One of the most frustrating things for any cabinetmaker is hearing about a great new product, buying it and then having no clue how to use it correctly. Equally annoying is trying to find exactly the right product but not knowing exactly where to find it. The information is out there and your best source of getting it is to go to your distributor.

Wurth Wood Group has been conducting seminars at customer locations for several years. “We have teamed with CabinetMaker magazine to begin seminars that are designed to educate our customers on all aspects of their business,” says Roger Debnam, Wurth’s president. “The seminars are designed to analyze everything from shop layout to work flow to job pricing, job costing and cash flow management.”

A tried and true way to get information to the small cabinet shop is with the open house. Although many suppliers rely on a number of efforts such as e-mail blasts, magazine advertisements and mailings in support of their distributors’ efforts to sell their products, these same suppliers, like Wood Technology, will also participate in distributors’ open houses and inside trade shows.

Another option is a company such as Plywood Company of Fort Worth Inc. that has suppliers come to the warehouse to educate its sales force on a regular basis. “We feel that by educating our sales force and other employees we can help our customers get the correct product they need for each job,” says company spokesperson Joyce Davenport. “When we held an open house last October, our suppliers came in and set up booths with all their products. We invited our customers in for lunch and let them visit with all the suppliers.”

The open house is still a big component of the Wurth Wood Group. “We have had a practice of open houses to educate customers on all issues in our industry,” says Roger Debnam, Wurth’s president. “We are supported with outstanding vendors that will present new and innovative ideas, products and services. We are also beginning this year to conduct open houses at our customer locations and bring the benefits of our quality suppliers to the fabricators’ location.”

Wurth is also increasing its Web activities and presence to provide easy access to a comprehensive product selection.

Distribution Service Inc. sets up training seminars in cabinet finishing, fabrication and abrasives with its vendors. “The more we teach our customers how good these products are, the easier it is to sell it to them,” says Cory Bonnet, the company’s director of marketing and advertising.

Colorspec Coatings International Inc. has worked with several vendors to hold hands-on finishing workshops and touch-up repair seminars in its showroom? warehouse. “Coatings is not straightforward and requires techniques and skill to apply properly,” says Lisa Bancalari, Colorspec’s director of operations.

With OHARCO Inc. has open houses and seminars. OHARCO also provides Continuing Education Units training and supplies product for commercial end-users to test in their facilities.

Lumbermen’s Inc. holds open houses that offer CEU credits and gives presentations at design and furniture manufacturing firms, says John T. David.

Finally, Blum Inc. has an entire facility called the Blum School that is open to anyone using its products. Dennis Poteat, marketing communication at Blum, says, “Blum offers training in all our products for all of our customers.”

Distributors and suppliers alike use the Internet and their Web sites to post information and free articles that can educate customers. Louis and Company, for example, offers a trendsetter section that offers information on new products available.

Information is available from a variety of CIDA members in the form of open houses, seminars, workshops, newsletters and showrooms.

Every company uses its Internet resources differently. One company that relies heavily on the Internet is cabinetparts.com. When it started in the 1990s, it emphasized putting technical information on its Web site, most of it coming from manufacturers’ technical pages.

“Today, every new product is launched with full technical information support including high resolution photography, enhanced images, all available technical data, assembly instructions when available, effective search filtering, cross references to complementary product and an ever increasing use of informational video streams,” says president and founder Pat Abbe.

The company also committed to provide trained specialists with a technical team that receives regular formal training. “Every product page on our Web site has a product knowledge’ e-mail link connecting them to a technical product specialist. It’s the equivalent of having a service desk in everyone’s home or shop.”

Many companies use Web site updates and newsletters, such as Kerfkore. “The Internet has been a great method to show our customers the products and in our case, more importantly, how they are used correctly,” says Tom Phillips, president and COO of Kerfkore.

Some companies focus on their staff. Westech Aerosol, for example, has several staff members dedicated to providing training to both distributor sales staff and the end-user. “Our sales people are constantly working with our distributors to educate customers,” says Jenn Downes, Westech’s director of marketing and sales. “We also attend open houses, provide needed documentation and how-to materials, and hold frequent training sessions.”

