Brothers Divide Duties and Cover All the Bases

Joe, Paul and Rick Jutras head separate areas of their Rhode Island cabinet shop to manage the business thoroughly and smoothly.

By Helen Kuhl

     
Jutras Woodworking Inc.

Smithfield, RI

Year Founded: 1980

Employees: 25

Shop Size: 36,000 square feet

FYI: What began as a small remodeling business evolved into a high-end cabinet and millwork company that serves residential, commercial and, most recently, marine customers in the Providence, RI, area.

 
   
     

There is a definite tone of sadness in Paul Jutras’ voice when he admits that he would love to be able to spend time working on the shop floor at Jutras Woodworking Inc., the Smithfield, RI, company he co-owns with his brother Joe. Having grown up doing woodworking all his life (his father is a professional cabinetmaker), it is something that he loves.

But, as the company grew, adding employees and workload, he realized that someone needed to be a full-time business manager. So he took over that role, with Joe heading up the shop. Their brother Rick, who joined the company about three years after it started, takes charge of installation. Although he misses the time in the shop, Paul Jutras says it is a strategy that has worked well. The company today has 25 employees and does about $3 million in annual sales.

“I don’t work in the shop any more at all, but I sure did. I miss that. You better believe I miss that,” Jutras says. “I also find this part interesting and challenging. But when you have spent your whole life making things and have been active physically like that, it takes you awhile to be able to sit down and look at a computer screen all day.”

     
 
Commercial work makes up a good percentage of Jutras Woodworking’s sales volume. The company recently fabricated the maple curved panels and handrails for this auditorium in St. George’s School in Newport, RI.  
     

The company began as a remodeling business started by Paul and Joe in 1980, mostly doing small additions. Customers started asking them to do cabinets as well, so Paul set up a small workshop in his basement and did that work as needed. Those requests kept growing, so they added a couple of woodworking employees and built a two-car garage workshop at Joe’s house.

Both sides of the business prospered, and the brothers bought a building in Providence around 1988, with 5,000 square feet and a 5,000-square-foot basement. They eventually added another 7,000 square feet and continued to grow, with Joe heading up the remodeling and Paul in charge of woodworking. However, as they invested more money into their woodworking equipment and found themselves sometimes bidding for remodeling jobs against contractors from whom they were getting cabinet work, they decided to stop the remodeling and concentrate on woodwork alone. At that point, Paul Jutras also decided it was time for him to move into the office full-time.

“Joe was out on the road with four or five guys on the remodeling part of it, and I was in the shop with four or five guys doing the cabinetmaking. I was wearing about eight hats,” Jutras says. “I would be in the office doing an estimate, then out in the shop building something; the phone would ring and I’d run in to answer a call and then go back in the shop, and back and forth. It was very hard to keep focused on anything and do it well. So when Joe came into the shop, I said, ‘OK, I’m in the office.’”

The company started out doing all residential work, but today that accounts for only 30 percent of sales volume. About 60 percent is commercial work and 10 percent is marine. Jutras says he enjoys having a mix of work, and that the flexibility helps the shop stay busy during economic ups and downs. Following 9-11, commercial work slowed a lot, but residential projects picked up the slack, he says.

Marine jobs, which are a fairly new market for the shop, add more variety to the mix. The company does interior woodwork for local boat builders, whose focus is more on working with composites. They usually are not well equipped to do woodworking and, for them, it is just “a necessary evil,” Jutras says. “The marine work is good, and it has allowed us to diversify a little bit more,” he adds.

     
 
The homeowner on this residential project wanted a kitchen that looked like individual pieces of furniture, not like “cabinets out of a box.” Jutras Woodworking built these as individual pieces in cherry. Photo by Peter Goldberg.  
     

It also is interesting work. The company has done interiors for racing boats, which involve using ultra-light core materials and require added engineering to remove as much weight as possible from the casework. Such projects combine unique structural requirements with high-quality woodwork for a different type of challenge.

Jutras Woodworking only works with architects, designers or contractors, not direct with homeowners. Its focus is on high-end projects, and most work is in the local area. Jutras says that he enjoys working with a professional clientele, and the company has built strong relationships with its customers over the years. It does no design work itself, but Jutras says he appreciates being brought into jobs to provide input early in the process.

“The ideal situation is to get involved early in the project when they are designing it,” he says. “We can help them with selecting proper materials and advise them about what should or shouldn’t be done with different materials. That’s the best thing for everybody involved.”

Jutras credits his skilled work force for doing a caliber of work that has built the company’s reputation for quality and enabled it to grow. “There is a history of cabinetmaking and boat building in this area. So I think there tends to be more of a skilled work force here than in other parts of the country,” he says. “We have great guys. That’s what has allowed us to grow, having good help. We have people who are dedicated and work hard.”

Jutras adds that the company has very little turnover. To retain good workers, it pays more than most other shops in the area. It also offers several benefits, such as a 401(k) plan with the company matching employee contributions dollar-for-dollar, as well as a family insurance plan. There also is a holiday party, golf tournament, bonuses and other perks. “We try to hire the best and keep them here,” Jutras says.

Big Project Offers Challenges

Although commercial work in general has been down, Jutras Woodworking recently completed its biggest job ever — all the woodwork, plastic laminate and solid surfacing for the new George E. Bello library and IT center at Bryant College in Smithfield. It was a $3.1 million project and required 112 years of office work and nine months in the shop to complete (see sidebar on page 44 for details). The results were spectacular, but the size of the job was daunting at times.

