Coming Back Better Than Ever

A devastating fire gives rise to a streamlined, high-tech Wisconsin cabinet shop.

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

     
H&R Custom Cabinets

Redgranite, WI

Year Founded: 1990

Employees: 6 full-time

Shop Size: 7,300 square feet

FYI: Owning a CNC router helped the company bounce back after a fire completely destroyed the shop, its equipment and work in progress.

 
   
     

A devastating fire ripped through the headquarters of H&R Custom Cabinets in Redgranite, WI, in July 2001, but owner Scott Rogers didn’t have time to mourn the loss of the business he founded in 1990. He had too many commitments and orders for work to spend time being sad about the total loss.

“The fire department was still putting the fire out when I was on the phone trying to find space to rent,” Rogers says. He found a place to set up temporary headquarters 10 miles from the shop, and local shops also loaned him space at night. So he carried on.

Rogers’ company manufactures custom cabinetry and architectural woodworking, selling mostly through contractors. Investigators believe the fire was started by a cordless battery charger, because it was located in the spot where the fire was the hottest. Although Rogers managed to keep the business going, the fire proved to be a setback in more ways than one. Not only did it damage the building, but it also ruined the contents, including all the equipment, materials and work in progress.

“We were doing the kitchens and interior woodwork for three homes in the Parade of Homes, which was set for two weeks after the fire. We worked until two or three o’clock in the morning every night to finish, and we were still working when people started to go through the homes,” Rogers says. The company also lost doors and drawer fronts for two other jobs and a whole entire kitchen.

“We are still reeling from the fire,” Rogers says. Even though his new manufacturing space is well equipped and larger than the space he occupied before, the front offices are still being worked on.

Another blow from the fire was that Rogers had just installed a new Cosmec Conquest 250 CNC router, from Holz-Her U.S., in December 2000. “We had just set it up to where we were kicking jobs out quickly and efficiently,” he says. “We had the templates all set up, and it wasn’t a week or two after that point that we had the fire and lost everything.”

         
 
 
H&R Custom Cabinets did casework in several rooms of this residence. This living room features cabinets in dark-stained cherry. A family room features an almost identical mantle, except that it houses a television behind doors over the fireplace. The kitchen, shown at right, also features dark-stained cherry cabinets, with granite countertops.  
         

However, thanks to Rogers’ strong entrepreneurial zeal, the fire was certainly not the end for the company, which came back stronger than ever. Rogers worked with the insurance company and outfitted a rental space with new equipment, while rebuilding a new shop on the same spot as the original building. “We had offers from neighboring communities to relocate, with pretty enticing tax advantages thrown in. But this area is special to us,” he says. His mother lives close to his shop, and he built a home for his family some 10 minutes away.

CNC Router Makes an Impact

Had the fire not occurred, Rogers would have been pleased with the addition of his CNC router to the shop. But with the fire, having the router proved even more invaluable.

“Without the CNC router, there is no way we could have recovered from a fire that devastating,” he says. “Because of it, we were able to get work out. Without it, the work would have been too labor-intensive to ever catch up.”

The growth in capacity also meant making some changes to the way the company sells its products. “Since we bought the CNC, we have gone from doing a $20,000 kitchen in two weeks to practically three kitchens a week,” Rogers adds. “We didn’t have a sales force large enough to handle our new capabilities. We switched from doing inside sales to working in partnership with a company in Lomira, WI, that handles our sales and offsite showroom.”

That company is All About Cabinets, run by Bob Kissinger, who does all the design work, holds sales meetings and finalizes contracts for residential kitchens. He e-mails plans to the Redgranite facility where the manufacturing work begins. The plans are loaded into the computer and, within minutes, they can be running on the router.

H&R Custom Cabinets uses Cabnetware and AlphaCAM software; AlphaCAM is used for custom CNC routing while Cabnetware is used for optimization. Rogers says the combination of the new machinery and software has dramatically increased the range of styles the shop can manufacture.

     
 
Upstairs from the “shadow box” wall unit is a built-in wet bar unit the company built for the living room. It is natural cherry.  
     