BHK of America takes a similar approach and works with its distributors to educate its sales staff and has people ride with distributor sales people to make calls on all size shops to train them on the company’s product line and what’s new in the industry.

Industrial Plywood Inc., on the other hand, uses mailing and its salespeople. “Our most efficient method is via our salespeople,” says Andrew Wernick, company president. “We also are informing and educating our own employees of the changes that are coming to our industry and how this will affect the product that we are purchasing.”

Other companies such as Hera Lighting, QuickScrews International and Franklin International use a combination of training their distributors as well as joint field appointments. Franklin also uses newsletters, Web site updates, training sessions and green woodworking webinars. Similarly, Kerfkore sends out a company newsletter to its distributors and their sales teams. QuickScrews provides a poster to all its distribution partners that shows all the screws it carries.

Greg Rewer, vice president of marketing for Louis and Company, says that in an industry of people who truly learn through all their senses, having a showroom is just good business. For woodworkers, it’s ideal, he says. Cabinetmakers can touch and experiment with great new products from companies like Blum and Rev-a-Shelf, says Rewer.

Just recently the company opened the Studio, a showcase for innovative products available to homeowners through their professional cabinetmakers. It features the latest in decorative, convenience and functional hardware presented in multiple vignettes. “The Studio is more than a design center. It’s an idea center,” says Rewer. “Shops shouldn’t be just about building boxes. By increasing the value instead of the work, they end up with happier customers.”

Louis and Company is also opening another showroom in Phoenix, Ariz., featuring SCM machines and computer software. All the machinery will be operational and will give cabinetmakers on the West Coast an opportunity to gain confidence in the operation of the equipment. Cabinetmakers can also test the software to determine if it will be compatible with what they already do and will work on their equipment.

In a similar vein, Distribution Service Inc. recently renovated its showroom to make it more beneficial and helpful for its customers.

Understanding the properties of hickory to make handling it easier.

A few years ago, hickory was seldom used for cabinets and furniture as it had quite a bit of character (streaks, knots, swirly, busy grain), was difficult when used in cabinet finishing and was known to be hard to machine as it quickly dulled cutters. On top of that, the wood is very dense (heavy). Today, it is showing up more and more in cabinets, furniture and kitchen flooring and looks great. Let’s look more closely at this wood, especially for cabinets.

In the United States, there are eight species of wood that are called hickory four are grouped together as pecan hickories (tree names are shagbark, pignut, shellbark and mockernut) and the other four are true hickories (bitternut, pecan, water and nutmeg hickory). Although the nuts produced, hickory versus pecan, are quite different in appearance and flavor, the wood of these eight species, once cut and dried, is very difficult to visually separate. However, I commonly hear that many cabinet makers want true hickories and not pecan hickories as they think the color and character is better.

Hickory is quite heavy, with a density of 50 pounds per cubic foot when dry; this is the densest U.S. commercial wood. Hickory is also very strong and hard. A dry piece of lumber 6 inches by 24 inches by 3/4-inch (1 board foot) will weigh more than three pounds.

This high density and strength also means that the knife or tooth used to cut hickory and the sandpaper granules used to sand hickory will have to do more work and therefore will dull faster. Sharp tools and fresh sandpaper are critical for premium surfaces. Dull tools will certainly result in chipped or torn grain during cabinet construction; these defects are accentuated by using large rake or hook angles and low moisture contents.

Hickory is rather sensitive to changes in moisture content. Flatsawn lumber pieces will change size about 1 percent for a 3 percent MC change (20 percent RH change). This is similar to oak.

It is important to assure that the MC of hickory is as close to the in-use or final MC as possible (usually around 6.8 to 7.0 percent MC). It is also critical to avoid over-drying this wood, as low MCs (under 6.0 percent MC) encourage chipped grain.

Gluing hickory requires surfaces to be flat and true, as well as freshly prepared and at the correct MC. This wood is not easy to glue if things are not close to perfect.

