CWB May 2004
Already a successful millwork company, CBR Woodworking has added staff, equipment and a new focus to grow even more.
By Sam Gazdziak
Plenty of woodworking company executives would love to double their sales. Maybe they even have a few ideas that they would like to implement to get their company to that level some day. Robert Schultz, president of CBR Woodworking LLC, has put the plan in place, hired the people, bought the machinery and set the time frame. And given his passion for his business, it would be hard to bet against him.
CBR, located in Riverside, NJ, evolved from what was a one-man furniture shop called Cabinetry by Robert. Over the last 15 years, it has turned into a high-end commercial and residential architectural millwork shop with 23 employees and more than $2 million in annual sales.
After starting with residential millwork, CBR moved into corporate work. When the bottom fell out of that market after 9-11, it started doing commercial work, including churches, schools and hospitals. Now the company's workload is about 60 percent commercial and 40 percent residential, Schultz estimates. CBR's jobs average around $150,000 but can go as high as $500,000.
"The other part that transitioned us into commercial work was that as we excelled in residential, a lot of smaller shops came up who were not approaching business the way we were," Schultz explains. "They were low-bidding us, so it was a natural transition to move on."
Approaching business the right way is important to Schultz, as he has plans to grow CBR. "What I'm learning is that there's money to be made in this business if you run it well and don't apologize for your prices." With that in mind, Schultz has set a five-year time frame in which he plans to double his sales to $4 or $5 million a year.
Developing the Vision
"It changed my thinking about how a shop should be set up," he says. "As soon as I got back from that shop tour, I hired three more people for the office. We now have 40 percent of the staff in the office."
The new employees were added to engineering and estimating, and a new purchasing position was created. "I'm concentrating heavily on engineering, marketing, sales, estimating and project management," Schultz says. "That's how we're going to get to where we're going.
"If something is properly engineered, set up and managed, the shop can do anything, especially with the equipment that we have," he adds. "I've always known about it, but it came to focus after the shop tour."
With the extra staff, CBR has been able to tackle difficult projects, like sound-absorbing wall panels for Gwynedd Mercy Academy University in Gwynedd, PA. There are three layers of 3/4-inch Apple Ply panels with an ash veneer. One layer has a series of triangles cut out, the next has every other triangle cut out, and the last has none. The paneling, trim and crown all snap together like a jigsaw puzzle, Schultz explains, and it was engineered to hang on Z clips, so there are no visible fasteners.
The added staff is just one part of Schultz's plan to get to his goal. CBR has been adding equipment over the last three years "in lumps and sums like never before," he says. CBR's machinery includes a Komo CNC router, Holz-Her vertical panel saw, Brandt edgebander and B++tfering sander from Stiles Machinery, Gannomat dowel inserter and case clamp, Weinig moulder and Powermatic ripsaw. He also has plans to add a beam saw to the shop floor.
CBR also markets itself very aggressively when bidding projects. Schultz and his office staff have bid meetings three times a week to discuss potential projects. "After we put the bid out, we try to sell it, because an estimate by itself without someone standing behind it is not as powerful as someone out there pushing it," Schultz says.
CBR's marketing has brought the company several high-profile jobs, including a millwork package for the headquarters of the local chapter of the Association of Builders and Contractors. The work included a conference room, plastic laminate casework and a lobby done in cherry. Schultz says the company was very aggressive in getting the job. "It didn't just fall into our laps," he says. "It was a nice project for us, and what exposure! I expect it to do great things for us, because it came out absolutely gorgeous."
The 6,000-square-foot laminate department is four years old. Schultz says that CBR gets a good amount of laminate work from schools, churches and hospitals, many of the high-end wood jobs require laminate casework as well.
"We're starting to be an outsource shop for a lot of other shops," Schultz adds. "[Some of] the big firms we deal with, they don't want to do plastic laminate. They can't compete."
If a project is solid wood, the wood mill is producing components at the same time parts are being machined on the router. Once a case comes off the case clamp, the moulding, trim and other elements are added to it. The piece then goes to the sander and the finishing department.
Finishing is a specialty of CBR Woodworking. The finishers are experienced at many types of glazes, stains and colors. They can even paint an "inlay" on the surface of a table. In order to achieve vibrant colors, the finishers can dye all the wood of a project yellow before adding a color, glaze and topcoat. "They can make cherry look beautiful like nobody's business," Schultz comments.
Schultz has had a passion for woodworking since entering a nine-year apprenticeship with a Hungarian cabinetmaker. But his business sense has grown over the years, and he attributes much of it to taking advantage of networking opportunities. Along with AWI, he is active in several other associations and spends at least one night a week talking with other business owners.
"I don't care if a guy is installing sprinklers or doing cement floors," he says. "All business owners have the same professionalism about them if they want to make a profit. These are the people I'm developing my vision with.
"[Networking] has brought tons of education, professionalism, vision and focus to me, and I have in turn brought it back to the company," he adds. If all goes according to schedule, Schultz's efforts will pay off in about five years.
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