Cohen has been involved with woodworking since he was 25 years old; he is now 59 years old. “I discovered that when I worked with wood, I could make beautiful things,” he says. Emerging from a troubled youth, making beautiful things became very important to him. “I poured my heart and soul into woodworking. I loved the beauty, smell and feel of wood. Working with wood became a pathway to God, a sanctuary. I sensed that my life was adding to the beauty of creating,” he says.

That love of woodworking has evolved into a successful company that fabricates cabinets for medical
facilities, hotels, stores and office buildings.

In the beginning, Cohen built porch swings, wooden toys and birdhouses. It was not long before people began to ask him to build cabinets. He soon realized that this was the direction he wanted to take his woodworking. With the help of a fellow cabinetmaker, John Heubi, who was trained by a German craftsman, he began learning the art of cabinetmaking.

“I started calling John with questions. Over the next five years, we spent many, many hours on the phone. John answered my questions about practically every facet of woodworking and business,” Cohen says. “John gave me the heart of a craftsman.”

Cohen’s first foray into the commercial market came when he was given the opportunity to fabricate cabinets for Coffee Medical Center in Tennessee. While his wife stayed at a nearby hotel during a difficult pregnancy, Cohen was asked to build a cabinet for the hospital. Later, hospital administrators asked him to build additional patient wardrobes for the entire center. That project lasted for nearly a year; Cohen says that in total, he had a relationship with the center for nearly three years, which eventually lead to other health care projects as well.

“Somehow my name spread through a grapevine of contractors and architects I didn’t know, who soon began calling me,” he says. “By 1986, I was working for large general contractors. By 1990, I was shipping work all over the United States, including to Alaska and Hawaii.” Cohen says that the company was doing work for 25 to 30 Wal-Marts a year.

With his continued success, Cohen decided to move from the rural, picturesque area of Southern Missouri to St. James, MO. The new shop is 21,000 square feet and Cohen has approximately 20 workers. When he moved to the new location in 2005, he also bought shop equipment. “When we first moved into the building, I bought equipment from a company that had closed down,” he says. The package included an SCM widebelt sander and an SCM boring machine. Cohen also found a Komo router on eBay.

Surviving the Downturn
One of the reasons Cohen Architectural Woodworking has remained robust during the slumping economy is because of its diversification.

“We basically develop relationships and have developed a network of companies [to do business with] — fixture companies and contractors. When other shops get overloaded, we also do work for them,” says Cohen.

He has focused on the management side of the business and created a marketing plan that is comprehensive, yet simple. The company’s best customers are identified, and they determine what it is about them and the company that  makes the relationship profitable, Cohen says. “Then we look for other customers with similar characteristics and we simulate what we’ve done with our best customers. If it works and they respond then we continue the relationship.”

But perhaps the most important aspect of the company’s success is its reliance on a set of core values that form its vision statement:

We Make Life More Beautiful…
• Finest Craftsmanship
• Excellent Relationships
• Promises Kept
What Matters Most to Us…

Phil Cohen’s close-knit family is the heart and soul of Cohen Architectural Woodworking, located in St. James, MO. Cohen and his wife, Gina, have nine kids, many of whom have an active role in the family business.

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