Hickory colors can vary from species to species and geographical area to area. Drying procedures used also influence the color, adding pinks and darker colors when drying temperatures are higher. It is advisable to find one supplier and then stick with this supplier to assure little or no color variation from load to load.

Being a porous wood, hickory’s large pores present the same finishing issues that oak, hackberry and similar woods are known for.

From a processing standpoint, hickory requires small changes in procedures, compared to less-dense hardwood species. These changes are easy to incorporate into any standard furniture manufacturing operation.

One of the more historic uses of hickory was for baseball bats, especially in the early days of baseball. It made very strong bats, but they were also very heavy. Babe Ruth used a 47 ounce hickory bat in most of his career. (In contrast, Barry Bonds used a 32 ounce maple bat.)

Hickory was also used for other sports equipment, such as tennis rackets. Its high strength and ability to withstand high impact made this wood popular for implement handles, including the original John Deere plow. Being 40 percent harder than red oak, hickory has also been used for flooring, although the high color contrast within the wood (I call it character) made the look uninviting to many people.

Another interesting use for hickory is for drumsticks. In addition to being strong, hickory drumsticks have a very pleasant ring to them, which few other species can offer.

Wood chips, especially dried chips developed as a byproduct of manufacturing, have been desired as a flavoring when grilling foods. The smoke has a pleasant aroma, and the food will pick up some of this same flavoring.

Ready to cut — John Vargo sets up the Striebig vertical saw before cutting a panel.
When prospective customers ask John Vargo, owner of Professional Millwork Inc. in Carol Stream, Ill., about his shop’s size, he prefers to talk about his capabilities. “If I tell (them) 2,500 square feet, I get pigeonholed into a two-, three-man shop, and I know I have the capability of larger shops,” Vargo says. “I have the ability to expand to facilitate a large job without being a large shop.”

Vargo’s ability to tap into a network of smaller shops makes Professional Millwork an overachieving, four-man, 2,500-square-foot woodworking shop. “I know a lot of guys who have started their own business, who are working out of their garages, and I can use them to outsource and side-job the projects,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate in keeping relationships, and networking has really paid off.”

Another advantage of this approach is that Vargo can juggle several jobs without jeopardizing the four- to six-week deadlines the commercial market requires. “Deadlines are the most critical part of the job,” he says, “and managing deadlines is my biggest challenge.”

Vargo built his network during his career working at several large Chicago-area architectural millwork companies. He started as a draftsman, then moved on to project management, sales and supervisory positions. On his own time, he began taking on small jobs that helped him develop the shop skills he needed to strike out on his own.

Twice as efficient — Vargo says the Toola double line boring machine saves time and prevents mistakes that were common with the previous equipment.

“I always wanted to start my own business,” he says. “When I was 19 and started drafting, I was looking at the guy I worked for and said, That’s the guy I want to be.’ “

He polled customers to see if they’d support his business. “I got a pretty good response from most of them, and most of them have stayed with me,” Vargo says. “That took out a lot of the What If?’ factor for me as far as who pays well, who doesn’t.”

In 2001, he started Professional Millwork Inc. in his garage. “I kept my overhead very small,” he says. “I was very lean and mean in the beginning.” He moved to two other buildings before settling into his current west suburban Chicago location, which is centrally located to work and suppliers, in May. He has three shop employees, with his wife Lisa handling the bookkeeping (see sidebar).

His direct customers are a dozen or so general contractors, who request bids on commercial projects ranging from hospitals and hotels to businesses and schools. About 60 percent of his projects are in Chicago proper; the rest are in the suburbs.

Vargo identifies the in-shop and outsourcing work when he reviews the specs prior to making a bid. He’ll use any specified material and produce anything, from doors and moulding to cabinets and wall panels, but he also recognizes quantity limits. For example, if the job requires a lot of moulding, he knows he’ll outsource it rather than try to make it. “I know who the big shops use for large moulding runs and who’s out there that’s top notch,” he says.

