August 2005

Now That's Entertainment

Doopoco Enterprises' custom theaters allow clients to spend an evening 'at the movies' in the comfort of their own homes.

By Michaelle Bradford
Doopoco Enterprises

Oxnard, CA

www.doopoco.com

www.hdtvcabinets.com

Year Founded: 2000

Employees: 3

Shop Size: 4,000 square feet

FYI: Jim Doolittle previously owned a shop in Santa Fe called Doolittle Woodcrafts. He built custom cabinets for high-end, new construction projects.

Driving north on the winding Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles, one will encounter amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, the famous pier at Santa Monica and the beautiful sand beaches of Malibu with crashing waves that make it a surfer's paradise. Lavish homes of famous movie stars perch high in the Santa Monica foothills.

These sweeping vistas have been the setting for countless movies. And further north as PCH 1 turns inland at Oxnard, CA, Jim Doolittle, owner of Doopoco Enterprises, believes that with the advent of plasma and LCD televisions, more people than ever are watching these movies, in familiar settings, from the comfort of their homes.

"Nesting is bringing entertainment to the home" in a big way, Doolittle says. People are going out less and the movie industry is generating much of its revenue from DVDs. "I haven't been to a movie theater in five years," he notes.

Helping this trend are advances in technology, which are making a luxury more accessible to people. According to Doolittle, television manufacturers moved from rear projection sets with mirrors and the large base beneath the TV screen and began focusing on plasma and LCD sets, which virtually eliminate that base.

Unlike rear projection sets, plasma and LCD televisions can sit on a shelf, tabletop or a partition in a cabinet, Doolittle says. "[New home] builders make niches in walls for entertainment centers, but typically they weren't deep enough [for the rear projection sets]. We had to design the cabinets to come out from the wall to accommodate those big, deep

televisions," he says.

Plasma and LCD screens allowed the components to be stored below the TV. "We started seeing clients ask for consoles, credenza-type cabinets," Doolittle says. "One client in particular, a producer, told us, 'We searched high and low on the Internet. We went to stores; nobody has anything that addresses this need.'

"He just encouraged me to look into this, and as we were finishing his [project], we got another order for a similar type of cabinet. So I thought, 'Okay, I'm just going to design some cabinets that address this need.'"

That is just what Doolittle did.

'If you build it, they will come'

Armed with encouragement from high places and his own expertise as a self-proclaimed audiophile, Doolittle began building home entertainment systems. He was so busy that he even began to forego kitchen cabinets when people called. Everything was driving him in the direction of home entertainment.

"I always let the the market come to me," he says.

The contemporary cabinet above houses a 50-inch rear projection TV. It was fabricated from birdseye maple veneer and wenge solids. Halogen lighting is used to highlight art pieces in the cabinet.

The television console/credenza line has been his driving market for the past two to three years, and it accounts for approximately 25 to 30 percent of his business.

"It just took off, and we liked it," he says.

Doolittle's experience with audio-visual equipment helped. It is not a technical expertise, but it is at the root of his interest in home theater projects. He himself has a big TV and all the necessary gear for his home entertainment system, he says.

He took that beginning knowledge and began talking to other experts in the field. "I listened and talked to equipment installers, as well as sales people, to gather additional information of what was needed for this type of system," Doolittle says.

The first pieces he created were hard to design. "But the process is really not a complicated issue," he says. It involves a lot of cabling because a receiver can have 40 to 50 cables, which requires a lot of routing.

One challenge in building home entertainment centers is venting. Some equipment can generate a lot of heat - plasma televisions, in particular - so venting is an important element of the systems, he says. Doolittle incorporates a cooling fan system from Active Thermal Management into many of his units.

"It's quiet and senses how hot the compartment is. The system can tell the fan to turn on at a low rpm." Doolittle adds that the cooling fan system is offered as an option to his home theaters.

Access to the equipment can be a problem, as well. Doolittle says that an after-market solution can be created, but he questions how often the client would need it if the equipment is professionally installed.

"That makes cable management more critical. An affordable option is to create access to the back [whereby] the crendenza/console cabinets can pull away from the wall. Cabinet doors, with large slots that wires can run through, are hung on the back. That makes it easier for cable management," Doolittle says.

Something else to consider when building a home theater system is how speakers are placed in the cabinet. According to Doolittle, problems can occur "because the cabinet can become involved and start resonating sound." So he places the sub woofer on a little box, filled with sand, to absorb vibrations. The sub woofer is completely isolated from the cabinet, and he keeps the speakers close to the grill.

But perhaps one of the biggest requests and/or concerns Doolittle receives from clients about their home theater systems is where to put the components.

Most women prefer to have the gear hidden as opposed to having it in the open or they often suggest putting it behind glass doors, Doolittle says. "I say you don't have to do that. There is a real easy solution that has been available for a while. It's a little device called an infrared remote or repeater. It has an eye on the end of a wire you can put behind one of the speaker grilles, and it can read the signal that comes from any of the remotes. It allows you to operate your whole system behind closed doors and people love that because you don't have to see the gear."

'Life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get'

Based on his success with home theater systems, Doolittle built a Web site, www.hdtvcabinets.com, solely devoted to credenza/console HDTV cabinetry.

Doolittle says there was a lot of interest in the first couple of months. He received a lot of phone calls and some orders from the Web site, but not to the level he had anticipated.

The mission-style set of furniture, at left, consists of a console, two hutches and a side table (not shown). These pieces were fabricated from oak. Ontop of the credenza sits a 62-inch DLP TV.

