A High Demand for a Unique Style
Brad Jenkins’ designs incorporate a variety of influences and materials.
By Sam Gazdziak
Customers come to Brad Jenkins Inc. to get furniture or casework that is both well-designed and well-constructed. It hasn’t always been like this, but it was what Jenkins wanted when he first started the company. “My real goal has been to try to create a business more around design and service than around producing products or being a job shop,” he says. “At first, we would do one or two jobs a year where we would get to design and build the entire product. Now, finally, we are pretty much exclusively doing design-and-build projects.”
Most of his customers come from referrals, while others come across his Web site. “I definitely have a certain style that you’re going to get if you come here,” Jenkins says. “Nine times out of 10, prospective clients have seen the style, so they have a good idea of what they’re getting.”
Jenkins, who earned a degree in architecture from Parsons Design School in New York City, says his style comes from several different sources. Along with modern Japanese architecture and the American Craft movement, he also is interested in industrial design.
“It’s design that is purely utilitarian and completely recognizes the material,” he says. “A bridge truss is entirely designed to fulfill a specific function, and therefore the material is completely exploited just for that function. To me, the structure of the thing is the beauty, like a turn-of-the-century riveted steel bridge or a brick warehouse building.”
Brad Jenkins Inc. of Boonton, NJ, has several categories of products. It does high-end residential work, including libraries, entertainment centers and specialty cabinets. Commercial work includes restaurant interiors and conference tables. The company also has a line of residential tables, called the Pratt and Pratt III lines, available on Jenkins’ Web site, www.bradjenkinsinc.com. “The Pratt line is almost completely made out of wood, except for some stainless steel parts, whereas the Pratt III is almost completely stainless steel,” Jenkins says. A cable tensioning system in the center keeps the table square, and the wood and stainless steel truss along the sides are made to look like a bridge. The prices of the Pratt tables range from $2,760 for a side table to $5,350 for the largest coffee table.
“The only complaint that people had about the Pratt tables was that they were really expensive, so we came up with the Pratt III, which is half the price,” Jenkins says. Those tables range from $1,470 to $2,318. Most of the Pratt III work is outsourced, except for the table legs, the assembly and the shipping.
An Outsourcing Advantage
Jenkins also outsources any handcarving and some veneering to nearby companies. “I find that we’re so much better off if we just concentrate on what we’re good at here instead of things that others are really set up for,” he explains. “I’ll send work off to guys who will do just as good a job, and I’m going to spend that time doing more volume for the year.”
The shop’s custom metalwork experience has also gotten it jobs that other companies couldn’t do. One large conference table needed multiple connections for microphones, cell phones, computers, laptops and cameras for videoconferencing. “Other companies just couldn’t accommodate the amount of electrical connections and equipment that they needed in the table,” Jenkins says. “Luckily, the architect had heard of us and got us involved.”
The finished pieces are a combination of metal and wood and showcase Jenkins’ inspirations. One of his favorite pieces is a custom entertainment center made with quilted cherry veneer. The top of the center has a wooden truss made of small pieces of wood. The metal speaker brackets and leg covers were all custom-made, and the large television is set on stainless steel tracks. To get to the back of the TV, the owner simply slides the TV out on the tracks and slides it back in. Along with easy accessibility, the tracks ensure that the woodwork isn’t damaged while the TV is being moved.
Jenkins uses Form Z from Auto.des.sys Inc. It is a design and modeling software popular in architecture and product design. Jenkins designs all his pieces on it, but the real advantage comes with its modeling capabilities. He is able to produce photo-realistic color models, complete with shading and realistic textures, so prospective customers can see exactly what the furniture or casework will look like. “Clients eat this up,” he says. “We did a presentation for the owner of a restaurant, and we could walk him through exactly what it was going to look like, as if he were walking through the front door, past the bar and to the dining table.“Once you get good at it, you can make a knock-’em-dead presentation in about a day,” Jenkins adds. “That’s a service that you can sometimes sell.”
Form Z’s other capabilities also were big elements in Jenkins' attempt to make the shop as efficient as possible. Once designs are finalized, he uses Form Z to create DFX files, which are imported into Jenkins’ Weeke BP 85 CNC machining center, from Stiles Machinery, via Wood WOP. At the same time, Jenkins creates a processing list in Microsoft Excel, which is a cutlist with extra information for the machine operator. “It has every part accounted for, the size of every part and all the machining operations,” he says. “I’ve found that completely planning the projects up-front before you pick up a piece of wood is the way to go for my business. The guys in the back can concentrate on being craftsmen, and they don’t have to make on-the-fly decisions on how they’re going to join something.”
An Efficiency Expert
“If you walked into my shop two years ago, you would have seen that I had shop drawings out there, and the guys in the shop were figuring out how big the parts were and how to join them. On a good-sized job, it was very easy to spend two weeks or more laying out and figuring out cutlists,” he adds. Jenkins now handles that workload in the office, which he says is more efficient and ends up saving time in the shop.
Aside from outsourcing the metal components and some veneering, the rest of the work is done in the shop. Panels are cut either on a Holz-Her vertical panel saw or an Inca sliding table saw. Employees also use a Grass hinge press and a Laguna Tools 20-inch bandsaw, and a spray booth with a Kremlin spray system is located in a room in the back of the shop.
Jenkins says that the best part of his company’s recent growth is that it has been able to expand so much without hiring any extra employees. The company had sales of about $500,000 in 2001 and will top that this year. “I’ve really concentrated on taking the labor resources that I have and trying to grow in volume without adding any people,” he says. “Now we’re getting to the point that we’re definitely going to need to add people.”
A larger shop and another machining center are in Jenkins’ future plans. “When we were only doing one or two large commercial projects a year, it was very manageable in a space like this (4,500 square feet),” he says. “Now that we’re doing four, on average, space is very tight.”
When Jenkins does move to a new building, he plans to make it a profitable move. As a tradesman, he has developed a side business renovating buildings at a reduced price and leasing them out. “It’s become a very profitable extracurricular activity, and I’m definitely going to continue doing that,” he says. “I’ll renovate this building, then I’ll move out of it to something bigger and rent it out.”
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