CWB October 1998

Business-Savvy Friend is a Welcome Addition

Tim Mutrie came to work for high school buddy Jim Dodd to help get Dodd Woodworking more productive and on schedule. The results have been tremendous, Dodd said.

BY TOM CAESTECKER, JR.


According to Jim Dodd, it was just over a year ago that he was practically going berserk. While his custom cabinet business was always a well-respected shop located in the eastern Massachusetts town of Ashland, he desperately needed organization and the discipline of scheduling -- in short, he needed business management. He found his solution by hiring an old high school buddy, Tim Mutrie, who has teamed up with Dodd to make Dodd Woodworking a real force in both Massachusetts and the Northeast corridor.

"What occurred here happens a lot in this industry, in that a lot of times you have someone like Jim, who is a wonderful talent, but is not business-oriented," Mutrie said. "My forte is coming into businesses like this and either closing them down or making them productive. When I started getting a schedule down and called people to tell them the soonest we could do their work was three months, I expected them to yell about it. Instead, they said, 'OK, I'll wait.' I kept the business open because people really liked Jim's work and were willing to wait."

"I would find myself doing everything," Dodd recalled. "I would be up all hours of the night doing bills, trying to keep from getting behind on jobs. It was crazy."

The addition of Mutrie, the businessman, has allowed Dodd, the craftsman, to do what he does best, which is being a virtual woodworking artist and overseeing the manufacturing and production capabilities on the shop floor.

Dodd Woodworking was established in 1985, and specializes in building full, wall-to-ceiling wall panels for rooms such as libraries, as well as kitchen cabinetry, entertainment centers, office furniture and vanities. Its customers have included Boston Red Sox pitcher Jim Corsi, affluent residents on Martha's Vineyard and Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The company's projected annual sales figure for 1998 is $1.8 million.

"Before, we just built kitchen cabinets and vanities. But now we're getting offers for jobs in all areas of the house," Dodd said. "We work with a lot of builders and architects, as there have been a lot of jobs in the area of new construction."

The lion's share of the company's jobs take place in the residential arena, although about 20 percent involve commercial work, usually conference rooms in offices.

Full, wall-to-ceiling panels for libraries are a big seller for Dodd. This Wrentham, MA, library features Honduras mahogany with a red mahogany stain.

One of the true specialties of Dodd Woodworking is that the company does not just make a box cabinet, Dodd said. Rather, panel ends are always featured on cabinetry, as opposed to plywood ends.

"The inside of the cabinet is plywood, but our panel ends are always made of solid wood, just like on the front, so it's more of a piece of furniture. If you don't do something like that, if all you're doing is making a box cabinet, then you're not truly in the business of custom woodwork," he said.

Dodd also takes pride in meticulous veneer matching, as it can take up to a month to make certain there is a true match.

"One of our specialties, when it comes to veneer work, is total continuity," Mutrie said. "We don't just match veneer species, but the actual veneer pattern. People will comment on how nice a piece looks, and they don't realize that it's due to the fact that the veneers have such fluidity."

This concept of "fluidity" is present in Dodd's kitchens as well. Dodd said he is not a believer in the so-called "working triangle" kitchen design. He prefers a rounded entry to the kitchen, as cabinets are never squared off at doorways, but instead are constructed in such a way that they "fan" pedestrian traffic into this area of the house.

"No sunlight or areas that should be left open are blocked by cabinets," Dodd said. "And every single area of the kitchens can be used; we don't make dummy ends."

In addition to the solid panel ends and "fluid" kitchen cabinetry, Dodd said that large, one-piece cabinet units are also his company's forte, as are dovetailed drawers.

"Our dovetailing machine was patented in 1887," he said. "This is the only dovetailing machine for me, because no one else can copy the dovetail we create on it. It cuts 1/8-in. wider than standard dovetailing machines, and creates a different angle to a dovetailed joint, making it unique to our company."

One important change made at Dodd Woodworking since Mutrie came upon the scene was strict adherence to scheduling. A lot of custom shops try to provide small jobs to customers, and they end up throwing these into the mix with the larger work, which can throw off the schedule. Mutrie instituted a sort of minimum requirement, but one that he does not think unreasonable.

"If someone comes to us and says they just want one bathroom vanity, that would be something that we refer them to fellow woodworkers in the area," Mutrie said. "But if someone were looking for a wall unit, the lowest end price we could do one for would be around $3,000. As long as they are scheduled, we will fit those smaller jobs among our larger ones, which are often for $1 million homes."

The larger jobs for Dodd can be as much as $160,000, and they usually are for multiple rooms in one house.

Mutrie and Dodd said that the trends in terms of wood species have been toward the exotic or unusual types, especially Honduran crotch mahogany, sapele (which is part of the mahogany family) and elm burl veneers. But they will use nearly any species.

"We make desks out of Honduran crotch mahogany; I don't think anyone else does that," Mutrie said. "People who live here and whose homes feature our work are people who look for something unique and of high quality. They don't want the same thing as everyone else. They want different kinds of wood and different styling, such as turned columns in kitchens."

Now that an increased amount of business management and scheduling has been added to the mix at Dodd Woodworking, the company is expanding its horizons overseas. The company is currently is doing a big job for a Buddhist temple in Waltham, MA, and the company's contact there has a brother who owns seven companies in Japan and wants Dodd to ply his trade across the Pacific.

"We already have a 10,000-square-foot facility being built there," Mutrie said. "We will be going to Japan in October to build that partnership."

As for its domestic work, Dodd's work is mostly in Massachusetts, New England and New York. One of its New York City jobs was a "stereo coffin" that has a 5,000-watt stereo built into it. The coffin was used at a Halloween party at Radio City Music Hall a couple of years ago.

"We never turn a job down because of distance," Dodd said.

The company's 7,000-square-foot shop in Ashland, which employs 15 people, has a lot of basic machinery. "Little machines do as much as the big ones if you know how to use them. All of our drawings are done by hand as well." In addition to the aforementioned dovetailer, there are a couple of Powermatic table saws, a shaper from Lin Mac with an arbor that tilts up 45 degrees, giving Dodd different options for mouldings or raised panel doors, and a Williams & Hussey moulding machine. Other machinery includes a Rockwell planer, a radial arm saw from Delta, a Pistorius miter machine, a stroke sander from Costruzioni and a clamp rake from James L. Taylor.

For the finishing, Dodd Woodworking uses Binks HVLP spray guns to apply a Guardsman enamel that Dodd said is almost like an epoxy. They also use a lacquer as a base for all finishes. The company also uses Guardsman paints, which are all customized. For most finishing, Dodd's has a Binks spray booth. Many painted pieces are finished on site.

"I spend $550 for a five-gallon pail of finish," Dodd said. "Most places would laugh at me and say I could get away with cheaper finishes, but that's not what we're about."

Hardware includes Grass and Mepla drawer slides, Grass concealed hinges and an assortment of knobs and pulls from Amerock.

Although Dodd said his company has never experienced a slow period, he is very happy that the organization has been running more smoothly since he decided to turn business matters over to Mutrie. The profits, while substantial before, have gone up markedly, and Dodd's personal life has a substantial amount of peace.

"I was going nuts a year and a half ago," Dodd said. "Jim allows me to do my job," Mutrie added. "We complement each other very well."

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