“You do what you know you can do fast, the things you know you’re profitable doing,” Vargo says about working in his shop. For example, he’ll order laminated panels already laid up rather than trying to lay them up in the shop. “I can get my boards laid up cheaper than I can buy the material,” he says.

Two years ago he hired a “very good” employee, and added two others since then. “As time goes on, our product is getting better, the punch lists are getting smaller and the jobs are getting larger.” The employees also step up to meet deadlines. “I’m fortunate that my employees are available for overtime when necessary,” he says.

Once he’s awarded the bid, he and the contractor agree on a time frame and payment. Vargo then generates the shop drawings and, if needed, sample sheets for the veneer, laminate and finishes.

“I do have Cabinet Vision software, which I will be implementing soon,” Vargo says. “My original background was drafting, so I should be able to do that without any problem.”

Once the customer approves the drawings, he orders materials, starts production and coordinates with the job superintendent to gain access to the site.

The cabinets are then fabricated. “One thing we really excel at is the fabrication of boxes,” Vargo says. He outsources custom veneer lay-ups to one of three shops; he’ll often tweak the panels before machining and assembly. When the job is complete, installation is scheduled.

Vargo handles installations whenever possible. “I would prefer to do my own installs because then I know it’s in my guys’ hands rather than someone else’s,” he says. “It’s tough to get someone to care as much as the people who built it or have an interest in the company.”

Vargo says his background sets him apart from other architectural millwork shops. “Most of the smaller shops I’ve seen have been started by guys from the shop,” he says. “So I think I have a little bit of an advantage coming from an office background for the larger shop and knowing what the market bears.”

His long-term plans include owning a building for his business. In the short term, he’d like to buy a dust collection system and a horizontal panel saw.

Building cabinets on wheels

When Elvin Eberly’s Mennonite family moved from Pennsylvania to Withee, Wis., seeking better farming opportunities, he took a different path. “We can’t all be farmers,” he says. “Some of us have to be buggy builders.”

In 1992, he started Eberly Coach Works in a garage on his parents’ farm. Experience became his primary teacher. “I had to learn it just by doing it,” Eberly says.

Eberly eventually bought his family’s farm and converted a machine shed there to a 4,500-square-foot shop where he and three full-time employees build, restore and repair horse-drawn vehicles.

“Seventy-five percent of our work is for the local plain people, Mennonites or Amish,” Eberly says. Mennonites drive single-seated courting buggies and two-seated family buggies. Wisconsin Amish also prefer two buggy styles.

“The 25 percent that’s left over is for what I call ‘English’ (non-Amish or non-Mennonite) customers, who usually have restoration jobs like old sleighs or buggies,” Eberly says, “and occasionally orders for new vehicles such as buggies or wagons.” Most business comes via word of mouth.

Fine detail—Interior of this one-seat courting buggy, above, shows carpeted floor, upholstered dash with storage box and manual windshield wipers.

Except for some pre-made components, Eberly builds the entire vehicle, which requires metalworking, woodworking, painting, electrical and upholstery skills.

His shop is divided into paint rooms, metalworking/wheel area, woodworking area and finished work/showroom. A barn and the garage where he started his business function as storage areas. Key equipment includes a Bridgewood edge sander; Conestoga 16-inch planer; Craftsman table saw, radial arm saw, 12-inch band saw, staple guns; DeWalt radial arm saw, chop saw; and Performax 24-inch drum sander.
Buggies in batches

Mennonite buggies are his biggest seller, so Eberly builds cabs in sixes and stores them until needed. He buys the buggy tub, a single piece of molded Fiberglas that forms the dash, sides and floor. He and his employees frame out the rest, using white oak and yellow poplar for the frame and plywood for the top.

Eberly buys springs, axles, wheels and other components from suppliers in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. For larger units, such as running gears, he buys the components and assembles them.

When a customer orders a Mennonite buggy and puts 50 percent down, employees pull two framed cabs from storage and bring them into the shop. Building buggies in pairs increases efficiency; Eberly completes new buggy orders in two to three months.

