A Blessing in Disguise

Being laid off from their previous jobs led to a new and profitable business opportunity for two woodworkers.

By Sam Gazdziak

     
Riverside Construction Services Inc.

Cincinnati, OH

www.riversidearchitectural.com

Year Founded: 1993

Employees: 38

Shop Size: 21,000 square feet

FYI: One of Riverside’s niches is museum millwork. Its successful fabrication and installation of millwork at the Cincinnati Art Museum led to extensive work in the renovation of the Taft Museum in downtown Cincinnati.

 
   
     

One company’s loss is another’s gain. When Bob Krejci and Tim Pierce were laid off at their old woodworking company, they decided to pool their resources and go into business together.

“Between us, we had a few hand-powered tools and a 10-inch Rockwell contractor’s table saw on legs,” Pierce recalls. “We had some success at that, and we decided to incorporate and see what happened.”

What happened was Riverside Construction Services Inc., a Cincinnati, OH, millwork shop that celebrated its 10th anniversary this February. It has gone from a two-man shop building laminate cabinets to a company with 38 employees and a reputation for high-end work in all aspects of woodworking, from assisting with the design to the installation.

About two-thirds of Riverside’s work is commercial projects, including office buildings, retail stores and museums. Museum work, especially, has become a nice niche for the company, Pierce says. “We do virtually everything over at the Cincinnati Art Museum, from erecting temporary metal stud drywall partitions for its temporary art exhibits to entire gallery renovations,” he adds. “We’ve even installed architectural artifacts in the space for them.”

The company’s work at the Art Museum has led to similar work elsewhere. One of Riverside’s current projects is the Taft Museum in downtown Cincinnati. Along with providing all the woodworking (siding, trim, historical reproduction stile-and-rail doors), employees are also erecting protective partitions to preserve the 200-year-old building’s murals and helping with the building’s asbestos abatement.

     
 
The Argosy Casino job included 9 miles worth of mouldings, restaurant millwork, curved paneling and stair rails.  
     

“This is all very sensitive work,” Pierce says, “because the building itself is considered to be a museum piece because of its age and history.

“They [at the Taft Museum] really did everything they could to make sure we were involved in the new construction,” he adds. “There was a very high level of comfort in working with Riverside because of our experience in working with the Cincinnati Art Museum.”

Residential work has also become an important part of the company’s business. Pierce says that stock market losses have encouraged people to put their money in a more reliable investment, like their homes. Riverside has done complete turnkey projects for several developers of large homes, which include kitchen and bath cabinets, built-ins, doors and frames, standing and running trim, and stair rails.

Riverside has built home offices using a variety of woods, including walnut, mahogany, lacewood and butternut. It also built a wrap-around porch and a distressed bench for musician John Mellencamp’s house.

Starting a New Company with Old Machines

As president/treasurer, Krejci oversees the business end of Riverside. Pierce, as vice president/secretary, spends time on the shop floor and determines the company’s equipment needs. “We both do a lot of different things, and we often overlap,” Pierce says. “But we both have our definite strong suits, and I think we work very well together.”

When the company was getting started, Pierce purchased the initial pieces of machinery at auctions. He says that those auctions were the best way to get the most machinery for the dollar. The company purchased a used joiner, planer and a segmented head jointer, which let them run their own mouldings. By putting all their profits back into the company, they also added a sliding table saw and some boring equipment to do European-style cabinetry.

Riverside was still in its original 3,500-square-foot building when it did its largest job ever in 1995, furnishing millwork for the Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg, IN. The $1.5 million job included 9 miles of moulding, some 18 inches wide, curved paneling, curved stair rails, stile-and-rail pilasters, casework for the cash cages, and all the millwork for the restaurants.

     
 
Riverside teamed with another local millwork shop for the Cincinnati Art Museum. It built the lobby and giftshop millwork, and Bruewer Woodworking of Cleves, OH, built the loose fixtures (background). Riverside’s employees did all the installation.  
     

Pierce says working with that job in that building made for a tight fit. “We subbed some work out, because we just didn’t have the room,” he says. “But by taking on that job, it enabled us to buy our first moulder.” Riverside bought the first of its two SCM Group SCMI Superset 23 moulders, as well as a knife grinder, a dust collection system and an SCM M3 gang rip saw.

Riverside moved into a new, 21,000-square-foot building in 1998 and added the second Superset moulder, as well as a CNC edgebander, two sliding panel saws, boring equipment and a 24-inch planer, all from SCM Group. The company also has bought a Northwood CNC router and Cabinet Vision software, which will be installed this summer.

Along with making the company’s curved parts production easier, the router and software will enable the company to start nested-based manufacturing. The router will be programmed in the office, and it will be able to cut whole sheets into parts, construction bore, line bore and dado them in six to eight minutes. Those processes currently take up an hour of work.

“The other advantage is the accuracy,” Pierce adds. “Our parts are going to come off the machine sized with much tighter tolerances. Ultimately, our parts are going to go together much easier.”

Service from Start to Finish

Despite the overall economy, Riverside enjoyed a 15 percent sales increase last year to $3.5 million, and the company has a $1.5 million backlog already for this year. Pierce credits the company’s employees for its success.

“Most of the people we have working in the shop are people with whom I have, over the years, worked side-by-side as a carpenter or cabinetmaker, or they are people that I have hired and trained. There’s a real spirit of cooperation here, a good chemistry,” he says.

     
 
The paneling for this Cincinnati office building lobby is quarter-figured makore. Riverside also made the curved paneling for the four 26-foot-tall columns in the lobby.  
     

Of the 38 employees, five work in the office, 15 work in the shop, and 18 work in the field as installers. All have done their part to keep Riverside’s sales growing.

“Where a lot of other shops could be dead in the water with the economy, we have a diversity because of our installation crew and our shop capabilities,” Pierce says. “If we’re a little short on work in the shop, we’ve always got a lot of work in the field, and vice-versa.”

Riverside’s installers occasionally take on small residential remodeling projects, which involve not only woodworking but also electrical, plumbing, rough framing and drywall work. Pierce says that it keeps the project running smoothly, because the installers never have to stop work and wait for subcontractors to come in and do their jobs.

The company also works directly with its competition. Riverside’s installers have installed work for several local millwork companies, and its woodworkers have run mouldings for the competition. “It’s mutually beneficial for us to work with each other, and it’s given us some opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have had,” Pierce says.

Riverside’s engineers also expand their normal range of work, to the point that they will assist some architects in writing their specifications on jobs, which Pierce says is almost unheard of. “It makes the job go so much smoother when you can work together and work things out up front ahead of time. Ultimately, the owner gets a better job, because there’s no backtracking,” he says.

In one case, an architect called Pierce with a difficult design. He had an area where he needed three pocket doors, where a person could open all three doors at once by pulling on one door. Via phone, Pierce and the architect worked out a “triple track” feature, where pulling one door open would progressively pull open the other two.

Pierce says that Riverside and its employees thrive on those challenging projects. “I’d say the biggest strength we have is the ability to problem solve,” he explains. “We like to take on the difficult things. Generally, it’s more profitable to go after that kind of work, because the level of competition is way down. You don’t have as many people able to do it, so you’ve got less people to bid against.”

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