Cabinetmaker Maintains a Healthy Market Doing It His Way

Although Roddie Guin may be hard to find, customers flock to this South Carolina shop to commission well-built traditional-style cabinetry.

By Hannah Miller

No matter how hard Roddie Guin dodges work, it catches up with him.

For instance his shop, Colonial Cabinet in Little River, SC, doesn’t have a telephone. Never has, he says, and never will. But people who have seen his work still track him down by calling something that sounds vaguely related, the Colonial Inn. “They say, ‘I’m looking for Colonial Cabinet,’” says his wife Rebecca, who runs the motel. “I’ll say, ‘(you’ve) got it.’”

“Everybody who calls has seen something I have done before,” says Guin. “It’s all word-of-mouth.”

That powerful word-of-mouth adds up to about $300,000 in sales a year for Guin’s three-man shop. It could be much more in this rapidly growing golfing and retirement area near North Myrtle Beach, SC, Guin says. But that’s the level of work he feels comfortable with.

A decade ago, he closed his general contracting business in Wilkes County, GA, for health reasons. At one time, it had more than 70 employees, but stress was getting to him, he says. “My doctor told me that if I didn’t slow up, I wasn’t going to be here.”

 

     
     
   
  This large entertainment center made of cherry has two kinds of shelves in its glass-fronted cabinets: wood shelves in the central portion and glass shelves in the end portions of the cabinets, which are slanted on a diagonal.  

In Little River, where his sister lived, he found a small motel for sale with a potential shop building out back. The building, a 1,000-square-foot former commercial storage building with 10-foot by 10-foot rental spaces, was the clincher to the sale, he says.

He had had some form of a woodworking shop all his life, he says. “Even when I was a kid, I piddled with wood, tearing doors off a barn to build something.”

As a contractor building custom homes, he had his own shop to supply the cabinetry.

“Woodworking has always been my relaxation,” he says. Given the choice of a week in Hawaii or a week in his shop, he would take the shop, he adds.

Rebecca set about running the motel, on U.S. Highway 17, while he knocked the interior walls out of the shop building. In 1991, he started making Shaker reproduction pieces, a long-time love. But he soon realized that entertainment centers were more in demand. Today, 98 percent of his business is from people between 55 and 65 who retire early and build a nice, permanent home at the beach, he says. “All these people are building new houses and want an entertainment center when they get in.”

So he made that his specialty, although he still does some other custom furniture. He will build a home’s kitchen cabinets, he says, if he can do the other work as well — like the entertainment center, mantel, bathroom vanities and other built-ins. Colonial Cabinet probably does 10 to 12 sets of kitchen cabinets a year, he says.

“Most people don’t want to pay the price I charge for kitchen cabinets,” he adds. His prices start at $100 a face square foot. The most expensive single piece he has done was a $15,000 entertainment center. Colonial Cabinet does not do any projects smaller than $1,000, Guin says. “I charge a $500 retainer to get in line.” Then, he adds, “I put them on my schedule.”

Often, he will do all a home’s cabinetry, like the $70,000 worth he’s doing for a home going up beside one of the area’s golf courses. The project includes bathroom vanities, a wet bar, an interior balcony railing, kitchen cabinets that go all the way to the top of a 10-foot ceiling, a multi-faceted entertainment center and a mantel. Mantels and gas logs are popular in the region for looks’ sake, he says, even though winters are generally mild.

Guin applies stringent quality standards to every job, with particular pains taken with joinery. Doing it his way, which is painstaking and almost primitive, he says, “costs a premium.” But when Colonial Cabinet makes something, he says, “It’s not going to come apart at the joints.”

With too much of the casework that’s made today, he says, “You can’t go up to it and shake it. It will rack and twist. There’s a way to do casework that will last, and there’s a way to do casework to last just until the check clears.” Guin makes the kind that lasts.

In the shop, Colonial Cabinet uses a Her-Saf panel router to cut dadoes. “It’s something we couldn’t do without,” he says. The joint is then glued and screwed.

A Porter-Cable Omni jig is used for building dovetail drawers, which are made from solid wood. All cabinets are face-frame rather than European style. As Guin was being interviewed, woodworker James Moore cut 45° angles on entertainment center door frames using a Ryobi portable saw.

“I still like the furniture look in cabinets,” Guin says. He uses fluted corners and puts moulding around the toekick as one way to achieve that look.

Guin, Moore and the shop’s other employee, Bobby Inman, take full responsibility for everything that goes into their individual work. This includes doing their own installation. “We don’t let anyone else touch anything,” Guin says. “If something goes wrong, we will take the blame, rather than having it laid on installers.”

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