Burnout—Repair work, such as this cab damaged in a barn fire, takes precedence over new buggy building.

Employees sand the cab and apply up to five coats of primer. Eberly’s work starts with the painting. “I do the enamel painting because if it runs or sags, it’s my own fault,” he says. He applies three coats of Schwartz Carriage Black enamel with a spray gun.

When painting is completed, he brings the cab into the finished work area and installs the wiring and the lights, which run off a battery. The driver attaches wire clips to the battery to turn on the lights, which run for “a good half night” before the battery needs recharging.

Eberly glues carpet to the dash and floor, and covers the floor with a clear plastic mat. He upholsters the seats and the rest of the interior with crushed velvet.

The side curtains, which are made of vinyl or Naugahyde over a thin insulating material, are fastened with black-painted tacks, staples and Velcro. Water-resistant vinyl covers the outside, and a heavier vinyl protects the top.

After upholstering, Eberly bolts the cab to the gear and attaches the remaining components and trim to complete the buggy. He notifies the customer and asks that the buggy be paid for and picked up within 30 days.

Storage space—The garage where Eberly started his business now houses wheels and other components.

Building a buggy takes about 120 hours. The shop produces about 20 new vehicles and completes 25 major repair/restoration jobs annually. It also handles a steady stream of repair projects, such as fixing and replacing tires on buggy wheels.

Because Mennonites and the Amish rely on their buggies for daily activities, repair projects take precedence over new buggy building. “A wrecked or burned buggy gets top priority,” Eberly says.

Custom work, such as building and repairing sleighs and wagons, accounts for about 10 percent of Eberly’s business.

Business eases in late winter and spring. “During the slow times we work ahead,” Eberly says. “We usually have two to three months’ work lined up, so that helps take care of the slow periods. By the time it starts to get busier, we’re usually about caught up.”

Employees typically are young, single Mennonite men. They start with tasks such as disassembly, paint stripping and sanding.

Logical sequence—The circular arrangement of the woodworking equipment increases speed and efficiency.

“They know eventually they’re going to be doing cleaner, more complicated work,” Eberly says. On average, employees stay four years. “Most young men need a job before they get married,” Eberly says. “Once they get married, they have a business or a farm of their own.” An employee who quits needs to find a replacement.

“Most of the time that works out well,” he says.

Eberly says his biggest challenge is to produce quality work at an affordable price.

“We have to keep our price in tight control and the quality at a consistent level or else we lose out,” he says. “We have to keep our reputation up so that we can get word-of-mouth advertisement.

“We try to remain flexible because we get into all different types of work, even in just the horse-drawn vehicle industry,” Eberly adds. “We try to be a jack of all trades and a master of them all.”

In ways, a house is like a teenager. Raising one requires lots of time, patience and— more than anything else—money. True, you don’t have to supply your home with clothing, concert tickets, snacks and spending money, but you do have to outfit it with plenty of materials, including lumber, masonry, flooring, fixtures and hardware. And that’s just for starters.

When you want to make more money, it always helps to spend less. Here are 10 smart strategies for sourcing the best materials at the best prices.

For that reason, builders and remodelers should consider doing what millions of parents do every day: Say no to the designer jeans—and the designer countertops—and opt instead to buy something that’s just as good for a fraction of the cost.

“There are plenty of high-quality materials available at respectable prices,” says Jeffrey Crane, president of Concept to Creation, a Gilbert, Ariz.-based consultancy that helps families design and custom-build their dream homes. The key to finding them: knowing where to look and for what.

Luckily, you don’t have to look very far. Here are 10 tips for lightening the load when your materials costs start to weigh you down:

1. Deliver accurate, realistic bids. If customers are willing to pay for more expensive materials, that’s great. If they’re not, your best strategy is accurate bidding and budgeting in order to avoid shouldering the extra costs. “Cost-cutting comes into play during the pre-bid stage of the project,” Crane says, “when the homeowner elects to reduce square footage, or [chooses] certain finish details as a means of slimming down the overall project budget.”

