Installation Add-on Jobs Spawn New Division

When local builders kept requesting custom built-ins, E&P Trimwork started a separate division to handle that work exclusively.

By Hannah Miller

     
Custom Interiors Group,

div. of Eason Co.

Mooresville, NC

Year Founded: 1996

Employees: 20

Shop Size: 14,000 square feet

FYI: The division gets its own custom work from local builders, in addition to doing special projects for the company’s trim installation division.

 
   
     

David Eason started E&P Trimwork Inc. in Mooresville, NC, 10 years ago to install mass-manufactured interior trim in homes under construction by Charlotte-area builders.

“The builders would ask us to build customized stuff while we were in there trimming houses,” he recalls. “Entertainment centers and mantels were the big focus.” Requests for custom work, he says, “just rolled from there.”

“It kept picking up and picking up,” agrees John Bunch, who joined the company seven years ago and soon found himself and another employee doing most of the custom work.

Before long, he and his co-worker pushed to become a separate division, feeling a separate identity would help market their services. “We just gave ourselves a name,” he jokes.

Now Custom Interiors Group, led by Bunch, is one of three divisions of the 140-employee, $6 million annual sales Eason Co., which Eason heads as president and owner. The division has some 20 employees, accounts for about 20 percent of company revenues, and works both in tandem with the trim installation company and on its own.

The custom division has contributed significantly to the company’s average 30 percent year-to-year sales growth, Eason says. It is always a help, he says, “when you can integrate your business and be able to handle any of the needs of the contractors.”

     
 
This bright red fire truck is for sleeping, studying and playing rather than for racing to blazes. It is a youth bed/play area conceived for a Regal Custom Home Builders show house by Cindy Covill Interiors and designed and constructed by John Bunch and his crew at the Eason Co.’s Custom Interiors Group. The Charlotte Fire Department contributed some equipment. Photo by Michael Lobiondo Photographic 2003.  
     

E&P Trimwork makes the initial contact with more than a dozen builders with which both the trim division and the custom division do business. E&P’s representative talks about trim, but also tells builders what’s possible in custom.

Once a builder job is started, the same scheduler handles the scheduling for E&P Trimwork and Custom Interiors Group, as well as for a third division started a year ago, the Kitchen and Bath Division, which handles Woodharbor cabinets.

There also are another dozen or so builders for which Custom Interiors alone does projects, plus individual homeowners.

“We get numerous calls; people call and just want built-ins,” says Eason. “A lot of homeowners wait until they move in.”

Word-of-mouth accounts for nearly all advertising. Sometimes, for example a construction superintendent changes jobs and recommends the company to his new boss, Bunch says. Or a cocktail-party guest admires a host’s entertainment center and wants a similar one.

Recently, a youth bed in the guise of a fire truck, built by Custom Interiors, drew a lot of attention at the Regal Custom Home Builders show house in the Charlotte HomeArama. The division worked with designer Cindy Covill of Cindy Covill Interiors in Charlotte to create the bright red truck bed, with help from the Charlotte and Mooresville, NC, fire departments, which contributed some equipment.

The truck bed, attached to a wall, is for sleeping, and the cab, adorned with a flashing light bar from the Charlotte fire department, is a play area that can be converted to a desk. The Charlotte Observer ran a picture on the front of its Home section, and the fire truck also appeared in a Charlotte design publication. It was one of the division’s most high-profile jobs.

Shared Resources Add Flexibility

Being a part of a larger company gives Custom Interiors flexibility. When pressed for time, Bunch can borrow installers from E&P.

Custom Interiors returns the favor by making custom components for E&P projects, like a doorway arch recently built for E&P. Custom Interiors cut the blank in its 14,000-square-foot shop using its Onsrud 96C10 CNC router, then added a profile using a Williams & Hussey moulder. The arch matches the grooved profile of the manufactured door casing perfectly, says shop manager Andrew Sain.

Custom Interiors makes most of its own moulding. For dentil moulding, the CNC cuts matching vertical grooves in a sheet of plywood. A Delta Unisaw follows up with horizontal cuts, creating strips the woodworkers will trim to size for mantels and built-ins.

Custom Interiors bought the CNC, which Sain calls, “a router on steroids,” two years ago. “I can’t imagine how we got by without it,” he adds, while watching it engrave a radius profile into a mantel breast. “It used to take half a day to cut the breast, using routers with all sorts of jigs to get the radius.”

Custom Interiors decorates mantels, some of them mass-produced for mantel companies, with both engraved profiles and onlays. Engraving, says Sain, “gives it more depth.” The shop uses the router to cut nearly everything, including fine detail on decorative rosettes.

     
 
Soaring ceilings are matched by oversized bookcases and an entertainment center in this Lake Norman home near Charlotte, NC. The built-ins are hickory, with a natural finish. Rope lighting illuminates the interiors.  
     

Other shop equipment includes a North State 20-inch planer and Porter-Cable and DeWalt hand tools. All paint-grade material is MDF, Bunch says. Other material, including hickory, oak and poplar, is by the customer’s choice. Custom Interiors does no finishing.

Custom Interiors has plans to move to a 35,000-square-foot shop. “We outgrew the shop the day we moved in,” Bunch says.

All 20 employees are cross-trained to double as woodworkers and installers. Breadth of experience enables them to deal with the surprises that inevitably crop up, Bunch says: walls that aren’t plumb, ceilings that aren’t level, walls with a bow in them.

His own work in installation and fabrication helps him deal with the unexpected when he is measuring space and making CAD drawings, he says. If he misses something, the men in the shop are experienced enough to act as a backstop. “They will bring it to my attention,” he says.

     
 
This MI Homes show house at a Home Builders Association of Charlotte HomeArama uses built-ins over much of the wall space. Custom Interiors Group made them of poplar. The stain is cherry.  
     

Even during installation, he adds, there are times when “the project has to be pulled out of the fire by the guys” — for example, finding an unexpected space between a built-in and the sheetrock behind it. They have learned to “cheat the difference” with trim and scribe moulding, Bunch says.

Dealing with variables before a project is complete is one of the ways Custom Interiors helps the Eason Co.’s bottom line, Bunch says. “Go-backs are what will kill you.” At Custom Interiors, he says, “it’s relatively minimal.”

Other than structural variables in a home, the biggest problem Bunch confronts is making sure he and the builder and home buyers are envisioning the same finished product. Photographs that home buyers cut from magazines are a great help in “narrowing down that moving target,” he says.

“Most people don’t ever see beyond the door and the face frame,” he says. Whether they think a built-in is wonderful or awful, he says, “is solely dictated by what they see when they walk in that room.”

Having the CNC router has enabled Custom Interiors to meet customers’ expectations whether it is in mass-produced mantels or custom work, he adds. It gives consistency to the mantels and allows for all sorts of imaginative detail in the custom work, details that would be cost-prohibitive otherwise.

Custom Interiors started out doing “a bookcase here, a mantel there,” Bunch says. But now, “We do them all day long.”

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.