"We live in an age of mass production that has seen meticulous craftsmanship and commitment to quality virtually disappear. Pride in the finished product seems to have no place in today's look-alike, be-alike, take-all-the-shortcuts world. Not at Fetzers' "
These words are written in a sales brochure from Fetzers' Inc., 1436 S. West Temple, a family-owned company specializing in the design and manufacture of department store and specialty shop fixtures, fine commercial furniture, bank and office interiors, library and institutional furniture and architectural woodwork for more than 80 years.Pictures in the brochure are evidence of Fetzers' commitment to craftsmanship and attention to detail in woodworking. Wood is worked into long board room tables, paneling, the surroundings of an organ, fixtures for a concessionaire in a national park and entrances to a law office. The long list of clients includes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Intermountain Power Project, Brigham Young University, University of Utah, Sheraton Hotel, Grand Teton Lodge Co., Stanford University, Mrs. Fields Cookies, Salt Lake International Airport and the First National Bank of Arizona.
Not bad for a company started in 1909 by German immigrant Kaspar J. Fetzer on $300 he borrowed from a bank to join with two partners in a woodworking business in Salt Lake City. Last year, the company, now being run by a third generation Fetzer, had $8 million in sales.
For a history of Fetzers' one has to rely on the memory of John K. Fetzer, Kaspar's son, who retired as president four years ago and serves as chairman of the board. John is a guide on Temple Square and returns to the company periodically to conduct board meetings.
Kaspar came to America in 1905 from Bavaria and got a good job in Salt Lake City with the Oregon Shortline Railroad, John recalls. A friend said he knew of two German cabinetmakers who wanted to start a business with Kaspar serving as the draftsman and manager.
Standing in Kaspar's way was the $300 he needed to get the business going. He went to friends and was turned down. He went to a bank and got the same answer. Finally, realtor E. B. Wicks said he would cosign a note with Kaspar, and together they went to McCormick Bank and got the money, John said.
The Fetzers had a 2-year-old son, Percy, and Mrs. Fetzer wasn't certain about leaving the security of a $75-per-month job for an uncertain future in the cabinet business.
Nevertheless, the three new businessmen purchased a used jointer, a used saw and other tools and set up shop in a rented room on the west side of State Street near Eighth South. With Kaspar hustling the work, doing the drafting, estimating, buying and delivering, Salt Lake Cabinet and Fixture Co. was on its way, John recalled.
Fetzers' is not a lumber mill, where wood is cut into various shapes ready for use. Instead, the company is dedicated to making wood products in various shapes and sizes and finishing them in rich-looking tones with a long-lasting appearance.
In 1913 Salt Lake Cabinet & Fixture became incorporated and Kaspar became president and general manager. Business was so good that more room was needed,so the company moved to 32-34 Richards Street.
Providing the woodwork and fixtures in several LDS temples has been a major project for Fetzers' over the years, starting in 1919 with the Hawaii Temple and later in the Cardston, Alberta, Can.; Mesa, Ariz.; Idaho Falls; Los Angeles; and Washington, D.C., temples.
John said that in 1922 the company was losing money on the Cardston Temple project so Kaspar's two partners sold the business to him. That same year the company remodeled the entire first floor of ZCMI and the profit was big enough that Kaspar had enough money to build a new plant.
Neighbors of the Richards Street location had been complaining about the sawdust and shavings blowing into nearby buildings when winds were strong, so in late 1922 Kaspar purchased four acres at 1436 S. West Temple, the current company location.
John was 8 years old in 1923 and his first job at the cabinet shop was taking water to the construction workers.
In 1947, a large machine room wing was added to the factory. A new lumber storage area, a paint shop, a glazing wing, a new loading dock, warehouse, storage area, offices, showrooms and drafting areas have been added over the years, bringing to 83,000, the amount of square-footage at Fezters'.
In 1943, Restaurant and Store Equipment Co., and Jefferson Improvement Co. grew out of Salt Lake Cabinet, the former providing the seed money for the operation and the latter became the holding company for the lands, buildings and machines of both operations.
John said Joseph F. Steenblick was the motivating force in starting Restaurant & Store Equipment Co. and later purchased it from the Fetzers.
When Kaspar retired, Percy K. Fetzer became company president and John became vice president. In 1973, the name was changed to Fetzers' Inc. to overcome some similarities with other "Salt Lake" companies. Percy became chairman of the board and John became president. For many years, Fetzers' owned a metal shop for fabricating stainless steel restaurant kitchen equipment and an upholstery shop where booths and seats for restaurants were made. The company also developed spring-filled upholstered church pews.
The metal shop eventually was taken over by the Restaurant & Store Equipment Co. and the upholstery shop was abandoned when company officials decided to get out of the church pew business after 55 years.
John said that over the years his company has produced a wide variety of wood products. For example, during World War II, they made 5,000 wooden lockers for the Remington Arms Plant, remodeled toboggans for skiing soldiers, made thousands of fuse trays and wood wedges and all types of kitchen and restaurant equipment for post exchanges on military bases.
Over the years, the company has produced some woodwork located in the offices of the First Presidency of the LDS Church, ZCMI, Nordstrom, University of Utah's Marriott Library, Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library, O.C. Tanner Jewelry Store, First Interstate Bank and several law offices.
Since John's retirement, Fetzers' has been in the hands of a third generation. Richard Fetzer, Percy's son, is company president, and Wallace and Paul Fetzer, both John's sons, are vice presidents of sales and estimating and design and marketing, respectively.
Their staff now includes more than 100 employees, with 96 in the main factory and four in the refrigeration division at 158 W. Third South, where soft ice cream machines are sold and serviced, and Tech-Wood Products, 801 Layton Ave., which is a small version of the main factory.
Members of the Fetzer management team have taken their turns at working in various departments at the factory. That includes Dennis Hardcastle, the vice president for production, and Stephen Ames, the comptroller, secretary and treasurer.
Richard remembers dusting the showcases when he was 14 years old and Paul remembers sweeping floors and doing some staining and painting and Wallace worked at Tech-Wood for one year after starting with Fetzers' in the estimating department.
Paul said most of Fetzers' work is obtained by bidding on jobs produced through architect's drawings, although the company has some repeat customers who refuse to go elsewhere and aren't required to receive bids on projects.
Fetzers' has a large supply of many types of wood. The wood is cut on a variety of saws (some driven by computer for an exact cut every time), put together in the desired shapes and sanded by hand or on large sanders, painted or stained and then shipped to the customer.
The company also has a supply of wood veneer 1/28 inch thick that is glued to a piece of backing, sanded and finished. That is the principal way wood paneling is made.
Richard said craftsmen come to Fetzers' from trade schools and they are continually trained in the perfection the company demands. The Fetzers say they are committed to Utah, but realize they must market their products nationwide to survive.