“The CNC router basically allows you, without jigs, to do any radius work in a matter of minutes, versus the hours and days it would take without the router. We have the capability now to do frame and European frameless styles for both residential and commercial customers. The only difference is a click of the mouse.

“Nested-based manufacturing is so functional,” he adds, “and using the optimizing approach really cuts out material waste. In the past, we were only set up for residential styles. We didn’t have the tooling we needed to do commercial work. With the software and the CNC router, which has eight tool heads, we can do it efficiently now.

“Commercial work is less than 5 percent of what we do overall, but that’s due to the general slowdown in commercial work since 9-11. Once that sector picks up, we are poised to enter the market. We have all the tools we need, ready to go,” he adds.

However, Rogers also says that the company will always make residential work its priority. “I started my woodworking shop because I love working with wood. Working with laminates doesn’t thrill me, but it is good to have the capability and flexibility [to do it].”

Oak, hickory, cherry, maple, knotty pine and alder are woods he typically uses. Around the corner, a block away from the rebuilt shop, he has another business — Mouldings Unlimited, a custom millwork shop he owns with two other people. That facility manufactures cabinet stock, doors, drawers and custom mouldings and has an on-site kiln. Rogers says he opened the shop about 10 years ago because there wasn’t a millwork business in the area.

Same Equipment, New Methods

Even though Rogers rebuilt his shop in the same spot and purchased pretty much the same equipment he had prior to the fire, he says that many things have changed since then. One is the basic setup of the manufacturing area, which is arranged into five cells.

“One cell is for frames and drawers, another is for the CNC router, another is doors and drawer fronts, another is assembly, and another is for finishing,” he says. After a job is designed and the plans are e-mailed to Rogers, he uses Cabnetware to create cutlists for the doors and drawer fronts. Another cutlist is made for front frames and dovetail drawers, which go to another cell. Cutlists for the CNC router cell include labels and panels.

Rogers switched to nested-based manufacturing when he bought the CNC router, and he strongly endorses it. “Basically, you run a job through for the cutlist, which you file to the CNC link, importing the cutlist to the enabler. The software creates the cutlist and writes a program for the router to cut sheets. It is a tremendous timesaver,” he says.

As happy as Rogers is with the machine, he says he lost a few employees because of it. “It is a new way of doing things, and a few people couldn’t adapt to the new ways. They didn’t want to accept change. One man quit and opened his own shop.”

In terms of the learning curve, Rogers says the biggest hurdle was getting used to the new software. “Getting things set up is important, making all the new templates and getting comfortable with the program. We got excellent service and technical support.”

In addition to the CNC router, the shop houses a wide variety of machinery, including a Sprint 1411K edgebander and Kundig 44 widebelt sander, also from Holz-Her U.S. There also is a Cantek upcut saw, JLT double door clamp, finishing equipment and spray booth from Binks, a Denray downdraft table, Grass hinge machine, two Porter-Cable dovetail jigs, Powermatic table saws, DeWalt and Omga miter boxes, Ritter face-frame clamps, and a Kreg pocket hole machine.

The millwork business features an Ebac lumber kiln, a Weinig Profimat 23E moulder and a Raimann USA gang rip saw. Among the woods he cuts and saws in his mill are the pines that grow plentifully in the area.

Rogers says that the CNC router also enables the shop to do more custom work than it previously could. “It’s more radius work and raised panels that we couldn’t do before,” he says. “We had a smaller shop, and there wasn’t room for the jigs. We are doing higher-end work now and improving our cut quality while shortening throughput.”

Rogers adds that years ago, when CNC equipment was first being introduced into the woodworking market, he was convinced that the technology was more suited to large shops. “We were all custom, and not spitting out one same part all day,” he says. “I knew that if I ever saw a CNC router designed for my needs, I would want to buy it.”

That day came during the IWF Show in Atlanta in 2000, which changed his outlook. “The router was doing what I needed. You could throw a sheet on and it would cut all the parts, down to the toekicks,” Rogers says. “The machine is actually well suited to a smaller custom operation like ours because of its high flexibility and versatility.”

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