CWB March 2004
Retail Stores Become a Winning Market>
A Florida furnituremaker finds a niche supplying small stores with high-quality furniture.>
By Ann Gurley Rogers>
When Richard Carnevali started Accent Woodworking Inc. in Clearwater, FL, six years ago, he says he was interested in finding a business formula that would allow for flexibility, efficiency and growth, and he seems to have done just that.
During the first year, he was the sole woodworking employee while his wife, Janet, managed the office, took care of customer service and did the bookkeeping. Janet Carnevali found that working behind the scenes in a family business created a flexible situation that is helpful to her as the mother of two young children, an advantage that continues to this day.
The company also grew nicely; after the first year, Carnevali hired two employees. Today, the workforce includes nine full-time and two part-time employees. The company achieved efficiency through the gradual acquisition of equipment and also through its marketing strategy. Carnevali developed a plan that not only helped the company grow, but also gives him more time to concentrate on being a woodworker. It is based on having cultivated a working relationship with about 60 furniture retailers in Florida, supplying them with standard and custom items.
"With this arrangement, I only have to prove myself once to the retail owners, then they do the selling to their customers," he says. "I make a point of going to visit the stores about three to four times a year to keep the relationship strong. Also, we have a very quick turnaround time for solving problems, which keeps them happy. For example, if a piece of furniture has a damaged door, we strive to replace it within 24 hours.
"Service is our number one priority," he adds. "Follow-up and personal attention are essential."
The retail accounts are serviced by two sales representatives. "These stores are 'Mom-and-Pop' businesses, like Mr. Oak and Spectrum Home Office and Furniture, whose customers are looking for a high-quality piece of furniture like the ones we produce," Carnevali says.
To maintain good quality, the company buys most of its lumber from one vendor, Columbia Forest Products, so it could negotiate a good price on a high grade of lumber. Carnevali also says that his furniture appeals to customers because it is American-made. He believes that because his furniture meets such high standards and he has targeted his market so closely, he has been able to avoid competing with less expensive foreign imports.
One way in which Accent Woodworking targets its market is by specializing in all-wood Murphy beds. The fold-up beds are popular in Florida residences, where they are used in a home office that doubles as a guest bedroom. Also, the company does a big business in custom home offices, desks, entertainment centers and bookcases. Each retail location carries samples of Accent's pieces, and customers have the option of purchasing a piece as shown or customizing it in a different species, finish, color or drawer pulls. Accent also has done totally custom furniture, starting from something as simply as a customer's drawing.
Approximately 50 to 60 percent of the orders from Accent Woodworking's retail customers are custom pieces. The ratio of custom to standard orders fluctuates, depending on the season. Between September and April, the prime customers are seasonal "snow birds," and standard orders represent about 60 percent of sales. Starting in May, when the year-round residents buy more, the custom orders account for 60 percent.
Healthy Growth Accounts Spurs Equipment Purchases
"I knew that I was in the market for a router," he says. "I happened to get into a conversation with a guy on the MARTA [subway] and he told me how pleased he had been with his Busellato CNC router. By the time I arrived at the show, my mind was almost made up. In the end, I purchased a Busellato Jet-3006 [from Delmac Machinery Group]."
Other major pieces of equipment in the Accent shop include a DMC RX-3 edgebander, Gorbel WSJ360 vacuum lift, Sunhill 36-inch double widebelt sander, Lobo LH-1000 auto door machine and a Holz-Her 1265 vertical panel saw. It also has a Kaeser SK-18 air compressor, three Delta table saws and two Kremlin high-pressure spray stations.
The shop is set up with a computer-based communication system. For example, the Busellato is linked to Carnevali's laptop, and the person who operates the Busellato receives his daily schedule by e-mail. The other three office areas (sales, production and customer service) are linked, so anyone can see where a job is and what is happening with production, scheduling and inventory.
Accent uses several software programs in the office, such as QuickBooks, KitchenCAD and Excel for design, layout and pricing. It also uses the JetNest optimizing program for the CNC router.
About the same time that the Busellato was purchased, Accent moved to a larger location. At its current site, the shop has 12,000 square feet. Carnevali says that the combination of added space and equipment resulted in about a 15 to 20 percent increase in production and sales. The company ended 2003 with gross revenues of $1 million. Its furniture pieces range in price, wholesale, from $49 to $1,700.
The company still continues to grow. It started 2004 with a new catalogue and development of a new Web site, www.accentwoodworkinginc.com. Its resolutions for the new year include offering new products, like entertainment centers that accommodate plasma TVs and desks that are set up for laptop computers. Also, the company is considering expanding its territory and selling through retailers in Georgia as well.
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