Custom homebuilder buys custom cabinet shop
January 7, 2020 | 10:01 am CST
Great Lakes Fine Cabinetry, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, builds custom cabinetry and is planning to expand its product line to include custom closets and home organization systems. Recently, the company was acquired by homebuilder Dan Arbic, owner of Arbic Construction.
Arbic has been building homes since he graduated from college. Along with his wife, Kim, they initially started building modular homes in the early 1990s. Because of the quality of their work and attention to details, they were soon encouraged to build custom homes by a gentleman who eventually became the mayor of Arbic’s hometown, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
“Well, if you can do such a good job making these modulars look good, why don’t you build me a house?” he asked Arbic.
“So, that was it, we just started building [custom] homes,” Arbic said. That shift occurred around 1995 and Arbic Construction has been designing and building custom homes ever since. That was also the time period when Arbic began working with Great Lakes Fine Cabinetry.
As Arbic started building more high-end homes, he realized the need for high-end cabinetry for the interiors. He initially used box cabinets from the local lumberyard where his father-in-law worked but soon realized higher quality and a faster repair turnaround time were necessary, especially if a cabinet was delivered damaged or late.
“I kept running into the same snag that everybody does, where the quality may not have been perfect, but the main problem was, something would come in damaged,” he noted. “I’d work hard to win over the customer. The project would be going great, and then a kitchen cabinet would come in damaged and now we’re delayed three to four weeks, and back then, we were building homes in 90 days turnkey.”
Arbic decided to contact Great Lakes Fine Cabinetry, then located on nearby Drummond Island, Michigan – a small island on Lake Huron between the Michigan mainland and the Canadian border that could only be reached by ferry.
“So, after getting frustrated enough I went to them and said, ‘I’ll give you a shot. I’ll let you in on a couple of houses. My main question is simple: If you guys come and there’s something wrong, something damaged, anything like that, how fast can you get it fixed and make my customer happy?’ And they said, ‘Three to five days.’ So, that was it. I started doing business with them and I never turned back, and they made my life pretty easy.”
Because of the company’s ability to do customized projects and their quality design work and construction of cabinets, Arbic maintained a relationship with Great Lakes for over 15 years until 2016 when the former owners approach him about buying the company.
“They came to me with this sale, and I’ve always kind of wanted to do something else – not that I wanted to get out of building, but I just kind of wanted to do something [different],” Arbic explained.  “And I’ve always admired how these guys were so efficient and the quality of their product was second to none. So, I asked my wife to entertain the idea.”
What sealed the deal was bring on Ken Lincoln, who had become Arbic’s salesman at the local lumber store after his father-in-law retired. “He was a pretty good fit for helping run this company,” Arbic said. “So, before we bought Great Lakes Fine Cabinetry, I went to Ken and asked him if he was interested in changing over and trying something new, and he agreed.”
Lincoln is an integral part of the company, wearing a lot of hats from designer to general manager of the shop and showroom.

Moving a cabinet shop

Great Lakes Fine Cabinetry’s location on Drummond Island was perfect for the previous owner because he lived there but the remote location and limited access proved to be a challenging commute for Arbic and his employees.
“It’s an hour from here and then a ferry ride. So, a lot of people used to drive into work. Around here, we drive 10 or 15 minutes to everything, so driving an hour, and then taking a ferry was quite a deal, especially once we brought all my carpenters in to start building cabinets. They  really didn’t enjoy that drive every day. So, we moved the company here. We bought it in May 2016 and by the following October, we moved in here.”
Opening the new location in Sault Ste. Marie took about two months to complete before Great Lakes reopened in December 2017. The facility is 15,000 square feet with 11,000-square-feet of manufacturing space and 4,000 square feet of showroom space. Great Lakes has three people who work the showroom and five people who work in the shop plus two installers.
“We went two months without building cabinets, so we had a little bit of a backlog in the transition from moving,” Arbic said. “We found out just how hard it is to move a manufacturing plant.”
The process was made even more challenging because four to five semi loads of equipment had to be removed from Drummond Island by ferry. The move itself only took approximately a week but the rest of the time was needed to set up the new manufacturing facility, built by Arbic Construction.
The new shop layout has a similar pattern to the previous building but with the addition of a NewCNC Smart Series II and edgebanders for the planned expansion into closets and frameless cabinetry and two new spray booths from Mannix Finishing Systems.  Additional woodworking equipment in the shop include a Weinig Unimat 300 moulder, an Altendorf F45 table saw, a widebelt sander, Omec 750 dovetail  machine, Diehl ripsaw, Ironwood FX 750 shaper, and DeWalt and Irwin power tools.
Great Lakes manufactures its own doors and drawer boxes to ensure the highest quality product and the materials and shop machinery and equipment reflect that commitment to detail.

Catering to a mixed clientele

As for customers, Great Lakes Fine Cabinetry has a mix with custom products appealing to high-end clients and a line of frameless cabinetry offering lower cost point options.
“We have something for everybody. That’s why I said it’s a mix from anybody who is super high end to first-time homebuyers who have a smaller budget,” Kim said. 
Arbic stressed that is very important that their market knows that they do more than high-end work. “Because we can build a really nice cabinet for less money as well,” he added.
When it comes to future goals for Great Lakes Fine Cabinetry, Arbic said that he would like to see sales increase 20 percent in 2020. That’s following a 20 percent increase in 2019. Expanding their product line to include closet and home organization systems and frameless cabinetry could potentially push that growth even higher, he noted.
With the goal of product diversity in mind, some of the storage projects the company has worked on besides closets include laundry rooms, lockers, under stair storage cabinets and garages, allowing it to offer a full-service approach to the home. Another goal for the company is to increase its commercial work.
“We want to be able to do just about anything,” Arbic said. “We don’t ever want to turn somebody down and say, ‘We can’t do that,’ because we like a challenge.
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About the author
Michaelle Bradford | Editor

Michaelle Bradford, CCI Media, is Editor of Closets & Organized Storage magazine and Woodworking Network editor. She has more than 20 years of experience covering the woodworking and design industry, including visits to custom cabinet shops, closet firms and design studios throughout North America. As Editor of Closets & Organized Storage magazine under the Woodworking Network brand, Michaelle’s responsibilities include writing, editing, and coordinating editorial content as well as managing annual design competitions like the Top Shelf Design Awards. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media.