Beyer Cabinets Makes Dreams Come True
This custom shop provides whatever clients want with a philosophy of total customer service.
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
Beyer Cabinets Founder and President Jerry Beyer has a slogan and a promise to clients: "If you can dream it, we can build it." The majority of his business, some 80 percent, is mid- to high-end residential work. This includes cabinetry in kitchens and all other areas of the home, such as mantels, entertainment centers, home offices and trim. The remaining 20 percent is commercial, primarily work that combines wood with laminate.
"We do banks, beauty salons, dental offices and conference rooms," he says. "A lot of the commercial companies are doing mostly laminate work. We leave the school jobs to the bigger companies, because those jobs tend to be all laminate and 150 boxes of the same thing. We are geared towards smaller runs and custom work."
Beyer says the work they do is truly custom. "My clients often walk in with photos and a wish list of colors, woods, door styles, countertops, appliances and features they want. We make it a reality."
When Beyer sat down recently to talk about his West Salem, WI, custom cabinetry business, he did so in the company break room. He used to conduct interviews in the conference room, but business has been so busy that he was forced to convert that space into another sales office.
Beyer founded his company in 1987, and it has enjoyed a decade-plus of rapid growth. He opened the shop after amassing extensive woodworking experience working for a millwork company, a large kitchen cabinet manufacturer and running a wood dimension plant that made parts for kitchen cabinets. When the dimension plant was closed, instead of relocating with the company, Beyer decided to start a cabinet business from his garage.
In less than two years, he bought a building in Rockland, WI, and hired three people to work with him along with his wife, Donna, who is vice president of the company. By 1991, Beyer moved into his present location in West Salem, a community just minutes away from La Crosse. Beyer says the majority of his business is within 30 miles of La Crosse, although he also has done work in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Minnesota and Iowa.
"Usually the out-of-area work happens because someone we worked with here is doing a project there," he says.
Five to 10 years ago, the majority of the company's work was remodeling. But today, that has swung to almost all new construction. Beyer describes his market as very conservative, although it is becoming much more high-end.
"We are going through a transformation right now," he says. "Not that many years ago, we worked with just a few species. It was oak, oak, oak, maple, oak, oak, oak, oak, cherry, oak, oak, oak, maple. Now it's oak, alder, cherry, maple, hickory, maybe another oak, maybe not. Also, the kitchen designs are much more sophisticated, down to the countertops being chosen. We are catching up with the coasts, doing more solid surface and granite and very little plastic laminate."
Beyer's extensive showroom highlights the many looks available to clients. He turned a hutch into a sales tool, with rows of hanging doors showcasing different species, styles, colors and finishes.
"In the last five or six years, we have moved toward using different woods to create the desired color and effect, rather than using one or two woods and staining them differently," he says.
The company works with a dozen or so species on a regular basis, but as a custom shop, it will work with any species the client requests. "We fine-tune what the client wants beyond just naming a wood," Beyer says. "With a wood like rustic alder, some want 'ultra rustic,' where they really want a lot of knotholes, while others just want a few character marks. Some people want a consistent color and others request color variation."
Beyer says some of the cabinets they make for kitchens or other rooms resemble furniture, complete with bun feet instead of normal toekicks. "Another growth area for us is home theater. Every home seems to have a fireplace now, so we are frequently making fireplace mantels and surrounds with panels, home theater, even bookcases. We also do a lot of home offices and wet bars.
Beyer says people also are requesting more accessories and options across the board. "I think the design and decorating magazines have a lot to do with it. When I started this business, I contended that people were going to get tired of everything being plastic. People are often stuck in an office surrounded by computers and screens, and I thought they would want to come home to a warm-feeling environment. I believed woodwork would remain popular.
"What has surprised me is that besides wanting the warmth of wood, people want to be individuals," he continues. "They want a nice kitchen, but they want it different from what their neighbor has. When you spend $200,000 to a half million dollars on a home, you get a little pickier about what goes in it."
Beyer points to a variety of reasons for the increased sophistication of his customers. For one, the area is enjoying a growth spurt because of the low interest rates and the fact that it is a nice area to live, with rivers, valleys, hills, bluffs and wide open spaces.
"So, companies from bigger cities like the Twin Cities, Chicago and Milwaukee have been moving here, because they see it as a pleasant place to live with a great work force," he says. "The I 90-94 corridor brings a lot of people to the area."
