May 2005

Store Fixtures with a Twist

Displayrite Cabinetry fabricates pro shop fixtures with a built-in lighting system.

By Lisa Whitcomb
Displayrite Cabinetry LLC

Oxford, CT

Year Founded: 1994

Number of Employees: 3 full-time, 2 part-time

Shop Size: 6,000 square feet

FYI: Bill Witkoski Sr. was an electrician before joining his son in the woodworking business. Together, they have invented a unique lighting system for cabinet and drawer applications.

        Amidst babbling brooks and meandering streams that flow through the hardwood forests in the rolling Connecticut countryside sits a custom woodworking shop with a penchant for fabricating lighted store fixtures for pro golf shops.

Displayrite Cabinetry, owned and operated by a father and son team with the same namesake - William Witkoski (AKA Bill Sr. and Jr.). Together, they began fabricating the high-end store fixtures nine years ago. Bill Sr. is a master residential electrician with 30 years experience who left the trade to join Bill Jr. in the cabinet and custom furniture making business in 1994. Bill Jr. is trained in the art of auto body painting but made the switch to woodworking in 1988. He has since mastered cabinetmaking as well as furniture making and architectural millwork. Their combined talents make them an excellent team.

Finding a Forte in Store Fixtures

In addition to building beautiful custom kitchens, libraries and free-standing furniture pieces like high-boys and Queen Anne-styled secretaries, Displayrite also fabricates high-end traditional-styled store fixtures for pro golf shops located on the premises of country clubs in the tri-state region. "We specialize in many things," says Bill Jr. "And we can handle most anything, but our forte is building curved and circular pieces."

He adds that the shop builds interior and exterior doors as well as interior trusses. "There is not a whole lot we won't tackle. If someone comes to us and asks us to make something, we try to make it. And most of the time we have pretty good success."

Store fixture can be used for displaying many types of merchandise, including golf apparel, books, shoes, balls and the like.

        This diversity and attention to detail can be seen in the many types of fixtures that Displayrite builds for the pro golf shops, including two-tiered circular tables for floor merchandise, as well as the octagonal sales counters, circular golf club displays, catalog stands, wall  cubbies for golf balls and wall displays with media centers. "We work closely with all the principles involved when planning a pro shop, so that all of the shop's needs are met," Bill Sr. says. "We look at how the piece has to function to determine what style will look best. If you make the fixture too ornate, you compromise what it can do.

"To effectively display merchandise, we design and custom build all the fixturing to provide the shop owner or manager with many options and ways to display the merchandise," he adds. This includes hanging bars, double hanging bars and routing channels into the back of a wall cabinet display for a "waterfall arrangement" (which is a rod that can be placed in the channel and is used for displaying apparel in a cascading fashion). Wiring each piece with a comprehensive patented lighting system they developed is another amenity they offer shop owners. (See sidebar.)

The shop will work also with designers' and architects' renderings and specifications for store fixtures. Bill Jr. notes that pro golf shop fixtures are most often made from mahogany or cherry woods in the high-end country clubs. "Lesser clubs will go with oak," he says. To date, the shop has produced store fixtures for about 40 pro shops in what Bill Sr. calls the tri-state area, which includes NY, CT and MA. This commercial segment constitutes 60 percent of Displayrite's business.

Fixtures like this are usually specified in light (or natural looking colors) and dark stains, says Bill Jr. The shelves are lit with the company's patented xenon lighting system.

        A typical shop will have a main sales counter, a back sales counter, five to seven floor fixtures and 15 or more wall cases, says Bill Jr. "Our approach to the pro shop design is to maximize wall space and give the manager flexibility for displaying his merchandise," Bill Sr. adds.

Store fixtures can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $35,000 depending on their size, wood species and features. The most elaborate pro shop Displayrite fabricated fixtures for spent $250,000 on store fixtures. It had ordered 50 store fixtures with one request for an 80-foot-long wall case, recalls Bill Sr.

Displayrite never needs to advertise its forte for store fixtures because new clients are referred by past clients and advertising is spread by word of mouth. "We like to take potential clients to a shop that we have already done," Bill Jr. says. "The best portfolio a shop can offer a client is one that he can see and touch. This way he can see the quality of a piece for himself."

Fabricating, Finishes and Store Future Plans

Bruce Slater, the shop's lead cabinetmaker, has been with Displayrite for 10 years. He helps Bill Jr. build furniture, casework and cabinetry. "Being that we are a small shop, we all sit down and look at the projects coming in. We delegate who will do what," Bill Jr. says. "It is definitely a team effort. Everybody does something to produce the product."

