CWB June 2004
A separate division helps a Toledo, OH, closet manufacturer tackle the commercial market.
By Sam Gazdziak
Amazing Space has been a part of the closet industry well before the current boom - the company was started in 1987. Along the way, the company would pick up the occasional commercial woodworking project. A couple of years ago, the company decided to actively pursue these projects instead of waiting for them to happen, and a new division, Amazing Case, was born.
Both the division and its parent company are based out of a 3,000-square-foot showroom/production facility in Toledo, OH, with a satellite operation in Ann Arbor, MI. David Parrish, president of both companies, says that the work has been steady on both sides, with plenty of room to expand.
Amazing Space was started by Brynn Meyers Parrish in 1987, a relative of his. A few years ago, she sold the company to him, but she has stayed on as the company's designer. Parrish, who moved from Chicago to oversee it, had no previous experience in woodworking but proved to be a quick study. At that point, the company was strictly working on closets but would get occasional requests from companies needing new resource rooms or mail rooms.
"The capabilities of doing a closet, everything from design to manufacturing to installation, can be real similar to commercial applications," Parrish says. "We took a look at it and decided that instead of having these jobs fall into our laps, why not go out and find them."
Once Amazing Case started in the commercial direction, the company invested in more sophisticated equipment and got involved in high-pressure laminating and veneering. Parrish says that although the closet and commercial work have similarities, the additional skill set was needed, as well as being familiar with the Architectural Woodwork Institute standards.
Parrish says the move into doing laminates in-house was surprisingly easy. "It was because of the group of people that we have, who are very smart," he explains. "They had some experience in this, so they knew more than I did."
A Brave New Market
Furthermore, the installation time will be less than giving the project to installers who are not as familiar with the project and the company's manufacturing processes. Parrish says commercial projects tend to involve architectural drawings and outside installers more than residential projects, but the company can provide more value when it has control over a project.
After having been established as a closet manufacturer, Amazing Case encountered some initial problems when entering the commercial casework field. "One of the challenges we had," Parrish says, "[was] marketing ourselves to the commercial contractors who may not view our capabilities as what a commercial casework company should be, since they are picturing us as a closet company."
Amazing Case marketed itself through news releases, phone calls, mailings and introductions to architects and builders in the area. In addition to using those resources, the company held a seminar for about 35 architects and designers in its offices. Parrish gave a PowerPoint demonstration about issues with design and construction in the company's showroom, while Gary Chandler, Amazing Case's director of operations, gave a hands-on demonstration in the shop.
"We get a lot of specs through here where every surface of the cases is to be clad in high-pressure laminate," Parrish says. "In some applications, that's appropriate, but in most it's not, especially with the advances melamine has taken. There's always a balance in cost and product."
Part of the presentation included a demonstration on construction methods for drawers. All were made from the same laminate and materials, and all looked similar, but one method allows Amazing Case to buy a pre-laminated board while another requires an employee to hand laminate and trim all the parts. Needless to say, there was a considerable difference in cost for a small difference in look.>Now that the Amazing Case division has become more established, commercial casework accounts for about one-third of the company's sales. Typical projects can include reception centers, kitchenettes, copy rooms, mail rooms and similar resource rooms. Along with the casework, countertops and islands can be included in those rooms. Most of the work is laminate, although the company does get into veneered projects from time to time. Amazing Space Inc. is on pace to generate about $600,000 in sales overall in 2004, Parrish says.
Designer Brynn Meyers Parrish works on the residential projects, so David Parrish does whatever designing is needed for the commercial jobs. Settling on a design is made easier, thanks to a client log-in feature on the company's Web site, www.amazingcase.com. Plans, quotes and 3-D renderings from Cabinet Vision can be uploaded to the Web site and privately viewed by the client, eliminating the need for extra faxes and phone calls.
Parrish says that one recent job was the Toledo location of a nationwide company that manages security guards. Its headquarters is in New Jersey. "The local person I dealt with, she just sent an e-mail with the copy to the headquarters and says, 'Check this out. Can we get this approved?', and they've got the drawings and the quote right there."
The shop floor consists of a Holz-Her vertical panel saw and edgebander, a Linea line-boring machine and a Blum hinge insertion machine. There are a total of seven full-time employees, plus an occasional high school student who comes in to learn the process and cut stock parts. "In the last four years our volume has more than doubled," Parrish says, "and we're doing that with probably just one more person because of automation. We're producing a lot more sophisticated stuff with consistently higher quality."
Along with melamines and laminates on its residential and commercial jobs, Parrish says the company would also like to get more involved with veneered projects. The employees have recently built several pieces of veneered furniture, one of which was entered into a show at the Toledo Museum of Art. Another piece was recently sent to a local gallery.
"Not that we're developing a whole line of contemporary furniture," Parrish says, "but it lets us play around and get our [veneering] skills up."
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