Fully finished kitchen cabinetry displays in the new Builder’s Cabinet Supply showroom
include high-end appliances, lighting and decorator touches to inspire customers.

For over 25 years, Builder’s Cabinet Supply has been manufacturing custom designed residential cabinetry for builders and developers from its home base in Chicago. Seventeen years ago the company made a major move, relocating from cramped quarters in a gentrifying neighborhood west of the city’s venerable Wrigley Field baseball park to much larger quarters, taking over the third floor of a hulking four-story factory building in a sleepy industrial corridor.

This move opened the door to a new opportunity. In October 2010, Builder’s Cabinet Supply opened a dramatic 3,500- square-foot street-level showroom that really shows off its design and execution capabilities — one that could appeal to additional professional markets.

Cabinets are glued and doweled, drawers dovetailed, and Blum is the standard in functional hardware at Builder’s Cabinet Supply. 

“Historically, we’ve promoted to builders and developers,” says Bruce Church, director of marketing and design, and manager of the showroom. “Our new direction broadens that marketing to interior designers, architects, remodelers, and also to some end users.” Those end users are easier to find, since gentrification has also followed Builder’s Cabinet Supply to its new site, with loft home conversions and renovations of vintage housing stock now surrounding their premises.

“We haven’t done a whole lot of direct marketing to end users,” Church notes. “Our first step has been to place visible signage at the street level. Now people drive by and come in.”

A wealth of door styles, most manufactured in-house,
are featured in a dramatic setting.

Builder’s Cabinet Supply ran full tilt during the housing boom, delivering peak production of 1,000 cabinets a day to builders who were filling the surrounding area with condos and townhomes. The housing bust that dampened the new construction market across the country impacted Chicago as well. And like other custom cabinetry firms, Builder’s Cabinet Supply sought out new opportunities, and it began promoting.

“A big shift has been to move more toward remodelers,” Church says. “And we’ve done some radio ads geared toward end users. But a lot of our business is referrals.”

The company already had a smaller showroom off its third floor factory, “but it was not the kind an end user would be comfortable with,” says Church. The new showroom “caters to inspiring people so they can visualize a project,” Church says. “It is geared toward inspiring end users.” Many of them are accompanied by designers or architects.

Builder’s Cabinet Supply doubled its Chicago design staff to six when it opened the new showroom and it has additional designers based at a second site in Lombard, a western suburb of Chicago. When new customers arrive, designers are paired up with them based on the client’s needs and expertise level.

While developers and builders tend to have clearly defined cabinetry needs when ordering, frequently purchasing cabinetry in multiple sets, designers and remodelers tend to work on single-site projects.

Either way, every project is custom, based on lines taken from the company’s Orchard Hill Cabinets brand. But certain specifications are standard.

“Our standard construction is 5/8-inch furniture board,” says Church. “We do make frameless cabinets. And because they are frameless, the drawers are wider so you get more storage area.” Church, who has a design background (he worked with a New York design firm and managed a custom furniture division for a construction company before coming to Builder’s Cabinet Supply) says 80 percent of projects are handled in 20-20 Technologies software.

In terms of design trends, Church says the market is “fractured,” with some customers going for the least expensive lines, while others aim for moderate-to-upper range. “The market is moving toward contemporary and mixed surfaces, and more people are looking for flat panel doors, and a nice stain or wood grain.” He also notes, “When people do a high gloss foiled finish, we are definitely seeing an increase in different tones of grey.” At the same time buyers opt for classics like quarter-sawn oak.

When asked about electronics, such as lighted cabinetry, or media centers, Church detects more of it. But concealing wiring is less of a challenge. “With the advent of wireless, there isn’t a huge increase in that,” Church says. “We do offer a wide range of LED puck lighting, and we offer magnetic switch lights.” Another product that seems to be popular is cabinet inserts with automated open and close devices for drawers. “We are offering a wide range of cabinet inserts, including the Blum electronic open and close system.”