However, Bill Jr. is the only one who finishes every piece using a Kremlin sprayer for applying topcoats. Depending on the piece, finishes range from stains with a low-sheen conversion varnish for store fixtures to milk paints or painted and distressed pieces, to stains with glazing, toning or lacquer topcoats for residential applications. He uses Campbell stains and topcoats and notes that people request that either a warm, dark color or a light, natural-looking color be used. Very rarely does he get a request for a medium-toned stain to be applied.

The shop specializes in curved and circular store fixtures such as this sales counter.

        On average, to outfit a pro shop with store fixtures takes between 10 and 12 weeks to produce depending on the size of the fixtures and the complexity of outfitting each piece with a lighting system.

Fixtures are made from solids and veneered panels that are layed up on a veneer core. Bill Jr. says he will lay up veneers in small quantities for special curved pieces; otherwise he purchases veneered panels from a local supplier.

In its busiest season, Displayrite has fabricated store fixtures for four pro shops at once. "That was tough," admits Bill Jr. But it was possible because of the talent in the shop and with the aid of the shop's machinery, which includes a Mini Max Formula S-1 sliding table saw, a Mini Max Formula SPI planer and joiner; a Jet JWB-37P widebelt sander; an SCMI P170 5-head moulder; a Casadei F-114 moulder; a Ritter R46H boring machine and a Bridgeport milling machine.

Together, father and son are working to promote their patented lighting system, which they say can be installed into any cabinet shelf, case, drawer or furniture piece. They are also beginning to scope out the custom closet industry, a budding market that is proving to be more than just a flash in the pan. "This will be one of our predominant focuses in the upcoming year," Bill Jr. adds. And as if that were not enough, Bill Sr. says they are looking to increase their pro shop store fixture market beyond the 300-square-mile radius that they currently service.

 Coming Up with a 'Bright' Idea

William Witkoski Sr. and Jr. developed a lighting system for store fixtures in 1994 at the request of a friend who sold golf clothing to pro shops where he thought the lighting on the merchandise was terrible. "He asked me if there was something I could do," recalls Bill Sr.

"At first I thought he was kidding, but then he came back and asked me again. So I asked him, 'If I do this where are we going to take it?'"

Bill Sr. built a prototype lighting system in a mock case and took it to the Westchester County Country Club with his friend. The sample he made featured small lights set into the wooden shelves. But taking the idea even further, Bill Sr.'s concept design allowed for the shelves to be adjusted to different levels and still be illuminated. He took the country club owner into a dark dressing room to show him how the concept would work. The country club owner was sold. He ordered a few store fixtures to begin with and then eventually ordered lighted fixtures for the whole store.

"When dad came back to the shop he said, 'Okay, I've sold our first order. Now what do we do?'" recalls Bill Jr., laughing. So Bill Sr. went to the hardware store and bought a bag of components and went to work devising the patented system that the shop sells today.

"After we developed the system it took two years to patent it and then another two years to bring it fully to market," Bill Sr. notes.

Unlike canned lights commonly found in the top of a cabinet or display case, this system uses low voltage (12V) xenon lamps that produce a warm, soft light that can highlight anything on any shelf or in any drawer. There is no limit to the number of lamps that can be installed into a piece. The store fixtures can be installed in shelves and drawers and behind cabinet doors. They are always recessed into the wood, flush. All wiring and mechanics are concealed behind side panels in a furniture piece or cabinet, thus giving the interior of cabinets, drawers and cases a clean look. "The electrical assembly is complicated," Bill Jr. says. While the shop will retrofit a cabinet, it prefers constructing it from scratch because of the complexity of concealing the lighting systems components, he adds.

Power to the lamps is transferred through magnetic switches, which are also cleverly incorporated into a piece so they are not noticeable. This patented technology allows shelves to be moved around as needed. It also enables drawers to be lit when they are opened and cabinet interiors illuminated when doors are opened. In addition, all pieces are outfitted with one power source that has either a master on/off switch, or it can be plugged into a switched wall receptacle.

"The lights can be used in virtually any application," Bill Sr. says, noting that libraries, kitchens, closets, home offices and vanities are just a few other suitable applications beyond store fixtures. The xenon light fixtures use either a 5- or 10-watt bulb. Brighter lights are recommended for darker woods because they absorb the light.

Today, Bill Sr. markets the lighting system with a more sophisticated wooden case prototype that has been outfitted into a traveling suitcase.  

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