CWB June 2004
A one-man shop does it all, with quality and customer service as its hallmarks.
By Michaelle Bradford
Michael Minch, the 29-year-old president of Creative Custom Interiors, says he has had a passion for woodworking since he took an industrial arts class in junior high. Today, he does everything on his own from product design to installation.
As a young man in high school, Minch received a Craftsman contractors table saw as a birthday present. He continued to take woodshop classes and received three scholarships to a cabinetmaking school, South Technical Educational Center, in Boynton Beach, FL.
Minch worked for several custom furniture shops while enrolled in cabinetmaking school and when he finished, he worked full-time in Boynton Beach from 1996 until December 1999.
With those experiences under his belt, in January 2000, Minch decided to move back to the Chicagoland area and start his own shop. He worked out of his house for two years in the garage and basement, approximately 600 square feet, and then moved his business to its current location in Streamwood, IL. He currently has about 3,500 square feet. In March, Minch marked his second year at the new location.
Building the Business Slowly
"I was on my own completely from day one," he says. "When I first started, no one wanted to tell me anything. I called up other cabinetmakers to find suppliers for wood, laminate, glue and hardware, but they were not willing to help. I'm from this area, but didn't know anyone industry-related. I was a person who people knew, versus a cabinetmaker who could do all the work," Minch adds. "From that point, I cold-called interior designers and decorators with not much success. It was difficult being the new guy on the block promising that I would do a high-quality job and stand behind my product."
However, persistence did pay off, and the clients Minch landed have referred him to new customers.
"Since day one I have received 95 percent of my clientele from word-of-mouth," he says. "I currently have a backlog of about eight to 10 weeks before I'm able to start any new projects."
As with most enterprises, the process has not been easy for Minch. Hours of hard work and dedication to the business are what he believes have made him successful so far. At times it can be very stressful, but his passion for woodworking keeps him going, he says.
"Yeah, there are some stressful times where you are constantly under pressure and you have to get the job done by a certain due date. Sometimes things hold back the job, like changes in the project and materials that are on backorder," he says. "All those things will compound and suddenly you are at the due date.
"There are times I have to work overnight just to be able to meet my due date. But I wouldn't be in the trade that I'm in, if I didn't love what I do for a living," he adds.
Minch has devoted much of his life to building his business. A work day for him normally starts at 8:30 a.m. and at times does not end until 2 or 3 a.m., he says.
All of that hard work appears to be paying off. From 2002 to 2003, sales doubled, and sales in 2004 have already exceeded half of last year's sales, Minch says.
"It's getting to the point where I might have to hire someone," he adds.
There is an emphasis on the word "might," because Minch seems to prefer going it alone.
"I believe that it's a very big liability to put someone in the shop and in a customer's home, because of the very expensive material I work with," he says.
Minch cited an example of a project that used mappa burl veneer, which costs $600 a sheet.
"To put someone on a job like that who claims they know what they are doing would be nerve-racking for me seeing that I have worked as hard as I have to get to where I am today," he says. "To try to find someone who wants to do a high-quality job like me is very hard."
If he does decide to hire someone, Minch says that he would prefer a high school student.
"A high school student will typically want to learn the trade, he says. "I would start them with smaller jobs, like sweeping the shop, sanding, putting hardware on cabinets and other items."
Minch believes that the key to keeping his one-man shop successful in the marketplace is his focus on quality and customer service.
"I don't try to stay competitive with people. I try to stay within what the market can bear, but I believe that the customer is purchasing me and not so much the actual product. They are purchasing the quality and the customer service," he says.
Although Minch does some commercial work, approximately 90 percent of his work is residential cabinetry. This includes wall units, bars, bedroom sets, buffets, bookcases and home theaters.
"I do a lot more home theaters and entertainment centers than anything else," he says.
Minch works with many types of material - "from laminates and melamine all the way up to architectural units, carvings, exotic woods, burls, inlays," he says.
According to Minch, maple, cherry and some painted finishes are very popular with his customers right now. But Minch says that he will do "pretty much whatever the customer wants." If the customer wants to paint it pink, I paint it pink, " he says.
His 3,500-square-foot shop consists of standard tools, and he uses Solid Manufacturing software from CabinetVision, an $11,000 investment for him.
Approximately $80,000 total is invested in tools and machinery, none of which are computerized. He uses a Powermatic 66 table saw with a table that is 12 feet by 8 feet; Powermatic long-bed joiner; DeWalt screw guns and chopsaws; Porter-Cable sanders and routers and a Pasche spray booth. His finishes are supplied by M.L. Campbell and Mohawk.
"It is a very basic shop compared to computerized big shops. I can do a lot of what big shops can do, just not at the rate that they do it," Minch says. "I'm doing everything by hand."
As for increasing productivity, Minch says that he now uses prefinished birch for drawer sides and bottoms.
"However, if the customer wants to upgrade to different types of drawers, I'm more than willing to accommodate him.
"In the past, I use to make my own drawers - cut them out of full sheets of wood and edgeband them, cut the groove and do all the finish work," Minch says.
Doors and door fronts are also outsourced because it is not cost-effective for him to produce.
To show appreciation for his customers, Minch says he turns pens on a lathe out of wood, Corian and acrylic as thank-you presents.
"I also use the lathe to duplicate turnings, spindles and other items. I've had clients bring me a spindle that was several years old and needed it duplicated. Also, some clients have drawn out the exact design and sizes they want their table legs or spindles to be.
"I'm trying to do something a little different than most people," Minch says. "I guess you can say I'm more of a family-owned type of business than a cabinetry shop that someone goes to, because I do care a lot about my clients and making sure that they are happy."
Even though Minch prefers to work alone, he admits that his thoughts about expanding are one of the reasons he moved into the larger facility.
"I think I'll eventually want to get two cabinetmakers, two helpers and a secretary and that would pretty much be it," Minch says.
"I just want to remain a small custom shop that concentrates on quality and customer service," he adds.
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