“For a large part of that job, I was sure that it was going to put us out of business, which kept me up at night a lot,” Jutras says. “But I’m definitely glad we did it. It was a beautiful job.”

While Jutras is not sure whether he would take on another project of that magnitude, he adds that he would rest much easier the next time thanks to the recent acquisition of a new software program. It provides up-to-the-minute, realistic reports on all jobs, so he always knows where the company stands.

The software, acquired a couple of months ago, is ShopPAK. It works with ProjectPAK, a program that does estimating and some project management, which the company already was using. ShopPAK “completes the circle,” Jutras says, coordinating operations as they run through the shop. It gathers job data via three touch-screen monitors located throughout the shop. Instead of filling out time cards or punching a clock, employees log in each day by touching the screen. They touch their name, then the name of the job on which they will be working, then the specific type of operation they will perform. As they change operations or work on different jobs throughout the day, they touch the screen again with the new information.

The data is automatically gathered by ShopPAK, which creates a multitude of reports as needed. It shows on a real-time basis how a job is progressing through the shop and how much time and money has been expended at any given moment.

“It lets you know if you are making money or losing money; it helps you bid jobs more accurately; it tracks things from one end of the job to the other,” Jutras says. “Before, we would evaluate jobs at the end and say, ‘Did we make money or did we lose money?’ With this system, we evaluate jobs every day. We get a current listing of where we are on each job financially, in man-hours, the whole thing.

“I think it’s really hard for a guy whose skills are in woodworking to spend money on a business tool. We are used to buying machines,” Jutras adds. “You buy a CNC router and by the time you have everything set up, you may spend $200,000. But if you are going to spend $10,000 or $15,000 on something that will help you coordinate your work, organize your work, track it through the shop, find out what your margins are on your jobs, all of those business tool things, you go, ‘Oh no, do we really want to spend $10,000 on this?’

     
 
This photo shows some of the plastic laminate work Jutras did in the Bello Center, including the counters, tops for round tables, and black plastic laminate reveals behind plaster work that separates the rows of small and large windows.  
     

“I think that if you came back here a year from now and asked me about what we have invested in that has made the biggest difference in the business, I will say that it is this software,” Jutras says. “I think that will be the thing that will have made us more money and put us in a better situation, without a doubt.”

A Well-Equipped Shop

While Jutras has high praise for his newly acquired software, the company has invested steadily to take advantage of new machine technology and has a full array of equipment. This includes a sliding table saw, tilting arbor shaper and thickness planer, all from Martin, and a Kundig Uniq edge sander and Genesis 1435SE edgebander, both from Holz-Her.

One of the newest machines is an Altendorf F45 Elmo digital sliding table saw. Jutras predicts that in five years, all machinery in the shop will be digitally equipped. The company also has an Ayen SKB50 boring machine, a Ritter multi-spindle line boring machine, a Weinig five-head Profimat moulder and a vertical panel saw and slot mortiser, both from Griggio.

There are also several Delta Unisaws and Omga cut-off saws, plus four Weaver cabinet door machines, each set up with a different profile. There is a Costa 60 widebelt sander from Costa & Grissom, and the newest piece of equipment is a G0504 16-inch dual conversion resaw from Grizzly. Jutras bought it after seeing it at IWF in Atlanta last year.

At the heart of the shop is a Routech Record 130 CNC router from SCM, which cuts all cabinet parts. “It is great for doing curved stuff, too,” Jutras adds. The company uses Microvellum software for creating G-code for the machinery.

The current shop is 36,000 square feet. The company moved there two years ago to get more room and more efficient space. The new shop includes a 2,000-square-foot finishing department, fitted with gas-fired air makeup. “We sell a lot of jobs because we have in-house finishing and because we have a reputation for being able to put on a quality, durable finish,” Jutras says. “It is definitely something we sell, especially with kitchens.

“I think finish is very important; it is important to control it in your own shop,” he adds. “Building a project, I think, is a lot easier than finishing it, in general. It’s not an easy part of the business, but it is an important part.”

The company purchased a Graco Falcon air-assisted airless spray system last year for the Bryant College project, which specified the use of ILVA polyurethane. It is a very expensive material, and Jutras wanted to get good transfer efficiency. Since then the shop has continued to use the ILVA finishes, as well as products from Sherwin-Williams.

One Job Sells Another

Although Jutras Woodworking gets most of its business as repeats or through word-of-mouth, the company does maintain a nice portfolio of professional photos of its work to show prospective customers and has several large blow-ups prominently displayed in its offices.

“We should photograph a heck of a lot more, because we only have a small percentage of our jobs,” Jutras says. “It’s helpful to have, because it’s all we have. We don’t have a showroom because everything is custom. We don’t advertise; I always figure that the last job we did is our advertising for the next one.”

The company does demonstrate the quality of its work in its own offices, however, which include a conference room with a Madrone burl conference table and beautiful mahogany cabinets in the office and reception area. It recently built cherry and koa cabinets for its lunch/break room. Jutras also takes customers and prospects to the nearby Bello Center to show its work there.

With its efficient management team, skilled work force and full complement of machinery and software in place, Jutras hopes to see the company continue to grow. “As good people become available, we will expand our business,” he says. “That is kind of the way we have always approached it.”

Having the three brothers working together to cover the key areas also contributes to the company’s success, Jutras adds. “Even when we were kids, we always worked together doing woodworking. We have a real good division of labor, and we get along really well. From the beginning to the end, between the three of us, we have it covered.”

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