Beyer Cabinets is housed in two adjacent buildings, including 20,000 square feet of design area, showroom, sales offices and manufacturing space. As the company expanded and added space over the years, Beyer reconfigured the work space and flow accordingly.
"As we expanded, we would put a machine where we thought it fit best and pretty soon it didn't fit there any more," he says. "About two years ago, we installed a new dust collection system, a 75-hp Carter Day model that we bought used and refitted to our needs. At that time we completely redid our manufacturing setup. It has proven to be a very good change.
"Before that, we wasted a lot of time moving materials, and we wasted steps because people were crossing in front of each other," he continues. "Now material comes in one door and flows all the way through the two buildings until it comes out a finished product. We paid attention to logical flow. We made space to put all our sheet goods in one area, separate from the lumber, which has helped a lot."
With the new layout, in Beyer's first building, all the woodworking is done in one room and all sheet goods are processed in another room. Finished goods from both rooms are moved to the second building for finishing and final assembly.
New Systems Increase Efficiency
Beyer says the type of cabinets the company makes has not changed much over the years. But the way they are produced has.
"We have embraced computer-aided design and CNC machinery to make a lot of our parts," he says. "But despite the machinery additions, we have never cut employees. We might move people around, but we haven't cut employees because of new machines."
Beyer Cabinets uses Cabnetware software from Planit Solutions. "It gives us good design capabilities and creates a cutlist for the floor," Beyer says. "It also ties in another piece of software that feeds information to our CNC equipment in the shop. We can design and download directly to our Komo CNC router.
"The router is one of our key pieces of equipment," he adds. "We have had it for three years. We replaced a beam saw and CNC machining center because we wanted to go to nested-based operation. The router cuts the parts and does any dadoeing or drilling we need, and the parts are ready for assembly."
The router also saves shop space and time and cuts down on material handling, Beyer says, "and we have seen materials savings with the nested approach.
The company also has a Bridgewood Model 757 moulder, used to make crown mouldings, face frames and drawer parts; a Butfering twin-head widebelt sander and a Brandt edgebander. All doors, drawer fronts and face frames go through the sander. All shelves and laminated products are edged on the edgebander.
Other machinery includes a Powermatic planer, Northfield shaper, a straight-line ripsaw by IMC USA and two OMGA cutoff miter saws. A Kreg pocket drilling machine is used on all face frames.
Also as part of the new shop layout, Beyer grouped several machines together in the area where door parts are machined to save steps. There are five shapers, a Ritter edge sander and the widebelt sander. Another work cell is set up for dovetailed drawers. All drawers for residential cabinetry are dovetailed.
The sheet good production area of the building houses the CNC router, the edgebander and an SCMI construction drill machine for edge drilling parts that are not drilled on the Komo.
The second building houses a maintenance area and finishing room with two spray booths, equipped with Kremlin air-assisted airless finish sprayers. The company does a lot of painted and glazed finishes, more so than in the past, Beyer says.
"We work with a company called Ceramic Industrial Coatings, which gives us durable topcoats and strong paint products. All are catalyzed. We often combine colors and paint glazes in multiple-step finishes. Parts might be painted, then glazed, sanded through and restained, and then have a topcoat over that.
"Today, with finishes, it's basically any process you can think of," he adds. "We are working on a kitchen now that features four different colors."
After parts are dried, they move to the adjoining cabinet assembly area for final assembly. Franklin is the company's glue supplier. "We use their products for most of our assembly," Beyer says. "We most often use Franklin's Titebond, but we also use its new HiPURformer bonding system for applications where we want a tighter joint than we can get with standard hot-melt. It applies as quickly as a hot-melt."
The company has upgraded a lot of equipment over the years to speed up production and increase accuracy. "It is very difficult to find trained employees here, but we have a very good work force base in this area with a great work ethic," Beyer says. "There are a lot of good people here, and we often train them from scratch. It is part of the reason this area is attracting new businesses."
While Beyer believes in helping people realize their dream kitchens and interiors, he also builds his business on a philosophy of service.
"It's been upsetting to me over the years that when you have a problem with a product, first, you can't talk to a real person on the phone and second, if you do get through to a real person, they don't want to help you. Our warranty is basically if there is something wrong, call us. We will come to the site and fix it. We don't ask people to bring a part in for us to fix. We replace broken parts, no labor charged. It's our philosophy, and it has been instrumental in helping us grow.
"We put out a good product and stand behind it," Beyer adds. "Things do go wrong occasionally, but we fix mistakes."
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