East Coast Cabinets - A Pressing Matter
August 14, 2011 | 7:05 pm CDT

A New Jersey company fabricates store fixtures with the aid of a vacuum press.

Joseph Romano, president of East Coast Cabinets, Pennsauken, NJ, started his company in 1986 doing part-time work out of his garage. His main piece of equipment then — a Preston saw. Now he has a shop full of equipment that allows him to fabricate creative new parts for store fixtures.

Initially Romano worked with designers and decorators in the residential trade. “We did custom wall units and entertainment centers and bedroom sets,” he says. Slowly, the company began to work on larger projects. “We went from doing high-end interior work and bid-outs for contractors to doing contractor work at doctor and dentist offices. Ultimately we evolved into a retail store fixture business.”
The work East Coast Cabinets fabricates now is diversified, Romano says. “It’s a broad range of types of fixtures that we make , depending on the customer needs,” he adds. “We do solid wood, laminate-type cases, thermofoil pressing, veneers, glass and aluminum.”
Four years ago Romano moved his growing company to its current location in a 22,000-square-foot building. The number of employees varies depending on the time of the year, but they typically range from eight to 15. At the time of CWB’s visit there were approximately 12 people working in the fabrication department.
East Coast Cabinets primarily fabricates retail store fixtures, including prototypes — one-off preliminary fixtures that are created to prove out an idea, look, design or style, Romano says.

These nesting tables were fabricated for the Saddle Shop. Joseph Romano says East Coast Cabinets helped in the design “from start to finish.”
East Coast Cabinets
Pennsauken, NJ

Year Founded: 1986

Employees: 8 to 15, depending on the season

Shop Size: 22,000 sq ft

FYI: Joseph Romano is the staff designer. He sits down with the product engineers to discuss how to design a project in a logical manner.

Machinery in the Shop

Romano says most of the equipment in the shop was purchased with a specific job in mind. “We’re always researching equipment so we know what’s out there. We try to keep up on pricing and technology, but we will not purchase until we see an absolute need for that particular piece of equipment,” he says. “We add to our machinery on an as-needed basis.”
Current machinery includes: a 14-foot Selco beam saw, Onsrud router, Selco point-to-point, Holz-Her edgebander, Mercury thermofoil vacuum press, overhead pin routers, a table saw and drill presses.
Due to the growing trend of film fabricating, the vacuum press, although an older machine, is providing East Coast Cabinets with innovative approaches to creating fixtures. Romano says that his company typically fabricates parts by using vacuum pressing as opposed to a membrane pressing technique.
“The two terms are mixed freely, pretty much like ‘Kleenex’ and ‘tissue’. Kleenex is a company and tissue is something that any one can make,” he says. “A membrane press is a different operation than what we do, although the end product is the same.”
Although his vacuum press can be fitted with a silicone membrane, Romano says that he generally uses a film to create the vacuum in the bed of the machine and that vacuum forces the film over the part. This process allows him to be creative with the details routed on each part.
“We can do anything from logos to intricate patterns to even writing a person’s name into a panel and having it pressed in,” he says.
The vacuum press has also allowed Romano to do a lot of unusual things, he adds. Although he calls it “primitive,” it has given the company the flexibility to fabricate parts that it could not make on a more high-tech machine, Romano says. For example, Romano came up with an idea to make plugs for the press to make a vacuum-formed tray for his refrigerated candy and bakery cases. “These pans used to be made from stainless steel, which is very expensive and costly. Now they are made out of Comotex and Centra, which is very inexpensive,” he says.

Unusual Projects
When asked about the most unique projects East Coast Cabinets has fabricated, Romano says that he has done some “strange things for the gaming industry.
“We actually made a coin collector funnel for the bottom of a pinball game. We molded it in the thermofoil press, which prevented the customer from having a tool and die made and having to buy certain quantities [for] injection molding. We thermofoil pressed these coin trays, and it was a little more cost-effective for them.”
Currently, East Coast Cabinets is fabricating benches for the Banana Republic. “We are doing a rollout of benches for display windows. We’re fabricating about 900 and boxing them in our custom boxes for shipment to all of their stores.”
Romano says that the custom boxes the company created allow him to ship virtually anywhere. “We ship to the West coast. We ship to the South, and we’ve even shipped overseas,” he notes.

Long-Range Plans
For the past few years, the majority of East Coast Cabinets’ work has done has been subcontract. According to Romano, projects typically tend to be manufactured for a brokerage house, a large shop or for overruns. However, he says that he plans to develop a consistent base of direct customers, such as the Banana Republic.
“Over the last year to year-and-a-half, we brought several direct customers in, and that is working out very well. Direct business is a better business because you have more flexibility and direct contact with the customer,” he says.
Sales for East Coast Cabinets are approximately $1 million, which Romano says he hopes to double in the next two to three years. He believes that goal can be achieved by sticking to the motto he used when first working out of his garage — “make a quality product and deliver it on time.”

East Coast Cabinets fabricates prototypes of refrigerated candy and bakery cases. The tray pictured in the inset is made from Comotex and Centra molds. This case was fabricated with melamine and thermofoil film.
Display Concepts specified membrane-pressing to improve the appearance of outer panels on its high-end bakery cases. The process utilizes heat and vacuum to apply a printed wood veneer film from American Renolit Corp. to the pre-shaped panels. East Coast Cabinet employees work on the Selco beam saw.

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