“The only style produced at the time was a birch door in a natural finish with a veneer maple core cabinet frame,” Olson says. “Carr started out as a medium-priced line, but it became a good value for the money.”

As more styles were introduced, Carr became more of a high-end custom line of cabinetry. Anco sought out alternative manufacturers who could offer more affordable options to its customers and began working with Aristokraft, Inc., a former Jasper, Ind., lumberyard. Anco became one of its first distributors.

In 1956, Anderson sold the business to his two sons, Richard and Mauritz Anderson, and to his son-in-law Olson, who left a sales job in Springfield to “see if we could turn business around.” C.E. Anderson died in 1981.

The business became incorporated under a new name, Andco Distributors, Inc., since the name Anco Distributors was already taken by a company that produced wiper blades. Andco liquidated its appliance, gift, and dinnerware stock and concentrated on developing its line of cabinetry and kitchen appliances.

In 1960, business was so good that the trio of owners built a new office on two acres at 2241 15th St., where the corporate office and warehouse remain today. Andco expanded two more times over the next decade.

“We were really going to town,” says Olson. “We were servicing dealers, builders within 75 miles of Rockford. We opened another office in Madison, and started picking up business in Milwaukee and Chicago. Expansion was the key to our success.”

Current owner Johnson joined the company in 1989 as a sales representative, before buying the business from Olson six years later. “Paul has done an excellent job of running Andco,” says Olson. “No one could have done the job he has over the past 18 years.”

“I appreciate the fact that Roger entrusted me with the business,” Johnson says. “It’s like taking care of someone’s baby. He worked hard for a long period of time, and he wanted that legacy to continue.”

And it did. Sales doubled from $2 million to $4 million in the 1990s. “Not too bad for a small company,” Johnson says.

In 1995, the company became Andco Kitchens & Baths, Inc. Five years later, it opened a 2,700 square-foot showroom on South Perryville Road, in front of Sam’s Club. “If we hadn’t opened that store, we’d be out of business,” Johnson says. “It’s a prime location for our customers.”

Still, sales plummeted between 2007 and 2010 as the recession deepened. The company tightened its budget by keeping its workforce intact but not filling vacancies. Today, the company employs a staff of eight.

Carr, which went out of business in the 1980s, was replaced with the mid-priced semi-custom StarMark lines. Since then, Andco has changed cabinet lines, adding Omega Dynasty, Kemper and Koch to its lineup. Aristokraft remains its top seller.

“We were losing jobs to the big box stores,” Johnson says. “We needed to change lines in order to survive. We reduced the gaps between lines, so now we’re more competitive and frequently lower-priced than box stores.”

In addition to cabinets, Andco features granite, quartz, acrylic, and laminate countertops in a wide variety of colors, options and manufacturers. “We seldom do any laminate countertops anymore,” Johnson says. “Everything is granite or quartz, due to the fact that granite is eco-friendly, and the way it looks appeals to customers. It’s also easier to clean and maintain.”

Andco serves the entire northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin area, including Rockford, Beloit, Janesville and the Chicago suburbs. “Business is slowly getting better,” Johnson says, “but it remains a struggling market.” Referrals remain a significant part of Andco’s business.

Steve Zentz, owner of Zentz & Associates Inc., has been building condos and homes for the past 30 years in the Rockford area. He’s worked with Andco for most of them. Zentz has purchased thousands of Aristokraft cabinets from Andco during that time, primarily for the quality of the product and for Andco’s reliability.

“Years ago, I tried working with other companies and it didn’t work out,” Zentz says. “I always went back to Andco because of their personal attention to service and detail. I can’t remember the last time we had a back order. We have a good working relationship with Paul. He’s always taken good care of us.

“Andco has stood the test of time,” he adds. “That’s no easy feat in today’s market. I’ve always tried to buy from local companies. Andco has everything a bigger company offers, but it’s more personal. They’ve embraced new technology, which gives us computer-generated perspectives. That helps my customers know what to expect, when it comes to their kitchens.”

That commitment carries on. You can see it at Andco’s impressive Perryville showroom. A wall of photos there details the company’s long history, and several industry awards are in clear view when you step through the front door. The store showcases a variety of stacked wall cabinets and examples of quartz countertops, as potential customers peruse the options.

“You have to invest money to make money,” says Johnson. “The showroom is what people see. We’re the best value in Rockford when it comes to cabinets.”

As for the significance of being in business for 85 years, both Johnson and Olson say it speaks volumes about the loyalty of many hardworking people who’ve been associated with Andco.

“I put 40 years of hard work into this company,” Olson says. “It’s wonderful to see it continue. It’s gratifying for me to see Paul and his staff do such a superb job.”

Johnson adds: “Not a lot of companies last this long. I’m already looking forward to starting the next 85 years.”

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