2. Design with materials in mind. Woodworking expert William Sampson, editor in chief of CabinetMaker magazine and director of Rockford, Ill.-based Cabinet Maker Consulting, suggests reducing cabinet materials costs an inch at a time with smart design. “Making simple changes can deliver significant materials savings,” he says. “For example, if you have a 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of wood that you want to make 12-inch shelves out of, you’re not going to get four shelves because of the 1/8-inch saw cut. If you change your design to make those shelves 11 1/2 inches, you’ll get four shelves.”

3. Consider secondary costs. Materials themselves aren’t the only things that are expensive. With the high cost of gas, so is transportation. Luckily, most suppliers deliver. “Even with the fuel surcharges that some companies are charging, you’ll find that your own gas, time and vehicle costs are typically more expensive,” says Sampson, who suggests saving further on shipping costs by arranging one large delivery instead of several smaller ones.

4. Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk often qualifies you for special discounts. Sampson recommends asking suppliers whether they offer bulk discounts and how much you have to buy in order to qualify. Don’t simply buy more in order to pay less, however. Crane cautions that bulk buying is only feasible for builders who have enough space to store extra materials and enough ongoing business with which to consume them.

5. Woo suppliers. Don’t just buy from suppliers; build relationships with them, Sampson suggests. Because suppliers enjoy working with customers they like, he recommends developing relationships with them in order to open the door to price negotiations, special deals and more.

6. Buddy up before you buy. Getting to know other builders can be beneficial, as you may be able to use group purchasing power to negotiate good deals with suppliers. “It’s not extremely common in this industry,” Sampson says, “but I know of an organization of small cabinet shops in Oregon that made deals on purchasing major machinery by promising a group buy to the vendors.”

7. Recycle and reuse. Some communities have special construction depots where you can buy used or surplus building materials, often at a deep discount. If your area doesn’t, Sampson says, you can always re-purpose your own materials. “If you can catalog extra materials and off-cuts from one job, then use them in another job,” he points out, “it’s like getting free materials for that second job.”

8. Feast on scraps. Consider using other builders’ leftovers, too, says Crane, who suggests calling suppliers and asking about orders—especially custom orders—that have been returned or canceled, which you can purchase at a reduced price. Alternatively, approach other builders directly; if you approach the foreman on an area job site, you may be able to pay him a small fee for his usable scraps, cutting his trash haul costs and your materials costs.

9. Buy pre-finished, pre-fabricated materials. Although often more expensive, pre-finished and pre-fabricated materials can end up costing less in the long term, according to Sampson, because they require less time and less labor to finish and install.

10. Compromise. Although some materials should never be sub par—lumber, for instance—you can find cheaper alternatives (without affecting safety) for other materials, such as plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures and door hardware to realize substantial savings, Crane says. What’s more, homeowners can easily upgrade them later if they want to, but at their own expense.

Source: Lowes for Pros – Minimize Your Materials Cost

David Casey, owner and president of Designer Cabinets in Whiteville, Tenn., is eyeing 20 percent growth in sales volume for 2007, and it’s an achievable goal thanks to several steps he took last year.

First, he moved his entire manufacturing operation from Summer Street in Memphis, a city with more than 1.3 million people, counting the close-in suburbs, to larger space in bucolic Whiteville, Tenn., population 3,148. The new location is about an hour east of Memphis.

Casey also increased his work force and upgraded his shop’s equipment, acquiring a Frame Pro Model C.R. Onsrud CNC router, a new flat line Kleenspray reciprocating spraying machine and 37 x 24-ft. Falcioni drying room from the Cefla Finishing Group.

“We have found a good niche that we can fill quite well semi-custom wood framed cabinetry with mitered doors,” he says. “Finishes are mostly white with glaze, and distressed finishes also are popular. And everything is made to order, keeping us a lean manufacturing operation with very little money tied up in inventory.”

