Two Talented Professionals Make a Winning Combination

With the financial and production sides in capable hands, Creative Cabinets looks to reach record sales.

By Sam Gazdziak

 

This retro TV cabinet was built for a science museum’s display about the space program. The cabinet holds a big-screen TV and a DVD player.

A business partnership may look good on paper, but whether it works in reality is a different matter. Fortunately for Creative Cabinets, its partners work well enough together to have made a big success of a small shop.

Creative Cabinets Ltd., a custom cabinetry shop in Lancaster, OH, was founded more than four years ago by Troy Shurtz and Jerry Meldrum. Thanks to good working relationships with several important clients and highly skilled production workers, the seven-employee shop brought in sales of $800,000 in 1999 and looks to improve on that this year.

“When we started, I told Troy that we don’t want to be the biggest, we want to be the best,” says Meldrum. “We want people to say, ‘You can go to Creative. They’re not the cheapest, but they’re the best.’ We try to maintain that quality, and I think that’s worked out well for us.”

Creative Cabinets has built commercial cabinetry for several stores and museums in the Ohio area. The company has also done work nationally for clients including Capital Lighting, M/I Homes, Victoria’s Secret and The Limited stores. Work can vary from a walk-in humidor with lockers and Spanish cedar display racks at a cigar store to a solid surface and metal display unit at a Columbus science museum.

“We’re not limited to anything. Anything that we can do in-house, we’ll do,” Shurtz says, noting that Creative does its own solid surface work. “If something needs to be wired up, we’ll do it. For some pieces, there’s not a bit of wood on them, but we act as the middle man. We try to do turnkey packages, so our customers don’t have to be concerned with anything.”

Shurtz has been working for woodworking companies since he was in high school, learning the trade while working for several local cabinet companies. Meldrum was retiring from a career as a corporate treasurer when he was introduced to Shurtz through a mutual acquaintance.

A friend of Shurtz’s paved Meldrum’s driveway, and Meldrum asked if he knew of anyone who could make a kitchen countertop.

“He said, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to give Troy a call,’” says Shurtz. The two met and agreed on a price. “I told him I didn’t have a shop or anything,” he adds. “I just built it right there in Jerry’s barn. He asked me if I had ever thought about going into business. I said I would someday. It had always been a goal of mine.”

Meldrum says that the timing was perfect. “He was looking to start his own business, and I was retiring from my job, and we thought we should get together,” he says.

 

     
     
   
    Creative Cabinets built the mahogany cabinetry for marketing centers for a national home builder. The cases display the company’s carpet, tile and linoleum samples.

With Meldrum handling the administrative side and Shurtz doing the building, they started a business in Meldrum’s barn, which they quickly outgrew. In 1997, Shurtz bought 11-1/2 acres in Lancaster and moved the business there.

The project that was the turning point for Creative Cabinets was a job for Victoria’s Secret in New York City. They built about 40 desks and a dozen roll-around cabinets, all in white solid surface material, for the company’s design studios.

“It was kind of scary, and we were real hesitant about it, because there were only four guys on the floor, and that one job alone was $200,000,” says Shurtz.

“They had a disastrous deadline, too, of about six weeks,” adds Meldrum.

“I knew if we were going to get anywhere, we were going to have to take chances, so we took the chance,” Shurtz says. Creative subbed out part of the work to another shop, and then the company rented out seven trucks to get the pieces to New York. “We were able to get it all done, hit the deadline, and it threw this business on its feet. From that point on, we weren’t worrying about having to pay this or that or worrying about what we were going to do next.”

Meldrum says that hiring key employees also helped propel the business forward. Greg Roark is an experienced cabinetmaker and oversees the other production workers. Kenny Mitchell is vice president of sales and coordinates jobs and draws up plans.

“Kenny is our MVP,” says Meldrum. “He came to us with more than 15 years’ experience in this business, and he knows all the key contacts. He is responsible for almost all of our sales and maintains a great rapport with our clients. He is definitely the key to our rapid growth.”

Creative Cabinets now has a 5,250-square-foot building. The company recently completed a 1,250-square-foot expansion, which added a staining room and office space.

The newest equipment addition to Creative’s shop is an SCMI K208 edgebander. The company bought it because it can apply 3mm PVC, do scraping, rounding and corner rounding and will expand the company’s current capabilities. Since it can apply 3mm PVC, Shurtz says, the company could pursue institutional millwork if the commercial market slowed down.

Other machinery in the shop includes an SCMI sliding table saw, which is used to cut both solid wood and solid surface material, an SCMI line-boring machine and a Blum hinge machine.

Creative’s new finishing room can be closed off from the rest of the shop by a garage door, so the finishing process won’t be affected by wood dust from the machinery. Graco and Delta spray equipment is used in the room.

The ceiling of Creative Cabinets’ shop also merits notice, because it is completely covered in insulation. “If you go outside, you can hardly hear anything running because of the way it’s padded in here,” says Shurtz. “It looks kind of different, but it blocks out the sound, which is good because we’re in a residential area.”

In its brief existence, Creative Cabinets has made good relationships with several architect firms and designers.

“Once we do something for somebody,” Meldrum says, “on the next project, they invariably come back to us.” Some of those clients approach Creative directly, rather than start an open bidding process.

For example, Creative made mahogany raised-panel displays for carpet, tile, linoleum and other housing products displayed in marketing centers for a national home builder. The company originally made the cabinetry for one center and was then asked to work on three more locations nationwide. The company has also built pieces for museums, including kiosks, a table with lasers and mist jets and a ’60s-style TV cabinet for a display on the space program.

Along with commercial work, Creative does some residential projects, including fireplaces and walk-in closets, and it has agreements with several local cabinet companies to produce their solid surface countertops.

Meldrum and Shurtz agree that the partnership has worked out well.

“I love to build. I would rather be on the floor than in the office,” says Shurtz. “With Jerry, I’m lost in his job. I couldn’t do it when it comes to the paperwork he has to do. He takes care of all the timesheets. He records how many hours are on every job, so we can look back and see whether we made money on a job or lost money.”

“Sometimes what appears like a good combination doesn’t always work well in reality,” Meldrum says of partnerships. “But we have. It’s been real good. Troy does his side, and I do mine, and there have hardly been any disputes. We’re always talking over everything, and we hardly ever can’t resolve a problem.

“I have children his age, so it’s kind of like having another son for me,” he adds.

Both partners attribute much of the company’s success to its employees. Meldrum says that he is amazed by the amount the company is able to produce with the number of production workers it has. Topping seven figures in annual sales is a reasonable goal for the company.

“I think we can do well as a million-dollar company with the fine employees we have,” he says. “We have really good relationships with our customers. As long as we produce quality work at a good price, we have a great opportunity.”

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