An All-in-One Shop

Haydenville Woodworking not only builds custom cabinets and millwork, but also the houses to go around them.

By Helen Kuhl

     
Haydenville Woodworking & Design

Amherst, MA

www.haydenvillewd.com

Year Founded: 1982

Employees: 10

Shop Size: 3,500 square feet

FYI: The company’s plans for future growth include offering an affordably-priced, limited production blanket chest on eBay.

 
     

When Lance Hodes says, “We have had a philosophy here for a long time of vertical integration, and we have really tried to do that,” it could be considered a slight understatement. Hodes, who started Haydenville Woodworking & Design in his Haydenville, MA, garage barn about 20 years ago, found himself expanding into new home construction, renovations and additions. Today, the company operates as two separate entities, as a construction company building houses and a cabinet shop supplying all the cabinetry and architectural millwork inside — truly “one-stop shopping” for the homeowner or architect.

“I started a little cabinet shop and quickly realized that I didn’t have a large enough client base to make a living doing that,” says Hodes, who had worked his way through college doing construction. “So I went back to doing construction. I managed to get a sizeable construction company together in a few years, with my small shop on the side, the goal always being to eventually have a good size, independent cabinet shop. I capitalized the growth of the cabinet shop using the construction firm.”

While it may not have been Hodes’ initial plan, the dual arrangement worked out well. Haydenville Woodworking’s annual sales (for both facets combined) are $1 million, and it enjoys a solid reputation that brings in steady work on high-end custom homes, kitchens and architectural millwork. There also is a strong enough base now, so that the cabinet shop can start going on its own.

     
 
This was an unusual kitchen project because the countertop goes straight to the windows; it is caulked to the glass. These contemporary-style cherry veneer cabinets feature a black laminate reveal and solid cherry edgebanding. The company uses full-extension undermount drawer slides and hinges from Julius Blum.  
     

One factor strengthening the cabinet shop was the addition of general manager John Dubois to the staff three and a half years ago, Hodes says. “John has been integral in making the cabinet shop independent of the construction group,” he says. “He has worked to build it up.”

Dubois brought some changes to the shop that expanded its scope, in production as well as marketing. For one, he began using the shop’s line boring machine, which had been sitting virtually idle before that, and instituted the 32mm system for casework construction.

“Adapting the 32mm system to our cabinetmaking has been interesting, because we never build two cabinets alike,” Dubois says. “We have our standard-type cabinet, which is a frameless cabinet with a full overlay door and drawer front, that’s a basic 32mm cabinet. But we have done 32mm cabinets that have face frames, inset doors, posts and everything else. What we’ve tried to do is incorporate the system into our design work so that we achieve the look that we want, but also get the efficiency and effectiveness of the 32mm system and its hardware.”

The company also was doing a little veneer work at the time Dubois joined the staff, and he has been expanding that market, both for the shop’s own work and as a source for other local woodworkers.

“There are not a lot of other people doing veneering in this area,” he says.

“It has been a nice niche for us because we can offer clients something that is fairly unique, that you certainly can’t get off-the-shelf anywhere,” Hodes adds.

The company bought a Quality VAKuum Products vacuum press with a 4-foot by 12-foot bag, and Dubois has been gradually developing the ability to handle more elaborate jobs. “Slowly but surely we are getting versatile in doing different patterns,” he says. “I was always traditionally a solid-wood kind of woodworker until I started getting some veneer practice. Now I’m sold on it.”

Vertical integration in the shop

When Hodes talks about being vertically integrated, he mostly is referring to the fact that Haydenville Woodworking not only does its own veneer layup, but also produces its own mouldings, doors, drawers and most countertops, regardless of the material. The shop is a certified fabricator for several solid surface materials. It also has done countertops in Fireslate. The only tops it outsources are slate, marble and granite.

     
 
Haydenville Woodworking owner Lance Hodes says that there is a trend towards bathroom vanities that are really more like furniture pieces. A striking example is this curved bath vanity. Its design was inspired by a Shaker box. To create the lattice work doors, 1&Mac218;8-inch strips of cherry were laminated, put over a form and vacuum pressed. This piece sold for about $6,000.  
     

The company does all its own finishing, too. Most finishes are a catalyzed conversion varnish, and Haydenville uses M.L. Campbell products almost exclusively. Natural finishes on light-colored woods are popular now, Dubois says, although requests for painted cabinets have been growing steadily for several years. Dubois says he is very pleased with Campbell’s “Resistant,” a pigmented conversion varnish, for painted cabinetry.