"I think what happened was the big furniture houses jumped on the idea shortly thereafter," he says. "Although that end of furniture isn't near the the quality we offer, it was hitting the price-point that made sense for people who shopped on the Internet. [Those people] want it tomorrow, and they want it at half the price."

Doopoco's average price for a console/credenza ranges for $2,800 to just under $5,000, which is right in line because they are still one-off made-to-order pieces, Doolittle says. According to him, most stores like Best Buy have some type of plasma/LCD TV stand for $1,000 to $1,500.

Initially, Doolittle used one custom cabinet, which had been made for a client, as a model for the Web site.

"Being as small as we are and with limited resources, we couldn't make prototypes of everything I'd designed and get pictures," he says. "So we had people look at pictures of this one cabinet. Everyone really liked the styling, which was simple. We called the first line Classic Contemporary, because it has some contemporary elements to it. But we gave it some detailing that still made it a little bit traditional, a little bit classic. However, we love doing the contemporary cabinets because usually there is a license for creativity."

Most Californians prefer cleaner, simpler lines rather than heavily ornate with a lot of carving and appliques, Doolittle says. So he stuck with the Classic Contemporary line.

However, Doolittle says his business is flexible, and he will focus on whatever comes. He recently added a line of mission-styled credenza/consoles to his Web site that he says has sparked more interest. What really helped, he says, is having his completed jobs photographed and placed online. He gets at least one to two inquiries a month, and is currently in the process of getting another order from the Web site.

"One thing we have going for us is that technology for [electronic] equipment is always going to change. There is always something new on the market. New is bigger. People upgrade and they need furniture to accommodate their new equipment."

Doolittle says he designs his cabinets so the television compartment can be as big as possible. For upgrades, all he would have to re-fabricate are TV panels. "It's a nice feature to offer," he says.

'My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse'

The shop of Doopoco Enterprises is approximately 4,000 square feet. There are three workers, all of whom are 20 years old or younger and are friends of Doolittle's son, Jamie.

A shop manual, which is still a work-in-progress, has been very instrumental in helping "when these kids come in here without experience," Doolittle says. "I don't think Ben [Casale] or Brendan [Callahan] had ever been in a woodworking environment before. We kept them with simple things and let them get a feel for the environment of the shop. I gave them the book to read, and it worked."

As a matter-of-fact, things are working so well, that Callahan was able to build his first piece of furniture within six months, and when Doolittle encountered problems with his finishing vendors, Casale was able to step in and pick up the slack.

The cabinet below was fabricated with alder solids and veneer and finished with a custom glaze. Components are stored in two lower compartments and two media pull-outs.

"It was pretty hectic for a while," Doolittle says. One of his finishing vendors decided he did not want to do the work anymore, and his other finisher was not only released from his shop lease, but at the same time the State of California cut the emmission content of spraying material in half. "It was basically the guillotine for using any solvent-based product in the state," Doolittle says.

When Doolittle first brought the finishing in-house he was "ripping his hair out" trying to find water-based products that worked for him, until he hooked up with Compliant Spray Systems in San Clemente.

"They really helped me out. I spent a lot of time on the phone with them, and they encouraged me," Doolittle says.

The company had been working on water-based products for some time in anticipation of the recent actions of the State of California, he says.

During that whole process, Casele, who had only been with Doopoco four to five months, helped Doolittle with the finishing. "When we started doing some staining, I had Ben helping me and just noticed that he was doing a really good job. So I asked him one day, 'Do you like this?' and he said, 'I like this much better than woodworking. I just think it's more interesting.'"

So after giving him a few pointers, Doolittle watched him work and realized he was a natural. "I told him after that, 'You are our finisher.'"

'All in the Family'

Woodworking seems to run in the Doolittle family. His great-grandfather founded Albuquerque Lumber Company in 1881. Not only have Doolittle and his father followed in his great-grandfather's footsteps, but his son Jamie, as well.

"Jamie pretty much runs the floor of the shop," Doolittle says. "I've been bringing him more and more into the office. We sit and adjust the timeline. He does a lot of the ordering, layout and cutlists."

Doolittle says Jamie loves the work and the clients love him.

"I didn't know when I first brought him out. At first it was just pocket money. Then he went through a [phase] when he was still in school, when I wasn't sure he wanted to pursue it. But in the last couple of years, he has completely embraced it."

So much so, that he designed an entertainment center for himself.

"He taught himself how to use AutoCAD," Doolittle says. I gave him one of those big, fat tutorial books, and over the course of four days [he read through the book]. He came in the next week and showed me a cabinet he had designed. He said, 'I went through the whole book.' He's no slouch, and I was really impressed with the cabinet," Doolittle adds. "As I get older, I'll put more and more onto him as long as he wants to do it."

'Viva Las Vegas'

At this year's first AWFS Vegas fair, Doolittle and Jamie dropped in for a couple of days and left with a new widebelt sander to go along with the 32mm boring machine from Maggi Engineering he purchased last fall, and the Mini Max sliding table saw and SCM edgebander purchased in 2003.

Doolittle says that he is right at the threshold of a CNC router for efficiency, but the lack of flexibility with the software is a deterrent right now. Too much programming is required because every entertainment center is customized, he notes.

"That lack of flexibility limits the market," Doolittle says.

The company has been growing, and Doolittle says he is looking at a 50 to 60 percent growth over 2004.

"Taking on the finishing work will help the bottom line," he says.

Optimistic about what Doopoco Enterprises can offer, Doolittle says he has had good reviews from clients and "the kids on the payroll are good for business.

"I like it. They are still learning and developing. There is a passion for what they are doing."

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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