Mike Falbo, a senior designer at the firm, says electronics are actually getting easier to handle. “If people are doing an entertainment center, we work with them,” he says. “It’s easy. We usually work with an audio visual expert from an electronics center.”

To accommodate the connections, “We will block forward and add a false panel to conceal the wiring,” Falbo says. “A lot of times electronics are behind doors [so they are automatically concealed].”

Designs created on 20-20 Technologies software are translated into written orders, then head upstairs, to where Rick Bohnsak oversees production operations.

As the business shifts to include more designers, architects and remodelers, projects are shifting more and more from short-runs to one-offs. But Builder’s Cabinet Supply tries to maintain production efficiency, with point-to-point CNCs that lend themselves to the custom work, especially in cabinet doors with a mix of dimensions and solid wood construction styles. Flat thermofoiled doors are outsourced.

“We are a made-to-order operation,” says Bohnsak. “It is custom work, but I like to run it as a production process, going at a quick pace, so we get several kitchens going at the same time. We try to do made-to-order on a production basis,” he says. “We have a production mentality but we produce each order as a single job.”

Near most of its customers, Builder’s Cabinet Supply has a market advantage on reduced shipping costs and delivery speed. Cabinets are glued and doweled for strength; drawers are dovetailed. On functional hardware, “We use top of the line Blum soft close hinges and slides,” says Bohnsak. “We’re a big user of Blum.”

Redundancy is also very important to Bohnsak, who likes to have two or even three of every machine for back up. Right now the production machinery line-up includes: Biesse Rover 24, Rover 336 and Weeke Venture CNCs, two Brandt edgebanders, Selco and Holzma Optimat HPP 250 panel saws, and two Koch dowling machines.

A job takes two to three days to move through manufacturing, says Bohnsak, going from computerized design drawings. “We use 20 20 Technologies pretty much exclusively,” says Bohnsak. Linking the program to the CNCs may not be practical in his operation, he says. “We are so custom, it could be difficult,” since a kitchen project can have 14 to 16 cabinets, with 30 to 32 line items involved.

The need for flexibility is reflected in the fact that Builder’s Cabinet Supply relies on its three versatile pod-and-rail CNCs. The Rover 24, for example, can be configured for panel production or can machine solid wood, and with electronic positioning can machine multiple-up doors, providing more capacity. “Because we are so diverse, it can vary,” says Bohnsak. “Very elaborate doors and painted finishes or finish with a glaze can take from two from two to seven weeks,” he says.

To reach its new customers, branding is an important area, says Falbo. Builder’s Cabinet Supply carries its own branded line: Orchard Hill Cabinets. It also turns up readily online: at buildmykitchen.com; at Facebook with talky postings and real life postings of its work; and Subzero Appliances’ website lists Builder’s Cabinet Supply among those proficient at customizing appliances with cabinetry facings.

Falbo’s earlier career as a chef may have influenced the showroom. It is packed with high end kitchens, with big preparation islands, deep countertops, and plenty of tall, deep cabinets built in the factory upstairs. In terms of its market sweet spot, Builder’s Cabinet Supply aims in the upper range. ”We go from mid to high end,” says Falbo. “Cabinetry with insets is the highest end of our range.”

Builder’s Cabinet Supply increasingly works with reconstituted veneers. “Reconstituted has been good for us,” Falbo says. Cherry and walnut are the most popular woods. Most doors are made in house, though flat panel doors they generally buy. An impressive number of doors are displayed in a large area of the showroom. Sourcing for wood and components includes Conestoga Wood and Maple Craft. Do residential customers want greener kitchen cabinets?

“They used to before the economy went bad,” says Falbo, who says customers of professional clients have grown reluctant to buy a green product if it costs more. On one green front, Builder’s Cabinet Supply has a particular advantage in its marketplace.

“People like that we produce locally,” says Falbo, which technically means the cabinets could have a smaller environmental impact than competing cabinetry shipped long distances. “The customers are often surprised at the speed of delivery,” he says.

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