Owners Breathe New Life into an Old Company

After buying a cabinet shop in Florida, a husband-and-wife team have opened up a new market, emphasizing design and function in custom-built cabinetry.

By Sam Gazdziak

Taking an existing cabinet company over has its problems, especially when the customers are angry, the machinery is broken and the employees lack confidence. That is the situation that Scott Salanda and Miranda Fields faced when they moved to Cape Coral, FL, and bought Coral Cabinets Inc. in 1999.

Since taking over, the two owners have worked hard changing the reputation that the company had. Through their best efforts, they have created a satisfied customer base that now returns for repeat work and recommends the company to others. They have also put Coral Cabinets in a lucrative position to serve the emerging high-end residential market in the area.

 

       
       
     
  Miranda Fields designed this library, which includes this cherry and travertine marble credenza and a built-in desk on the opposite wall.  

Coral Cabinets’ production is half residential and half commercial work. Salanda says that under the previous owner, the residential work tended to be low-end melamine cabinetry. “With land property being bought up in the last couple of years, the value is going up,” he says. “We’ve noticed that in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers area, the bar has been raised as far as the quality and prices for work, and there wasn’t really anybody in this area to fill that need. Customers would have to go south. We are targeting the middle and upper-end client.”

As a result, the residential jobs are becoming larger. Fields says that the typical residential project can vary from $10,000 to $35,000, with some going as high as $100,000. “That has gone up dramatically since we’ve been here,” she notes. “When we first got here, our average was about $5,000.”

Along with the price, the quality has also improved. One project Salanda and Fields are proud of is a residential remodel where the company built the kitchen cabinets and a library that was about 13 feet by 13 feet. “Miranda designed one whole wall that was about 8 feet tall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with a large crown across the top,” says Salanda. One side of the room has a 4-foot cherry credenza with a travertine marble top, and the other has a built-in L-shaped desk. Despite the customers’ initial fears that the room would be too crowded, Salanda says they were very happy with the result. “That job turned out beautiful. We’ve had a lot of repeat work from them as well as people they’ve recommended to us.”

Coral Cabinets is located in an almost 8,000-square-foot shop. Its founder ran the business for 17 years before selling it to Salanda and Fields. The couple divides the management of the business. Salanda contracts commercial work and supervises the production, and Fields contracts and designs residential work.

Coral Cabinets was Fields and Salanda’s first venture into the woodworking industry. They previously lived in Chicago and were involved in computer support and senior management for several firms. However, they both had experience in the field. Salanda has done woodworking as a hobby for much of his life and worked in a cabinet shop during high school. Fields’ background in school was in interior design. Together, they also bought and rehabbed houses on the side.

Salanda says that he got burned out on corporate life, and they decided to move someplace warm. They discovered the Cape Coral area while on vacation there in April 1998. For the next year, they finished rehabbing their last house and made plans to move to Florida.

“During the whole year process, Miranda made about nine trips down here to look at different businesses, find a place for us to live and basically get everything in order,” says Salanda.

They first found out about Coral Cabinets that September. They moved to Cape Coral in May of 1999, bought the business in June and reopened it in July. Then they started damage control.

“One step we took to improve our relationship with our customers was to hire a full-time service person to complete pages of outstanding service calls,” says Salanda.

While they were taking steps to keep their customers happy, Fields and Salanda also had to begin making their employees happy. “When a piece of equipment is broken and it’s broken for two months, the employees feel the owner doesn’t care about the company, so why should they?” says Salanda. He and Fields raised employee medical coverage to 100% after employees have been there 90 days, implemented a dental program and fixed the equipment. They also started giving extra vacation days for employees who went a quarter without unexcused absences.

Even with the extra perks, Salanda says that employee turnover has been a problem since they bought the business. Early last year, he let some problem employees go and had to purposely reduce sales to compensate, so the company would not get a reputation of being unable to deliver on its promises.

 

     
     
   
    One of the design features Coral Cabinets uses is hockey puck lights on upper cabinets instead of large light rails. The wiring for the lights is hidden below false bottoms in the cabinets.

Salanda says his current team of 13 employees are at various stages of training but are dedicated to the work and function well as a team. He says they are able to turn projects around quickly because they are willing to put the time in until the job is done. In spite of reducing sales, the company made $800,000 the first year under new ownership and is on pace to match it in the second year.

Employees use a Holz-Her vertical panel saw and edgebander, as well as a Masterwood point-to-point machine and Delta Unisaw table saws. Coral Cabinets only manufactures mica cabinet doors. All other doors come from Imperial Woodcraft, St. Agapit, Thermovision, Decore-Ative Specialties and Eagle Bay Wood Products. Eagle Bay also supplies accent and accessory pieces like crowns and appliques.

Salanda and Fields have made a great effort to separate their company from the other cabinet shops in the area. Fields says that one of their biggest strengths is their ability to custom-make their cabinetry.

“I spend time with the customers to design exactly what they want, where others don’t make that committment,” she says. “That’s where we thought our niche was and where we could attract a different clientele than they had.”

“With Miranda’s background in design and architecture and with her good sales skills, we basically cater to higher-end customers,” adds Salanda. “They want custom cabinets and custom kitchens. They want somebody to sit down with them and design the cabinetry for their house. They don’t just want what the builder throws in there.”

“We just did false cabinet doors that looked like bookshelves, and they had to pocket and interlock,” says Fields. After she designed the doors, Salanda engineered them. “I’m big into design and function, and he’s the one who gets it to work,” she says.

Coral Cabinets has also made itself more friendly to walk-in residential clients by offering more choices. The company has added more door lines and now offers countertops made of Silestone, a reengineered quartz product from Cosentino USA that has a similar look to granite.

Fields also spends hours with a client to determine what kind of cabinetry they want and can afford. “Any time somebody is rehabbing their house or is building, generally speaking it’s a negative experience,” she says. “But, I don’t think I’ve ever had a customer who didn’t leave smiling.”

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