While every element of the expansion plays a role in the company’s arcing sales curve, Casey credits the Cefla equipment as providing the most significant boost. “From the first day that we began using the new finishing line, we were able to double our finishing output,” he says. “In Memphis, we were never able to finish more than 350 pieces in a single eight-hour day. Here, we regularly do twice that, and, on one extraordinary day, we reached 900 pieces.”

Casey has nothing but praise for the way the Cefla equipment is engineered, the quality of the work it produces, its speed and ease of maintenance. He lauded the work of Cefla’s salesman, Dave Greer, who spent time working with Casey to make sure this was the right equipment for his operation and the installer who taught Casey and Rick Zuba, the cabinetmaker’s computer specialist, how to operate the system and keep it in tip-top shape.

New systems working — The new C.R. Onsrud CNC router was moved directly into the new shop. Jeremy Reeves, a long-time employee and member of the Mumford and Atoka Fire Depts., is at the controls.

Casey is very excited about the drying room, which enables him to speed curing with the help of technology. “When we were in Memphis all those years, everything was air dried, and it took forever. Now we have this heated 37 x 24-foot space where we can roll in loaded drying racks.”

Still, this advance did not come without a stiff price and it might have been more, had Casey accepted the vendor’s offer of a sophisticated heating system. Instead, the cabinetmaker turned to his father-in-law, Bill Whisel, a retired Quaker Products engineer. Whisel and a colleague, Jimmy Turner, created a homemade boiler for less than half of the commercial alternative, and it is so sensitive that it comes up to drying temperature in about eight minutes and cools back down in five.

Casey admits he is probably not using the new cabinet finishing equipment as much as he could. “For the first year or so,” he says, “until we really know this Kleenspray system inside and out, we’re using it only for sealer and topcoat clear finishes. We still apply color with handheld guns in a standard Binks spray booth.”

The flat line performs so quickly and reliably that, linked with the drying room, it has eliminated the only major workflow bottleneck at Designer Cabinets. Casey says, “If I had to identify a bottleneck now, I would say it is our uncertainty about how much volume we can produce and that’s a nice problem to have.”

For the first 12 years of its existence, says Casey, Designer Cabinets built an all-wood box, and 100 percent of the work was done in-house, including doors and drawers. “The only thing we outsourced was cabinet hardware. Now we get our doors from Decore-ative Specialties, moldings from Hardware Resources and hardware from Village Square, a Nashville dealer. For the most part we use Salice and Grass, but we also like Knape & Vogt.”

The first big switch in production methods came in 1999 when a vinyl box replaced the wooden one. “That helped streamline our finishing. We only had to spray the doors and exteriors, not the interiors.”

In 2002, Casey’s life would change forever and for the better. “Mr. Reid called me one morning and said he was planning to sell the cabinet shop in order to spend more time concentrating on his other businesses. He wanted to know if I would buy it.”

The two worked out a deal for a 10-year payout, and Casey found a bank that provided financing for equipment that the new owner felt was necessary for the firm’s continued viability.

“We were able to get a MultiCam nested-base CNC router, and at the same time, we installed a Gorbel 250-lb. lift system to facilitate materials handling.”

The latest major milestones for Designer Cabinets came last year with the move to Whiteville, an extension on his business buyout schedule, and the installation of the new CNC router and the Cefla finishing line. “I had begun researching CNC routers more than a year ago,” says Casey, “and I was very impressed with Onsrud’s machine.”

Casey is proud of how that move was accomplished. “We worked at the old place until Friday, Dec. 8 and opened for business in the new plant on Monday morning, Dec. 11.” During the intervening weekend, using two company forklifts and the muscle of its own labor force, the company completed the move without major incident. And, thanks to advance planning, the three biggest items the new CNC router and the Cefla flat line sprayer and drying room were already installed, having bypassed Summer Street altogether.

Casey could have lost good people when he shifted the shop’s venue an hour out of town, and a handful of people declined to come along. “But,” he adds, “not one of our lead people defected, and we were able to hire replacements and additional people too, with just a little bit of advertising and a big helping hand from the Hardeman County Chamber of Commerce.”

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