Sherman & Gosweiler use traditional shop processes to produce a diverse range of custom woodworks.

Considering their respective histories, it seems logical that Chuck Sherman and Dick Gosweiler, founders of Sherman & Gosweiler Inc., would end up making custom cabinetry and furniture together for a living.

“We both came out of art school backgrounds,” says Gosweiler. “Chuck went to Rhode Island School of Design, and I went to what was then the Philadelphia College of Art. Chuck was a sculpture major, and I was much more interested in cabinet making. I had apprenticed in a traditional woodworking shop in Philadelphia, so I had a background in cabinetry. Chuck was much more artistic.”

“I was making things, but they were more sculptural than functional. I’d never had any formal training in cabinetry, per se,” says Sherman.

After being introduced at a party via mutual friends, the pair began sharing a shop space, but still working independently for other people.

“Dick, and a couple of guys, were maintaining a shop and were looking for people to come help defray the expenses,” says Sherman. “I was working for an interior designer named Pat Crane, making some coffee tables and doing some oddball carpentry projects. I needed machinery, and Dick said, ‘Hey, you need equipment, and I’m trying to keep this shop open.’ It was like $100 a month or something. I was the only one there from Monday to Friday, and then Dick would show up after work on Friday or Saturday and work on his own projects. I asked him to build a more conventional built-in for the interior designer, and she was thrilled with the result. Eventually, Dick quit his job and we started working together full time.”

Built-ins, such as the antiqued maple unit pictured, make up around 70 percent of Sherman & Gosweiler’s business.

(Design by Chuck Sherman.)

Sherman & Gosweiler

Bridgeport, PA

Year Founded: 1976

Employees: 8

Shop Size: 17,000 sq ft

FYI: Every project at Sherman & Gosweiler is completely performed by one cabinetmaker, from the beginning until it goes to the finishing room. Each cabinetmaker has their own personal table saw, hand tools and work area.

Lessons and Successes

Established in 1976, Sherman & Gosweiler combined Sherman’s flair for design and the artistic side with Gosweiler’s knowledge of cabinetry and traditional woodworking. The company started out mostly designing and building its own pieces, but according to Gosweiler, that quickly changed when they found people were coming to them with designs and ideas, simply wanting to have them built.

“I think the transition to doing other people’s designs was not a difficult one,” says Gosweiler. “And that’s really where a good chunk of the business has continued to be. We still do design quite a bit, and that’s Chuck’s area of expertise. But it’s not like you go to an artist and say, ‘paint me a painting,’ and let them do everything. We’re coordinating input from the client, and often their interior designer as well. So it becomes more like a collaboration, incorporating everyone’s input.”

“We grew up and went to art school at a time when, you know, it was the crazier the better,” says Sherman. “There is a slight part of me that still wishes we could be a little freer with what we do. But the other side of that coin is that we pretty quickly realized that we were going to starve to death if we didn’t start making things we could sell on a regular basis.”

Luckily, the pair are not starving to death. Even after surviving flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and a devastating fire in 2001, Sherman & Gosweiler have still managed to see about a 10 percent average sales growth annually.

“We had a fire in 2001 and our business burned to the ground,” says Gosweiler. “We essentially started all over that year, got all new equipment and new space and so forth. So it’s been a rebuilding process. We didn’t lose any of our client base, everybody stuck with us. But in terms of the graph going up, there was a bit of a blip in 2001.”

He says the company is still recovering, and advises fellow woodworkers to evaluate their insurance policies. “What we found out was that, contrary to what most people think, they’re not really insured for what they think they are. The lesson there was ‘understand your insurance policy, or have a lawyer clarify it for you.’ Ask lots of questions about exactly what’s covered and what’s not,” he adds.

“We learned that the hard way,” says Sherman.

Finding a Niche

Built-ins make up around 70 percent of Sherman & Gosweiler’s business, with media centers being its most requested piece. New marketing techniques are helping to keep this type of business coming in.

“We’ve only very recently, compared to the longevity of the company, really thought about marketing as a part of our business,” says Sherman. “Up until then it was always sort of catch it when you can; we worked for several loyal designers and got referrals from satisfied customers. We’ve been in business so long that quite a few of the designers we used to work for on a regular basis have retired or even died. So we’re actively looking for new contacts to expand our client base.” The company recently added a project manager/salesperson, Mike Smith, to help with this aspect of the business.

