August 2005

'Two Thumbs Up'

Wood U Believe fabricates home theater units so beautiful, they are a box office bonanza.

By Lisa Whitcomb
Wood U Believe Inc.

Las Vegas, NV

www.woodubelieve.net

Year Founded: 1999

Number of Employees: 6 full-time

Shop Size: 5,400 square feet

FYI: Husband and wife team James and Denise Abram spent the early years doing everything in the shop themselves. Today, they are still a mom-and-pop business with a team of skilled craftsmen working in the shop.

In the city of bright lights and sultry nights with world-class entertainment is a custom woodworking company par excellence that dedicates itself to creating stylish home theater units for the video afficionado.

Setting the Stage for Success

When James and Denise Abram moved from Florida to Las Vegas, NV, in 1995 they had a dream of opening a woodworking shop in a booming area that specialized in unique custom furniture pieces. Today, they are living out that dream, and it is better than they could have imagined - Wood U Believe went from making $70,000 gross its first year to grossing more than $500,000 in 2004.

The company opened in Vegas on April 1, 1999, after originally operating in Florida from 1993/94. In the desert state James, a master woodworker, took jobs with other shops until, he says, "My wife got tired of me going from one job to another and said, 'You need to start your own business.'"

"No one could do anything to suit him. He has an 'Old World' work attitude that he got from his father, who was a master woodworker from Hungary. James learned the woodworking trade from his father," Denise explains.

"I hated it when I was growing up," James laughs. "All that saw dust...I wanted a suit job."

In 1976, he says that he fell into "it" when he began working with his dad, a custom cabinetmaker. "And I've been in it ever since," he adds.

'Lights'

In 2000, Wood U Believe began fabricating home theater units on a regular basis after a high-end audio/video company approached the company upon seeing its custom creations. "They wanted us to handle their high-end clientele, and that is where we really started to carve out a niche," Denise recalls. Wood U Believe outfitted the audio/video company's showroom and the company began referring its clients to Wood U Believe for custom entertainment centers.

This unit, designed by owner Denise Abram, was built for a local home electronics showroom. It is maple with a dark cherry finish and is 18 feet long.

"Working with them taught us a lot," Denise says, "especially about high-end audio/video components. There is a lot to know about the technology and a lot to consider when building a unit around the equipment."

"We've been very fortunate," James adds, knocking on wood. "Entertainment centers have been the niche for us. We have also been doing home offices and libraries, [which are another growth area as well]."

One way that the company's home theaters and other projects stand apart from its competitors is its application of creativity. "We can do anything, but it has to be really custom and very unusual. The typical things - any cabinet shop can produce them," says Denise.

"The typical things bore me," James adds. "We specialize in projects other cabinet shops won't touch. As a designer, I like the challenge of an artistic piece."

'Camera'

James typically goes into a person's home to look at what else is in the room architecturally, look at the other furniture and take pictures before he begins a design. "Every person is different. I try to get a starting point that reflects his/her personality and taste," he says.

James and Denise brainstorm on all projects. They research other companies and designs and try to stay aware of what is going on in the market. Denise, who comes from a background in furniture retail, also designs pieces.

The geometric design of this 8-foot maple entertainment center mimics a coffee table that the homeowner already had in the room.

"We don't build the typical 'build-a-box' unit that someone can put into a corner," she says. "I want clients to have a piece of art, a one-of-a-kind unit that is complicated enough in its design that other cabinet shops don't want to do it. That is what we specialize in."

People bring in ideas or pictures of what they like and Denise combines these elements along with the knowledge of what electronic components are to be incorporated into the piece and creates a custom cabinet to suit the homeowners' needs. Designs are produced with Cabinet Vision software.

Most units are built-in and span the length of the wall. They often incorporate fireplaces, because many builders in the Las Vegas area are building rooms with nooks and coves around fireplace units. "People don't know what to do with those spaces, so they call us and ask us to build cabinets to fill in the recesses," she adds.

