September 2005

Red Carpet Care

Concepts in Wood prides itself on good old-fashioned customer service, while providing high-quality cabinetry and millwork.

By Lisa Whitcomb
Concepts in Wood of CNY Inc.

Syracuse, NY

Year Founded: 1987

Employees: 26 full-time, 2 part-time

Shop Size: 15,000 square feet, including office and showroom space.

FYI: The company plans to acquire an additional 5,000 square feet of space and purchase more high-tech equipment to further increase its production capabilities.

A lost art, it's not. Quality customer service still exists in today's world - if you look for it. Concepts in Wood of CNY Inc. is a great place to start.

President and company co-owner David Fuleihan says, "In order to achieve success, you have to know what your customer wants. You have to listen to their requests and explain to them the limitations of your business." Doing so allows for open communication between the buyer and the cabinetmaker, thus ensuring a happy customer in the end.

Fuleihan came to woodworking in 1987 from a 20-year background as a clothing retailer. "Quality was my goal when I came into this business. In (clothing) retail, if a customer doesn't get what he wants, then he doesn't buy and shops elsewhere. I felt that the concerns of the woodworking industry should be the same. You should work with a customer to give him what he wants. Over the years as the business has expanded, we have continued to be quality-oriented, and we are specific about what we can provide for our customers. Today we are still maintaining that same high standard of quality with our products and customer care," he says.

Building a Reputation Through Diversity

When Fuleihan and a group of investors bought Concepts in Wood from a friend of Fuleihan's in 1987, the company only produced interior paneled doors. The limited nature of the business was not enough to keep it profitable.

Islands are the focal point of a kitchen, which is why many homeowners today request they be a different color than the main cabinetry. Stone tops, white painted cabinetry and farmer's sinks are also in high demand in the Syracuse area.

"My friend called me because he was having financial trouble with the business. I bought it from him because I thought I could restructure it [with my experience in operating five clothing stores]," Fuleihan recalls, joking that, "I soon found out that I was in the woodworking business full-time, without knowing what I was getting in to."

Fuleihan says he has never run a machine in the shop, adding that he makes the sales and runs the business instead. Eighteen years later, the shop has a new directive and a healthy bottom line. It fabricates many different things, including custom kitchen cabinets (averaging $18,000 and up) for upper-middle-class clientele. However, the Syracuse market is not big enough to just focus on custom cabinets. So to diversify, the company also produces casework for home libraries, bathroom vanities, entertainment centers and dining room hutches.

"Our work is extremely customized, but affordable," office manager Linda Angona says. "Our pieces are at the high end of better. We don't use anything but quality materials to make our end product."

Not to leave out potential local clients, Concepts in Wood also offers quality refacing for existing cabinetry. This is a beautiful and affordable solution for middle-class home-owners who want to change the look of their kitchens, Angona adds. Projects average $7,000 to $8,000 typically but can run higher if the homeowner adds new cabinetry, like an island.

Putting Technology to Work

Although all equipment contributes to the Concept in Wood's efficiency, Project Coordinator Richard Liberty says that purchasing a Quattromat 23P four-head moulder from Weinig changed the shop's production capabilities dramatically. "We can probably do eight hours' worth of work in two now," he adds.

"Of course, we use the moulder to run a variety of millwork, but we also use it for other things. For example, we run our mitered door stock through it, and we square our stiles and rails on it for our doors. It dimensionalizes them, making them perfectly square on both sides," Liberty says.

Concepts in Wood does not grind its own knives. Instead it forwards drawings and specifications to Weinig, which creates the profiles that the company purchases.

"We have used this moulder in ways we never thought possible, and I'm sure there are other things we could do with it yet," adds President and co-owner David Fuleihan. "Having a compact moulder has improved our product and saved us labor."

Besides the moulder, the shop has other pieces of equipment that are key in its ability to offer a variety of products, including cabinetry, components, doors, drawers and institutional furniture. Included on the shop's floor are an Altendorf F45 sliding table saw, SCMI Uno widebelt sander, Taylor pneumatic glue wheel and clamp, shapers from SCMI and Delta, Unique sliding table saw, Ritter line drill, Rockwell table saw, DeWalt radial arm saw, Grizzly joiner, Cehisa EP5 edgebander, Adwood Detel M29 construction boring machine, Cehisa contour edgebander, Dodds SE1 dovetail machine and a Progress edge sander.

With the aide of a new moulder, mouldings and other architectural millwork are another service offered to clients who are looking for new pieces or to match existing profiles. (See sidebar to right.)

As if that were not enough diversity, the company also fabricates a line of furniture pieces sold through Gaylord Brothers (www.gaylord.com), a domestic/international distributor of fixtures for libraries, museums and schools. Concepts in Wood builds, among other pieces, book trucks, showcases, slatwall and feature displays, bookcases and more.

Another lucrative outlet for the company is producing and selling mouldings, cabinet doors and drawer boxes to other cabinet and closet companies both locally and in the Long Island area, as well as shops from Massachusetts to New Jersey.

Through word-of-mouth and a little bit of advertising, the shop is always busy producing something. Concepts in Wood delivers and will install projects for its customers as well.

Today's Kitchens are 'Fashion-Forward'

Richard Liberty, project coordinator and designer, says he sees many contemporary style trends in the Syracuse area. "People's tastes have become more diverse. For example, the country kitchen has come back. We are installing a lot of farm sinks with rollover edges and there is quite a following for the bead-board cabinet doors. People seem to like the furniture look and are asking for egg-and-dart crown moulding, valances, pilasters, corbels, furniture bases, glass and pull-out shelving. Depth and height variations on the wall cabinets are also requested."

Source projects are submitted and specified by an outside designer. Otherwise, Liberty does the designs himself using KCDw software. Cherry, maple and red birch are the most popular woods, with calls for mahogany, ash, hickory, walnut, white birch, and red and white oak species occasionally.

Finishing is done in-house. The shop uses Binks spray equipment and Kremlin pumps with M.L. Campbell stains and non-yellowing, water-white catalyzed lacquers, as well as Sherwin-Williams stains and Benjamin Moore paints purchased from Purcell, a local distributor.

Stylish dining room hutches such as this one are just another avenue of creativity for the company. Adding a larger reveal and contrasting wood tones makes it visually appealing.

"Painting kitchen cabinets in light colors and shades of white is popular right now. We don't recommend painting in the kitchen and advise people we can stain in these same colors instead, but they still want to go with the painted look," Liberty says. "When we do use paint, all painted surfaces are topcoated with a lacquer as well."

"Highlighting is really big in kitchens," Angona adds. "People ask for the doors to be painted or stained one color with a different color highlighting the raised edges and panels."

Eighty percent of the requests are for frameless cabinetry with a concealed European hinge. The company makes dovetailed drawer boxes from 5?8-inch solid poplar or maple. Doors are 3?4-inch-thick and come in raised, flat and reversed raised styles. Drawer fronts are 5?4-inch-thick. Handles and knobs are purchased from a variety of vendors, but all retro hardware is purchased from Van Dyke Restorers.

Depending on the size and complexity of the project, an order typically takes six to eight weeks to fill, from design through completion.

The 15,000-square-foot shop is set up in work cells that are broken down as door, cabinet, finishing and shipping. Another 5,000 square feet in the building will be acquired by the end of 2005. Liberty says the company plans to reorganize the shop's layout, bring in new equipment and add an additional spray booth. "We are looking to be more efficient and put more through the shop in less time."

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