Company Enjoys High Profits from High-End Work
Two partners make sure the business and production sides of Cabinetworks are running smoothly.
By Sam Gazdziak
John Hendrix and Nancy McCune, partners in Miami, FL-based Cabinetworks, have all the strengths that a woodworking company needs to stay in business. Hendrix has the woodworking and design skills to produce high-quality pieces. McCune has the business skills and planning to keep the shop profitable. As a result of their work, the company has quadrupled its business in the last two and a half years.
Cabinetworks has a diverse workload. The company philosophy is probably best summed up by an ad that appeared in the Yellow Pages last year. The slogan read, “If you can dream it, we can build it.”
“That’s brought to us a lot of people who have been blown off by other cabinet shops, because they only do kitchens or wall units or what have you,” says Hendrix. “We get people who want things done that others say can’t be built, and we find a way to build it.”
Cabinetworks’ work ranges from kitchens and wall units to office furniture and conference tables. Hendrix and McCune, along with three full-time employees, are adept at working with different materials, often on the same project.
“We’ll do anything from simple melamine boxes to the most challenging wood finishes on wall units, and everything in between,” says Hendrix.
“I think that’s why we remain busier than other cabinet shops that are all Formica or all wood,” adds McCune. “When they’re losing out, we’ve moved onto something else.”
Cabinetworks was co-founded by Hendrix about 18 years ago. His partner moved to central Florida three years ago and sold his half of the business to McCune. McCune and Hendrix had been friends for years, but she was a woodworking rookie, having been involved in the food service industry.
“I have a good background in running a business, so obviously that knowledge is transferrable,” she says.
Before McCune came on board, Cabinetworks had consisted of Hendrix and his partner along with one employee. “As far as I was concerned when I came in here and looked at the books, they really weren’t doing enough to keep the doors open,” she says.
Soon after she started, Cabinetworks began a relationship with an office decorating company. Cabinetworks produces all of the custom furniture that the company requires. The Yellow Pages ad, the company’s first advertisement, also helped attract new clientele, although the majority of business comes from referrals.
On paper, the business is divided 55-45 in McCune’s favor, so Cabinetworks can qualify for minority bids. In reality, the two are equal partners, with McCune serving as the CEO and Hendrix as the COO. “John is very talented with customers,” says McCune. “He’s very good at seeing what the customer wants. Plus, he’s a very talented designer.”
Cabinetworks has an even mix of residential and commercial projects, says Hendrix. “If I do a maple office interior, I’ll get three in a row,” he says. “Then I’ll turn around, and someone will want a Formica kitchen, and I’ll do two or three. Then someone will want a wall unit that’s wood, and inevitably I’ll sell two or three more. We’ll have a $25,000 kitchen, and then we’ll have a $3,000 piece of furniture.”
With such variety, being able to keep the work flowing requires good employees. “One of the reasons we’ve been successful is we’ve got three really loyal guys who are very good cabinetmakers,” says McCune. “They work well together as a team. Each one of them knows what the other is going to do.” Hendrix estimates that between himself and the three employees, there are almost 100 years of experience in the shop.
Laminates make up a large portion of Cabinetworks’ workload. The company uses a 10-year-old R.A. MacDonald slot former to bend up to 12-foot sheets of laminate. Employees can attach the laminate to one side of a board, and heat it on the slot former. When the laminate is heated, they roll it over the edge of the board, hiding the edge of the laminate sheet on the bottom of the board.
This method was used for a conference table Cabinetworks built with a base that needed one 12-foot-long, 5-foot-wide sheet of laminate. Hendrix wrapped the laminate from an inside corner all the way around, so there would be no seam or edge showing.
Cabinetworks also uses a real wood applied edge to cover the laminate edges. One example is a set of bookshelves; the company did the backs and surfaces of the shelves in a Formica woodgrain laminate. The company then had pieces of red oak stained by an outside source to match the look of the laminate. The wood was applied to the edges of the shelves, concealing the edges of the laminate. “We capture all the edges,” Hendrix notes. “You never see an edge, even though it’s a Formica job.”