With the advent of the affordable big screen television, more and more people want to bring the magic of Hollywood into their homes. "We've noticed a change in electronics in the last few years," James says. "People have moved from floor model rear-projection televisions to plasmas to LCDs in the past year or so. Another popular feature people are asking for is the retractable projection screen."

"Customers we deal with spend from $20k to $60k on the electronic components. Our home theater units range from $10k to $40k," Denise adds. As the prices decrease on the components, more people are buying them and then looking to buy a furniture piece to house them. Whole rooms dedicated to media are also on the rise, with more people creating true theater atmospheres inside the comfort of their own homes.

Home entertainment units are built with low-moisture wood species for desert regions, like Las Vegas, including the plywood and MDF cores. Veneers are laid-up in-house, using either maple or exotics like sapele or bubinga. Incorporating glass and metal laminate accents from Chemetal adds panache to units. The shop builds both face-frame and frameless units. All finishing is outsourced to A. J. Architectural, a local company.

Inside each unit the shop uses a metal rack system from Mid Atlantic that slides out for easy access to wires. James says all doors feature Grass concealed hinges, and drawers have Knape & Vogt slides. A thermostat-controlled fan is also installed into the casework (design permitting) to help keep a client's expensive components cool. Tower holders and lights are also incorporated.

Speaker screens are incorporated into a unit's design to help keep the electronics cool and keep them out of sight. "We like to hide everything but what the customer wants to look at," James says, noting black screens are rarely used. Instead, she and James will choose a screen color that closely matches the color of the wood or complements it.

'Action'

On any given day there are three to six projects in queue, with more waiting to come on board. "Demand is high, and we've had to back production down to keep the high level of quality that we are known for," James says. Typically the shop finishes and installs eight projects a month. Most are delivered in the area. However, a few home theater units make their way to places like Chicago, where one homeowner found Wood U Believe on the Web and flew out to see its showroom and facilities in person.

The Internet brings in a lot of new business for the company, in addition to its print ads and word-of-mouth business. Denise says its Web site, www.woodubelieve.net, was recently revamped by the couple's son, Nicholas Wells, who also works at the company.

Above: This stylish home theater unit has an MDF core and features a brushed bronze aluminum. It spans 14 feet along the wall.

All projects are built in the company's 5,400-square-foot facility. Wood U Believe runs multiple custom projects through work stations, such as milling, sanding, assembly and finished product assembly. The setup emulates a production facility's and is equally as efficient for the shop's custom work.

Panels are processed on the shop's SCMI sliding table saw, HerSaf panel router, Delta Unisaw shaper and Ritter's face-frame, boring and edge sanding machines. Each unit built is signed and dated by the craftsmen who work on it. In addition to the units on display in the company's showroom, Wood U Believe takes pictures of everything it builds for its portfolio.

Employees are generally hired with very little experience. Denise says they look to see whether a candidate is mechanically inclined, but prefer to train employees because then they craft a piece to the Abram's standards.

'That's A Take'

With home theater sales doing so well, where can the company grow? Denise says they will continue to expand their home office and library furniture offerings, which is a growing market. She duly notes that people are now having entertainment units built for more than one room in the home.

In addition, James adds, "We have been wanting to get a new division going with freestanding furniture pieces." The Abrams are looking to create and distribute their own line of furniture, in addition to building custom pieces.

"We have already done some furniture," says Denise, "everything from rocking horses to prototype game boards. We have also made many beds. As of late, we are getting into a lot of plasma lifts and LCD lifts for the bedroom."

The lift mechanisms are purchased from Auton. These furniture units are the next generation of fun for home entertainment enthusiasts, the Abrams say.

They have also built a lot of chests and armoires that are freestanding. In fact, Denise says a lot of the freestanding pieces they have made are for the bedroom. But the company will not build something that people can go into a furniture store and buy.

"We try to stay away from your typical units," James notes. If perspective customers ask, Denise tells them they may be better off with a mass production piece because it is less expensive.

"But if they want something that is just so unusual or they can't find anything they like in a store, then we will create it." Denise says. "That's what we love to do."

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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