Outfitting High-End Retail Spaces
A Massachusetts shop blends Old World craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technology and produces high-end store fixtures that keep retailers coming back for more.
By Lisa Whitcomb
While working for a harpsichord maker in 1980, Mark Richey, along with his wife Teresa, began Mark Richey Woodworking and Design in his basement. After about three years of building cabinetry, Richey expanded and took a commercial space next to the harpsichord maker he used to work for.
“We started out doing residential work at first,” recalls General Manager Greg Porfido. “Then, gradually, we started acquiring commercial clients. Our first retail client was Royal Dalton china outlet stores. After that we made fixtures for Coach leatherware stores and we have been developing relationships with retail clients ever since.”
Porfido says that the shop actively sought to diversify itself with commercial work, as well as institutional and restaurants. “The move was deliberate, because our niche is producing really high-end woodwork, and we knew that we had to have varied work to keep the shop running and profitable,” he says.
As the shop grew, so did its need for space. Today, the shop is in a larger facility in Essex, MA. It reached a respectable $10 million in sales last year, a number that represents steady growth since the shop’s inception. Although it has experienced a recent lull in new project orders, much like other custom woodworking shops across America, Porfido credits the shop’s diversity of projects for maintaining a relatively stable balance sheet. Being a versatile manufacturer has especially helped since tenant improvement work, a primary source of “bread and butter” for the shop, has slowed down. However, 90 percent of the shop’s workload is still from commercial projects.
“Recently, the commercial tenant work in Boston has suffered tremendously. We were doing almost 60 percent of our work in that sector, now it has dropped to between 10 and 20 percent. Institutional and retail work are filling in, and we are pushing back into the high-end residential market,” Porfido says. Locally, he adds, institutional work is down because foundations took a hit in their funding and portfolios have shrunk, forcing them to be more conservative with remodeling and new construction projects. “Our store fixture work is not coming in like it did in the boom years, either. We are having to go out and actively get it,” he adds.
One feature that the shop offers its clients in order to procure new business is value engineering. It will break down the costs of a project and work with the architect and owner to find quality materials at a lesser price. “We tell them areas where they can see a cost savings and what types of materials can be used in these areas to achieve the savings,” Porfido says.
Technology is Key to Maintaining an On-Time Schedule
Depending on the scope and complexity of a project, the average cost for a store fixture can range from a few thousand dollars for a small fixture to a few million dollars for an entire store of fixtures and millwork. Porfido says that the company is seeing a trend these days for light-colored woods like anigre and light finishes in all of its markets. Store fixtures are incorporating more glass and custom metal elements, along with highly polished finishes.
Finishing is done in-house in the shop’s DeVilbiss spray booths. However, installations are outsourced, along with veneer layup. The shop uses Hafele and Blum hardware, in addition to the custom hardware made for store fixtures.
In the shop, Porfido says that employees are divided into teams, headed up by job captains, to work on projects as they come in. One unique thing, he adds, is that there is not a designated panel saw person in the shop. All employees are taught how to run the Schelling FMH panel saw. “The software is approachable and there are at least two people on every team that can run the saw,” he says. Each team does its own cutting. CNC machine work and finishing are done in different departments.
Having state-of-the-art machinery is an important element for getting projects done on time, Porfido says. In addition to the Schelling saw, the company has a Busellato Jet 6000 CNC machining center, Wadkin five-head moulder, several Powermatic table saws, Panhans shaper, Timesavers sander, DMC sander for final sanding, a Brandt edgebander, a horizontal Gannomat CNC index machine,and a V-groover from Star-V. All drafting is done in AutoCAD, and Porfido says the shop uses AutoDesk Inventor for complex 3-D modeling.
Moving with the Economy
This push for excellence is what drives the company forward and keeps it growing. Porfido says, “The shop would like to move into a larger space and add more equipment as soon as the economy allows. We would like to grow to be a $15 to $20 million business. But a lot of this growth will depend on what happens in the economy, because we will need to sell more to cover the cost of the move. We want to be in a position to move the facility when the economy turns. Right now there is a shortage of reasonably priced light industrial space in the Boston area. It is expensive, and we are taking our time shopping, hoping to find a bargain somewhere.”
Even in an economic downturn, the future of store fixtures looks healthy. “I think that as long as there are malls, store fixturing will remain a good business to be in because lease requirements require store owners to turn over their spaces. Most malls require that their tenants revitalize their store spaces at least every 10 years. In addition, since most retailers are in the fashion business, they like to change the look of their stores to keep up with the changing looks of fashion. These two driving forces keep the retail fixturing business going. As fashion changes, store interiors change and, therefore, so do fixtures,” he adds.
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