The stain of the wood and the color of the laminate can be matched so closely, that it is almost impossible to tell which is which. “We did a big job like this in red oak, and then we put some wood-applied moulding on a flat Formica door,” says Hendrix. “You look at that unit, and it looks like an all-wood unit.”
As another advantage, McCune adds, “You end up with people who find suddenly that a huge wall unit becomes affordable.” A wood unit can cost double the same unit in laminate, Hendrix says.
To further improve the look of the laminate pieces, Cabinetworks uses Formica Ligna, which looks like real wood with a clear-coat finish, whenever possible. All of the interiors of the cabinets are laminated as well.
Cabinetworks also avoids using fasteners whenever possible and builds its cabinets with glue. Hendrix has used a Jet-Weld glue gun from 3M for four years. “We avoid at all costs puttying up any holes for screws and nails,” he says. “I don’t care what it takes. We never, on any kind of woodwork, expose a fastener to be puttied up.”
The glue gun also came in handy for a recent job. Southern Bell in Miami had gotten a delivery of large cabinets from a shop in Canada, but two wedge-shaped pieces were too big to go in the door. Cabinetworks was called in to help. “We went down there and jigsawed a section off of the cabinets,” Hendrix says, “got it in the room and used the Jet-Weld gun to glue it back together as it was originally.”
Aside from the slot former, Cabinetworks’ shop includes an Altendorf sliding table saw, an SCMI edgebander and a Jet planer/moulder and bandsaw.
“We have about 4,000 square feet of space in our shop, and now we’re finally getting the most out of it,” Hendrix says. “We could really use a larger warehouse, because we can’t store furniture. Once we make it, it’s got to go out the door, or it crowds our worktables and we can’t function as well.”
To ensure there are enough electrical outlets to run all the machines and hand tools in the shop, Hendrix designed and installed several power booms, which are wooden arms mounted on the walls. Each has several electrical outlets.
Another Hendrix invention is a CPU shelf the company installs in its computer workstations. In order to hide all the wires that run from the back of a CPU as well as protect the unit from getting kicked, Hendrix built a small shelf with a door. The CPU fits on the shelf and stays out of the user’s way, but the front is still accessible. The shelves have proven so popular that several companies, including the U.S. Army’s Southern Command Installation, have asked them to be retrofitted to their existing desks.
“They don’t have one person occupying the desk,” McCune says of the Southcom installation, which monitors South America. “It’s a 24-hour operation. They can have three or four people sitting at the desk, and it’s, ‘It was the last guy who kicked the CPU and ruined it, not me.’ So they need to get them out of the way.”
McCune’s first goal when she started with Cabinetworks was to make the company profitable. That goal has been accomplished — the company generated over $400,000 in sales last year. “We’ve had some major commercial jobs come in here, more than the company had done previously,” she says. “We’ve done law offices and things that turn out pretty big.”
Through McCune’s and Hendrix’s planning, work is steadily flowing through the shop. Hendrix has the shop floor laid out to keep the work moving, in spite of the variety of materials needed. McCune has several jobs pending that will be the company’s largest jobs ever and will keep the employees busy.
The careful planning of Cabinetworks even applies to the type of open trailer the company uses to deliver its products.
“Many of our customers are in condominiums, where our small trailer will go down into the underground parking and back right up to the elevators,” says Hendrix. “A big truck would have to stay in the street, and we would have to dolly everything in from the street.”
“Anytime you’re using a closed truck,” McCune continues,” and you’re only doing delivery out of it, you have to figure out how much it’s going to cost you, because you’ve got license and insurance, as well as the truck itself. That’s not a good investment for a small shop.”
And despite being in South Florida, Hendrix says he has only been caught in the rain twice in 20 years of delivering furniture.
“If it’s threatening, we can cover everything with a tarp,” he says. “But I got caught once without the tarp in a rainstorm, and I had to back into the carport of a complete stranger and sit there for two hours until the rain went by. I was glad they didn’t come home.”
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