Both veneering and finishing are done in a second-story mezzanine in the shop. In addition to the bag press and veneer storage, there is a spray booth equipped with a Kremlin airless air-assisted spray system and Binks conventional spray guns.

The 3,500-square-foot shop is part of a building Hodes built 12 years ago, when he was doing mostly construction work and wanted to establish a larger cabinet shop to grow in the future. The building, in South Deerfield, MA, was built in partnership with a friend who is a plumbing contractor. It contains four commercial condominium units; Hodes and his friend each took one unit, one was sold and one was leased, with the idea that the space could be taken over some day if needed.

That time may have arrived for Haydenville. The company already has purchased some old shipping containers to free up additional shop space; they sit outside the building and are used to store finished pieces as well as plywood and lumber. The main floor of the shop has a small office and showroom; the production area houses the Ritter boring machine, a 36-inch Timesavers widebelt sander, a Vega edge sander and a Williams & Hussey moulder. There also is a Powermatic planer and an old Powermatic 66 tablesaw that recently was equipped with an Excalibur sliding panel extension.

Other equipment includes a jointer, shaper, tablesaw and lathe, all from Delta, a Rockwell bandsaw, a General mortiser, a Bridgewood tenoner from Wilke Machinery and an old belt-driven Millbury tenoner. All dust-producing machines are hooked to individual Dustek dust collectors.

There are four employees working in the cabinet shop, five carpenters in the construction side and an administrative assistant in the office. Hodes does most design work for both sides of the business, while Dubois does most of the pricing and heads the shop.

“I’ll usually give conceptual drawings to John and he will price the work from them,” Hodes says. “If all the numbers look good and we get the job, we will do shop drawings. The shop drawings then get authorized by the client, and we build the project.”

Exploring new markets

Although Hodes estimates that at the moment, 90 percent of the work the shop produces is for homes that it is building or renovating, there is a growing number of customers who are coming in independently and asking for kitchen cabinets, built-in entertainment centers or freestanding furniture. The cabinet shop is developing other niche markets to further its growth as well.

One example is work it does for local area insurance companies. They hire Haydenville Woodworking to build custom woodwork to replace items destroyed or damaged by fire, storms, water or other disasters. There are a lot of old, historic homes in the area, Dubois says, and “If someone has a replacement policy and they have an older home, they can’t go out and buy replacement windows or doors. They must be custom-made reproductions. Replacement reproduction work is a small niche for us, and it’s nice work.”

The company also does some high-end commercial work for local colleges, including Smith College, Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts (it just landed a prestigious contract to do architectural millwork for the U. of MA’s Bezanson Recital Hall). To do woodwork for the colleges, Haydenville is required to belong to the Architectural Woodwork Institute, which has been a valuable membership in many ways, Hodes says. “We have taken some of their educational classes, and the Quality Standards is a great book,” he says.

The shop also is developing some limited production furniture pieces, which it wants to sell through galleries and the Internet. It is starting with a blanket chest that it can produce in lots of 20 or 25 and plans to introduce on eBay. “This is a handcrafted, limited production item that is well built,” Dubois says. “We are only looking to retail them for $600 or $700.”

The company hopes not only to sell such items through eBay, but also to link customers from eBay to its newly developed Web site, www.haydenvillewd.com, “where people can see that we also can do custom furniture and cabinets at higher-end prices,” Hodes adds.

In addition, Hodes and Dubois would like to see the shop have its own retail store some day, both to sell its furniture and also to generate custom work. “There is not a high-end furniture store in this area,” Hodes says. “Ten years ago, the area would not have been able to support such a thing. But today there are many more people moving up from Connecticut and New York City. So the economic base is changing.”

As these different projects and prospects develop, Hodes is hopeful that he finally will be able to focus full-time on the cabinet shop and drop the construction side. “I’m sort of tired of running two companies and in many ways, it feels like that,” he says. “With John here, it has freed me up to pursue other things and bring in enough work so that we can drop the construction end and sub out that part some time.

“That was the goal from the very beginning, and it hasn’t changed,” he adds. “I started out as a cabinetmaker and I’d like to end up as a cabinetmaker. I’ve just had a little side trip along the way to make it possible.”

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