The company has also been working with audio/video dealers over the years who are very interested in truly customized cabinets to house their systems. “We spend a lot of time working out requirements for venting, software storage, etc.,” says Gosweiler. “A lot of them have very high-end customers who come in and say, ‘I want a $75,000 stereo system, and gee, I guess I ought to put it in something.’ The dealer may offer a line of stock or semi-custom cabinets, but they often don’t have a cabinetmaker they can direct their client to who will give them a beautiful cabinet that functions correctly, too. We’re filling that need for them.”

“Particularly large, built-in furniture,” says Sherman. “A lot of these homes that we work in, there are these massive rooms. You put a piece of stock furniture in there and it looks like a postage stamp. It has to be something of scale. We’ll do things that are 20-feet-long, 11-feet-high, you know, these monster cabinets that are multi-functional, including storage, display sections and bars. That’s why we’re concentrating on media centers so heavily now.”

“It is really the backbone of our business,” Gosweiler adds. “You can’t go into a store and buy these pieces.”

Among the company’s specialties are the use of exotic veneers and fancy finishes, including antiqued effects. “We’ll have a client come down to the shop once we agree on the concept,” Sherman says. “We show them examples of materials and finishes that we think are appropriate for the room. We often find that when they are looking at units being built in the shop, they stop focusing on the price and start thinking about changes that will make the unit more unique.”

“Often, for just the difference in material costs, they can change the cabinet from being relatively ordinary into something spectacular,” adds Gosweiler.

The company welcomes challenging and unusual projects, working on jobs as diverse as turning one client’s entire basement into an Irish pub to building a circular bath unit for another. “We’re looking for the people who don’t just want something nicely made, but who also want more options and are willing to take a little more risk with the design. If you think of all the custom work being sold as a pyramid, we’re looking for the very top of the point.”

At present, Sherman does the initial concept sketches for a project, but is open to bringing in a CAD program in the future. “We’re sticking our toe in the water with that now. Mike, our project manager/salesperson, has extensive experience with CAD. He’s been kind of on our case ever since he got here to start using it, both for sales and to give the cabinetmakers cleaner drawings,” he says.

“We’re kind of hoping to get down the road a little bit and produce some things where we could use a 3-D program for interior design and render. It’s a goal, but we’re not there yet.”

Truly Custom

Sherman & Gosweiler’s building process is truly custom, with each job being completed by one cabinetmaker, from the beginning until it hits the finishing room.

“This business is sort of an anachronism,” says Sherman. “One man takes the job through every phase of production, from raw plywood until it literally goes into the finishing room. It is a handmade thing. We take a lot of pride in that. It’s not like a team of 19 guys dropped down on wires and (makes drill noises). One guy built this thing. That’s kind of cool. A really good cabinetmaker is like an artist. There’s a certain level of our customers who like the idea that this thing is art.”

“That’s everything from a full-scale layout, to the cutout, assembly, construction, the doors, whatever’s going on there,” adds Gosweiler. “We can take virtually any job we get, and give it to any of our people, and they’re all going to do a great job. Except for help assembling the larger pieces, each guy does the whole job, so there’s a sense of identity with the piece. Their name is on it when it’s done.”

In the shop, each cabinetmaker has his own work area with a Rockwell table saw and a personal set of hand tools. The rest of the equipment is shared by the shop as a whole and includes a Brandt edgebander, a Striebig panel saw, a planer and a shaper by Delta, a band saw and an edge sander by Powermatic, a Ritter line borer, a Invicta shaper and a Dewalt crosscut.

Whenever possible, the cabinetmaker that builds the piece accompanies the installation team when the piece is installed, providing intimate knowledge of the piece to aid in troubleshooting installation problems.

“Having the guy who built it along means that when he’s building it, he’s going to be thinking, ‘How is this going to be easy for me to put together?’” says Gosweiler. “When we go out, the customer will meet the guy that built it as well. So there’s that connection. This is something made by a craftsman.”

“We’re banking on the idea that it’s worth spending a few extra bucks to get something that was truly handmade,” adds Sherman.

The bookcases pictured at left incorporate English sycamore and granite. (Design by Vincent Smith Burham.) The company welcomes challenging and unusual projects, such as the circular bath unit at left. (Design by Vincent Smith Burham.)
This multi-functional built-in unit was built using cherry with black lacquer accents and granite. (Design by Mary Sun Gorden.) Chuck Sherman, vice president, and Dick Gosweiler, president.

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