Spending a day with Pedro Gonzalez, there are three things you quickly discover about him: He loves wood, he loves what he’s doing, and he strives not just to do things right, but to do things perfect. It’s a combination that makes for a happy and successful business owner.

Gonzalez, who owns PLG Custom Cabinets in Tampa, FL, says he started in the cabinet business while he was still in high school, “learning from the bottom” by filing laminate cabinet doors. He progressed through different local shops, learning to do woodwork as well. By 1990, when he went out on his own, he decided to concentrate on wood cabinetry simply because he loves the material so much.

“Don’t get me wrong, you can do beautiful things with laminate cabinets. But it’s nothing like wood,” Gonzalez says. “I just like wood.”

Serving a five-county Tampa Bay area, Gonzalez found a ready market for his high-end residential cabinets. Starting on his own, he stuck to a high level of quality and built a client base through word-of-mouth. He worked directly with homeowners and also started, early on, doing work for contractors, who used his cabinets in their model homes and generated additional steady business.

“We worked with a very good contractor who built a lot of homes,” Gonzalez says. “That showed off our work in the high-end market.”

“We always left our business cards in the model homes, so people could pick them up. That also helped a lot of people learn about us,” adds Luisa Gonzalez, Pedro’s wife, who does the company’s accounting and orders supplies. “Many customers we got later had seen our work in a model first.”

Pedro adds that the company’s Web site, www.plgcustomcabinets.com, which he started in the past year, also has helped to generate business. “When we moved into our current building four years ago, we added a showroom. But, I think that the Web site does even more for us,” he says. “People like to look at all the pictures we have there.”

Gonzalez estimates that about 90 percent of PLG’s business is residential, with some high-end commercial work as well. “I like the woodwork. I don’t care if it’s commercial or residential,” he says.

Commercial work has included lawyers’ offices and the recreation hall for a luxury condo complex on the beach. For homes, the company does woodwork in all rooms, including kitchens, baths, libraries, entertainment centers and closets.

PLG Custom Cabinets

Tampa, FL


Year Founded: 1990

Employees: 9

Shop Size: 14,000 sq ft

FYI: PLG does a lot of work with local contractors, supplying cabinets for many model homes. In 2002, it won two awards for its work in a Parade of Homes: Best of Show and Best Feature.

Designed for a model home in the Whitehall development in North Tampa, FL, this maple hutch features radius moulding with a key corbel center, fluted column mouldings on the sides and capitols above.

Business has been booming, with new communities of homes and condos going up rapidly in this area. The size of new homes is growing to a grand scale as well. And the kitchens? “They are humongous,” Gonzalez says. “It’s unbelievable.”

A Growing Business

PLG Custom Cabinets has enjoyed steady growth since it started, prompting moves from its original small location through three different shops. Its fourth and current building has 14,000 square feet, with about 1,000 feet devoted to the showroom.

There are now nine full-time employees and, in addition to Luisa, their two daughters have helped out in the office and in building the Web site. Son Pedro Jr. also has worked for the company, but currently is serving in the U.S. Army as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot.

“Maybe my son will eventually come here, but he likes flying better,” Gonzalez Sr. laughs.

Shop equipment likewise has grown through the years, from “just a little tablesaw” in the original shop to an array of automated machines. Gonzalez has the production area divided into five sections: milling, specialties, laminating, hardware installation and finishing.

Panel stock is cut on a Giben 2000SP panel saw. A Holz-Her Super Cut 1220 vertical panel saw cuts cabinet components to size. Boring for construction and adjustable shelves is done on a Biesse Rover 13S point-to-point. There are two Grass hinge insertion machines for the hardware. A Holz-Her 1415 edgebander is used primarily for shelf edges.

Gonzalez adheres strictly to the 32mm system, using measurements in millimeters because he believes it is more precise. He uses Grass hinges and drawer slides exclusively, as well as the Grass Zargen metal drawer system.

One of PLG’s more unusual finishes is Amazon Green, which was used in this residential kitchen in maple. Wine racks, glass doors and open cubby holes add visual interest.

The company manufactures as much as it can in-house. It buys corbels, but does a lot of its own trim and fluted columns. One of its specialties is custom crown mouldings, with lots of details. “I like creating different mouldings,” Gonzalez says. “I design the profiles and make my own blades. Then a lumberyard down the street runs the mouldings for me.”

He outsources dovetailed drawers, if customers prefer them over the metal box. Gonzalez used to make his own doors, but there is such a problem with humidity in Florida that he stopped and now buys them from Conestoga.

Finishing is done in-house, and PLG makes its own colors. The company uses a lot of stains, spraying only sealer and topcoat. To control the humidity, the shop has a Palatek dehumidifier and a Kraemer dust collection system that also purifies the air.

“We are very proud of the custom finishes we do,” Gonzalez says. “We use a lot of different stains and will duplicate whatever a customer wants.”

The company also has its own installers. “When we have a customer, we give them full service, from the inside to the installation,” he says.

“We are a true custom shop,” Gonzalez adds. “I don’t make cabinets in increments of three inches like everybody else. I make them to fit the wall. The only way that I will put in a filler is if it’s decorative, and if I have to have fillers, they are only 11⁄2 inches.”

Doing It Perfect

Gonzalez has always set high standards for himself and has passed along high expectations as he gradually added employees. He says that it is hard to find skilled craftsmen, and he prefers to hire someone with no previous woodworking experience who simply is “settled and wants to work.”

“Then I can train them my way,” he says. “And I’m kind of hard when it comes to things like that. I have built a lot of cabinets in my time, and I know that there is only one way to do things — I only do it the right way. I don’t cut corners, and I don’t look to save a penny here and there. And my customers know that.

Staggered depth adds interest to this stylish birch vanity. It features a black stain and furniture-style details, such as bun feet.

“Either I myself or my shop foreman do the training, and we stay with new employees to make sure that it gets done right,” he continues. “Depending on the person, it can take anywhere from six months to a year to really know exactly what you are doing and to do it perfect. And I mean not just right, but perfect. There is a difference.”

Gonzalez adds that he is proud of the shop team he has now. “Most of the people with me have been here for years,” he says.

Besides training and sales duties, Gonzalez also does the design work, using Cabnetworks software. He estimates that only 10 percent of his jobs involve an outside designer. “Most of my customers come in and give me the basic room elevations and tell me where they would like the appliances. Then I design the cabinets for them,” he says. “I try to get together with the customer and get a feel for what they really like, and that’s what I try to do. I give them my input, and they usually listen to me.”

While Luisa Gonzalez says that her husband’s favorite task is the design work, especially when it involves something different and challenging, Gonzalez says he also likes looking at the end result.

Both agree that while they are enjoying the strong growth they have had since they started, with sales now reaching $1 million a year, they don’t want to grow too much more.

“We work for quality, not quantity,” Luisa says. “When you get more than you can handle, you can lose that personal touch.”

“I don’t want to lose the touch that I have on the business,” Pedro adds. “I want to keep doing what I am doing right now.

“I don’t look at it as a job,” he continues. “I love what I do. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

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