CWB August 2004
Casework Specialties combines good business practices with the ability to deliver complicated and unusual pieces.>
By Ann Gurley Rogers
Brian Strobl, CEO of Casework Specialties, grew up in a family of master craftsmen. His grandfather, Jacob Strobl, founded a general contracting business in Detroit, MI. His father joined that company as a young adult, and he developed a reputation for hiring excellent craftsmen who had emigrated from Europe. Because he provided a good working environment, they stayed with the company for years. Consequently, as a youth, Brian worked summers and weekends with some of the best millworkers and commercial carpenters that Detroit had to offer. Early on, Brian's father cautioned him by saying, "Brian, you can work with the men as long as the men will want to work with you."
Casework Specialties is a company located in Orlando, FL, that does 75 percent of its work for commercial customers, and the remaining 25 percent of the business comes from residential customers. Its commercial products include reception and computer workstations, boardroom conference tables, interactive kiosks, and theme casework for Walt Disney World and Universal Studios of Florida. Other client types are medical offices, resorts, veterinary clinics, jewelry stores, universities, car dealerships, correctional facilities, law offices and libraries. Specific commercial clients include Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Continental Airlines, Orlando International Airport, Fiserv Corporation and AAA. On the list of residential commissions are kitchens, baths, entertainment centers, home offices, children's themed bedrooms, closet systems and custom furniture.
Since 1976, Brian Strobl has been self-employed in the millwork manufacturing industry. Before he opened Casework Specialties in 1990, he had a couple of smaller shops. Strobl feels the secrets to longevity in business come straight out of Business 101. "Product quality and service are key elements, and of course you have to watch the bottom line," he explains. "To keep afloat, you must have a backlog of business, and your company must be liquid enough to withstand dry spells.
"One reason I like to combine residential jobs with commercial work is that the workload and cash flow can play off of each other," Strobl says. When I got my first big job to do four stores in the Don C+ÃÆÃâÃâÃÂ¬zar Hotel in St. Petersburg, FL, I depended upon the cash flow from residential jobs to keep me going on the front end of those big commercial assignments."
Another reason Strobl enjoys the residential commissions is because he is the one who gets to do the design work for entertainment systems. Usually he has the opportunity to do between three and six a month, and they range in price between $8,000 and $20,000. He works with customers who are looking for quality and are willing to pay high-end prices. "I consider these projects to be a labor of love, and a feather in my cap. Usually, by the time the project is complete, my clients have become friends," says Strobl.
Across the board, Brian Strobl believes that Casework Specialties excels in design capabilities that give his company the reputation for manufacturing large and complex commercial millwork packages as well as highly detailed and ornate custom-finished furniture and built-ins. He has been able to develop this reputation because he has attracted and kept outstanding managers, drafters, millworkers, and fabricators who are experienced at working as a team. The core of his crew has worked for him for an average of nine years. These qualities have contributed to the successful completion of some particularly interesting jobs, including an assignment to build an office counter at the corporate offices for Ripley's Believe It Or Not, which was a configuration of the founder's signature.
Another recent challenging project was for an aqua bar that has a 25-foot counter with a 192-1/2 foot radius and overlapping laminate intended to look like waves. "At first, I thought that the selection of laminate was extremely ugly until I saw it completed on the shop floor and understood that it worked perfectly," says Strobl. For a residential client, Strobl lists as one of his more unusual projects a child's bedroom with a clown theme, including a loft, tunnels, ladders, and hide-aways.
While a majority of jobs come from Florida, Casework Specialties does business all over the country, shipping to New York, Illinois, Colorado, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, New Jersey, California, Nevada, Ohio and Aruba in the Caribbean. The company's products and services are marketed through its client base of general contractors, interior designers, architects, developers and corporations.
It maintains a constant schedule of commercial bidding, and the company tries to keep in direct face-to-face contact with the decisionmakers on a regular basis. In addition, Casework Specialties uses periodic mailings of high-quality brochures to keep in touch with current clients and to seek out new customers. Also, Strobl recognizes the power of e-mail to communicate with staff and clients and to get the job done in an efficient and expeditious manner.
Strobl believes that one of Casework Specialties' significant accomplishments has been the ability to survive the difficult economic times that followed the disaster of September 11, 2001. He reports that several large shops in central Florida had to close during the economic down-turn that was exacerbated by the 9/11 tragedy. He attributes his ability to survive during these times to a five-year contract with a major developer to provide casework and furniture packages and a single order in the seven figures for a major hotelier in New York.
During the past year, Casework Specialties had gross revenues of 2.2 million dollars. The company operates a 20,000-square-foot shop, which includes 8,000 square feet of wood finishing and several loading docks for shipping. Twenty-four people are employed by the company. Its large pieces of equipment include a Selco EB 90 optimized panel saw, Pattern Systems Cut Planner with Optimization software, a Polymac Ergho 3 automatic edgebander, a Detel M-2H double line boring machine, a Timesavers Speedbelt 37-inch widebelt sander, and a membrane vacuum press for curved and irregular forms and veneers.
Strobl says he wanted to take advantage of Casework Specialties' well-balanced infrastructure to maximize output. He anticipates the additional work that would come from stepping up activities with the company's existing commercial client base would increase revenues between $3.5 million and $4.5 million annually. Furthermore, he says that he has identified an untapped segment of the market that could add an additional $1 million per year to the company's revenue base repeatedly. "Having just turned 52, I am looking to semi-retire and continue in the industry in the capacity of design, sales, marketing, and consulting," says Strobl.
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