September 2005

Veneer Specialist Counts on Key Relationships to Grow

Close ties with employees, vendors and industry colleagues are a top priority for this Florida veneer company owner.

By Ann Gurley Rogers
JFV Designs

Orlando, FL

Year Founded: 1991

Employees: 9

Shop Size: 15,000 sq. ft.

FYI: Owner Jeffrey Vaida flew his entire production crew to his Pennsylvania cabin for a long weekend this past summer, underscoring his strong commitment to his relationship with employees.

Jeffrey Vaida, president and CEO of JFV Designs of Orlando, FL, has developed a powerful formula for success. It starts by making people and relationships a top priority.

At the top of his list is his membership in the Architectural Woodwork Institute. He says he can instill confidence in potential clients because he follows AWI Standards. He also is active in his local chapter and involves his entire workforce.

For example, when the Florida chapter held a business learning seminar in Orlando, Vaida invited attendees to a family-style cookout at his manufacturing facility, and his crew did all the cooking. The event had a beach party theme, with "The History of Surf Boards by Surf-Daddy-O" as the centerpiece. While Vaida attended the seminar and meetings, his employees set up the decorations and cooked a scrumptious meal.

Vaida says he deeply values the family-like relationship he has developed with his small group of eight employees. "At the core of my group are some guys who have been with the company between five and seven years. We are close in age and have similar values," he says.

An award-winning project that showcased JFV's veneer capabilities was the Chapman Root II home in Florida. The home's living room features a ceiling canopy in quartered ash, a fireplace surround in maple burl and handrails with panels that are quartered ash.

To foster their close relationship, this past summer he flew his production employees to Pennsylvania to spend a long weekend at his cabin. "It was such a success that I am going to make a point of doing something like this on an annual basis," Vaida says.

Vaida even counts three dogs that "work" at JFV Designs as contributing a valuable element to the close family atmosphere at work, including his English setters, Bean and Zo, and Julie, an Australian shepherd who belongs to the shop's finisher. The dogs have a routine, Vaida says, starting their workday gathered around the front office, where they are given treats. When it is time for lunch, they can be found around the table making friends and looking for handouts. When there is a party, they really know how to work the crowd, Vaida adds.

Meeting a Need for Veneer Work

The team that Vaida has assembled represents the backbone of his 15-year-old company. Vaida says he started JFV Designs because he identified a need in the Orlando market for high-end custom residential and commercial veneer work. So, he set up his company with an in-house veneer department.

His veneer expertise subsequently earned him a prestigious local commission - the Chapman Root II house in Ormand Beach, FL, which provided the opportunity to showcase the company's capabilities. The job features a living room fireplace screen of maple burl and a canopy of quartered ash, plus a kitchen with quartered maple and quartered bird's-eye maple.

Another element in Vaida's formula for success is his marketing insight. He enters his most excellent work in various design competitions and has won several awards for the company. The work on the Chapman Root II house earned a 1997 Honors Award from the American Institute of Architects, as well as two CWB Design Portfolio Awards. It also was featured on the cover of Interior Design.

The owners of this home wanted a room with the feel of an Old-World, English-style pub. JFV Designs used distressed, glazed maple for the wall panels, coffered ceiling and casework.

Vaida also recognizes the value of having both residential and commercial clients and has developed a client base that provides a mix of both.

"After 9/11, the demand for commercial work dropped off for a while and our residential clients sustained us," he says. "It tends to work that way - commercial and residential demands have an ebb and flow, which tend to run in cycles that are counter to each other."

At the commercial end, the standard requests are for custom conference tables, veneered panels, case goods and specialty furniture. The company's high-end veneer capabilities have brought some interesting projects from both market sectors.

For example, JFV Designs has been asked to do the veneer work and interior finish for a private yacht being commissioned at Huckins Boat Co. of Jacksonville, FL. Huckins is one of the oldest continuously family-owned boat builders in America and was responsible for developing the P.T. boat at the beginning of World War II.

Also in the works is a project to do the interior panels for a custom coach manufacturer in the Orlando area. "The designer for the job contacted us because there are weight issues that we could address. We are using honeycomb panels that are super-light," says Vaida.

JFV Designs worked closely with the Altamonte Springs Police Department in the design of this desk for its Emergency Operations Center. While the piece was designed for functionality, it also is beautiful in appearance, featuring a leather edge and trimmed with quilted makore and quartered cherry veneers.

Another recent job involved casework for a work area for the "situation room" at the Altamonte Springs, FL, Police Department. The main feature is a radius desk, equipped with electronics and data interfaces for use by emergency management personnel during disasters such as hurricanes or high-level alerts related to law enforcement operations. The desk has a 10-foot radius and seats 12 people. Any person can view wall screens from any position at the desk, as well as work with their individual laptops at each station.

Another client with exacting requirements is Full Sail Academy, which commissioned JFV to do casework for its recording studios. Another stunning project was an entertainment center for an executive in the airline industry; it was designed to look much like the interior of an airplane, with an entertainment piece that resembles an airplane's wing.

"Most of the business comes from members of AWI," Vaida says, hearkening back to the importance of his business relationships. "We also get business from people who have seen our product after it has been installed" - a nice reflection of the company's expertise.

Vendor Relationships Also Important to JFV

A group of people who also are important to Jeff Vaida, owner of JFV Designs, are his suppliers. He says he attends trade shows every chance he gets partly to meet with them.

"It is such a wonderful opportunity to see all of the vendors under one roof. My relationships with my veneer venders are key," he says.

Working closely with his machinery vendors, Vaida expanded the business by adding several pieces of veneering equipment to the company's 6,000-square-foot production area - a Joos HP150 hot press, Kuper zigzag stitcher from Stiles Machinery and a Langzauner veneer saw, also from Joos.

Vaida says that when he first started the company, he used router jigs and saws to cut veneer leaves, and a vacuum bag for pressing. As the company grew, he purchased a Joos Junior press and cut the pressing time from four hours to four minutes, he adds. The new veneer saw can cut lengths of more than 13 feet, which also should improve production efficiency, he says. Other pieces of shop equipment include an Altendorf F92 sliding table saw, Brandt Optimat KDN 330 edgebander and Buffering Super sander.

The new veneer equipment also made it possible for Vaida to add a sister company, Veneer Source, which is now four years old. Veneer Source supplies veneered panels to woodworking shops all over the southeastern United States.


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