July 2005

A Passion for Woodworking

Matt Gobeille is growing the business he loves by giving customers top-level service and high-quality casework.

By Renee Stern
Harvest Moon Woodworks

Tumalo, OR

Year Founded: 1997 Employees: 2 full-time

Shop Size: 2,500 sq. ft.

FYI: Owner Matt Gobeille decided to become a woodworker when he saw a classified ad for a woodworker's helper and decided to give it a try.

Listen to Matt Gobeille talk about his central Oregon business, Harvest Moon Woodworks, and his passion quickly shows - if he hasn't already dropped that word into the discussion.

Gobeille's 8-year-old company focuses primarily on high-end residential casework.

"Your home is the most sacred place," he says. "And cabinets are the way people interact with their home the most. We are a part of that. I'm not going to change the world with my cabinets, but I am one extra spoke in the wheel."

Without framing, a house collapses; without wiring, the lights and appliances fail. Yet when done right, they are practically invisible. Not so for cabinets, Gobeille says, explaining his passion. They are one of the most visible - and expensive - parts of a house.

He and a single employee work out of a 2,500-square-foot shop surrounded by farms and sagebrush outside Tumalo, OR, part of a booming triangle anchored by Bend, Redmond and Sisters. Year-round outdoor recreation activities draw retirees and leisure travelers to resorts and housing developments. The building boom easily supports the area's one major cabinet shop along with smaller operations such as Gobeille's.

He operates entirely on word-of-mouth and referrals, working with architects and homeowners as well as a handful of builders who are core clients. While new home construction makes up the bulk of his business, more commercial projects are coming in.

Doors in this knotty alder kitchen are solid material with a V- groove for a lodge-style look. There are metal inlays in the columns at the corners of the island. All metal, including the hood, was painted with an acid and then put out in the rain to achieve a unique patina.

To keep up with the growth, he is planning a second expansion of the shop, adding nearly 450 square feet to accommodate his office, which now interrupts the most efficient production flow, and an office for the production manager he hopes to hire. The rest of the new space will go to a conference room for client meetings.

Most customers are building their final house rather than a starter or step-up home. They know what they want and are willing to pay for it, but need some help "developing their vision," he says. That's where Harvest Moon comes in.

A typical job runs between $20,000 and $60,000. "We're not the cheapest in town," Gobeille says. But he hears plenty of post-installation comments from customers who believe they made the right choice.

"What sets us apart is the way we service people," he says. "Our passion comes through to people. What comes across is that we love what we do."

He concedes that everyone touts customer service. So what does it mean at Harvest Moon?

"Being a really good listener above all else," he says. That leads to "a synergy between the client's mind and mine to take what's in their head and make it real." That collaboration is where his passion takes root and is "what I really love," he adds.

Standing behind the product is a given. More important is "putting the customer's interests ahead of yours," he says. By doing that, sales follow.

Another facet of that philosophy is "pride in workmanship without being ego-driven," he says, i.e., finding the reward in the customer's satisfaction with the product.

"I love this career," Gobeille says. "It has afforded me opportunities to meet wonderful people and create valuable relationships."

An Unexpected Career

Gobeille's beloved career is something that happened by chance. After graduating from Seattle University with an English degree, Gobeille took a job in a newspaper art department. While scanning the classified ads one day, he spotted a position for a helper at one-man woodworking shop and decided to give it a shot.

The work was a revelation. "I finally felt like the puzzle pieces were coming together," he says.

When his boss decided to go back to solo operations, Gobeille struck out on his own, setting up shop in a two-car garage. A sizable commercial project spurred the transition to Harvest Moon's current location.

Early on, Gobeille recognized his youth could be a strength as well as a weakness. As he continues to gain experience in craft, he also embraces technology to expand the company's capabilities and efficiency. Equipment such as a Busellato Jet CNC router from Delmac Machinery Group and Holz-Her Sprint 1315 edgebander make steady growth possible without adding employees.

"Long-term, the only thing threatening to me is not keeping up with the technology," he says.

Still, he recognizes the need for balance.  "People have the capability, and machines have the capacity," he says.

Harvest Moon also has a Whirlwind cut-off saw equipped with a TigerStop linear positioner, and says his Altendorf F45 Elmo sliding table saw is "a huge workhorse." Gobeille compares it to a Swiss Army knife because, "There's nothing you can't do with it."

Some tasks, however, go more quickly on more specialized machines, which is why he added the Busellato CNC machine three years ago. The company's next acquisition is likely to be a horizontal boring machine, he says.

This remodeled kitchen was completely redesigned to have a circa 1900s feel. The eating nook incorporates built-in bookshelves with CNC-routed decorative details, a cherry-stained maple top and matching window trim. The color mimics lichen growing on a lava rock wall, which is on the homeowner's property.

Some job sites range as far away as the Oregon coast and Seattle, but because Harvest Moon's primary focus is residential casework, most jobs are local. Residential customers tend to be much more involved with the work than commercial clients, he says, "and hand-holding is hard to do at a distance."

One recent commercial job for an orthodontist's office included a curved reception desk made with laminated cowhides and hammered metal work; the Western theme continued with barbed wire light shades.

On the residential side, he has built several hidden rooms, with doors that swing open in a bookcase. He also recently built casework for a hay-bale house, including cabinets installed before the stuccoing was completed to create a

built-in look.

Cabinets that incorporate glass, particularly beaded glass, are popular, especially for wine storage, and media rooms are a growth market, he says. Flat-screen televisions that slide down from the ceiling allow him to venture into architectural woodworking.

Today's customers pay a lot of attention to details when it comes to casework, Gobeille says, and a desire for unusual features is becoming more common, thanks to home shows such as "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Trading Spaces."

"We are dealing with a more educated consumer all the time," he says.

Wood species preferences are varied among customers. A growing number of clients is requesting "green" materials, such as Lyptus, and Harvest Moon has done more than one

formaldehyde-free job.

European beech, which grows rapidly, is "going like wildfire" among his customers, Gobeille says. "It's kind of infectious. I have it in the shop, and someone comes in and sees it and wants it, too."

To some degree that stems from his referral business. "My showroom is the last job I finished," he says.

Knotty alder also remains a popular look in his market, he adds, but quarter-sawn white oak is gaining.

For door styles, customers prefer Shaker, which Gobeille attributes to the influence of local history. "Bend is an interesting market, because it used to be a lumber town, and the building market reflects that," he says. There are many Craftsman-style homes, and aged or distressed wood is used a lot.

Most doors are produced in-house. But during busy periods, Gobeille turns to another local woodworker. Having that option is "a great relief valve," he says.

Metalwork and glasswork are also outsourced, as is installation whenever possible. But the local market, where high-quality installers aren't as plentiful as Gobeille would like, drives how much installation work Harvest Moon tackles.

Growing a Business

Managing schedules and using time efficiently is a critical skill, especially if a small shop is to grow. Gobeille keeps a paper schedule in the shop as well as a copy on the office computer and on his personal digital assistant for easy reference at all times.

Juggling sales, design, engineering and production has become too much for a single person, he says. Adding a production manager in the near future will allow Gobeille to concentrate on design, sales and customer relations while maintaining steady growth.

Building a business is like building a pyramid, he says. "The wider you have built the base, the higher you can build the business."

Thanks to an investment in technology and solid relationships with customers, suppliers and equipment manufacturers, he feels he has put together the right infrastructure for growth.

"It has been fun to watch this business grow into a bigger entity and take on a life of its own," Gobeille says. "I want this to be a special company, a special place to be and work. I don't ever want to walk into the shop and not know my employees' names."

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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