Building cabinets that last
May 9, 2010 | 7:00 pm CDT

Much like the average linebacker,  Evans Cabinet Corporation's  cabinets are built to handle abuse. "We are known for building a very solid, sturdy cabinet," says Mark Trexler, president and chief operating officer.

The Dublin, Ga., company specializes in manufacturing kitchen cabinetry for the military and the  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development .

Not only are Evans' cabinets strong, they're everywhere. "We've probably got cabinets on every military base in the country and most of the outlying areas," says Trexler. "We ship HUD cabinets all over the continental United States. I think we've even sent some to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico."

When Evans builds cabinets for the military, every aspect of the cabinet must be American-made, from hinges to staples and plywood to glue. They are generally oak plywood or solid oak face frame cabinets with 1/2- or 3/4-inch ends and five-piece raised panel doors. Military cabinets also have "beefier" two-piece concealed hinges and full-extension under-panel drawer runners, says Trexler.

Evans' HUD cabinets are called severe-use cabinets. "A severe-use cabinet is a birch cabinet, and it is a very well-built, strong cabinet, which is meant for the abuse that goes on in HUD projects," says Trexler.

The HUD cabinets have pressure-treated lumber on the base, so if spills aren't properly cleaned up, the bottom of the cabinet won't be ruined. The cabinets also have exterior-grade plywood doors, drawers and end panels. HUD cabinets have to stand up to stringent tests, says Trexler. They must be finished with catalyzed varnish, and they have to pass water-soak tests. HUD cabinets are hosed down with a power washer when a tenant vacates an apartment.

Evans also makes a line of cabinets that it sells to distributors. Some distributors may stock some HUD product to sell to local HUD authorities for burned-out units, says Trexler. But most of its distributors stock Evans' Ashley Oak line, which is a lower-priced solid oak line. Evans also makes its solid wood Plantation Oak line, which is a middle-priced line that has plywood ends and backs.

All of Evans' cabinets use tongue-and-groove construction, says Trexler. Drawers are made using a dado, French dovetail or standard dovetail construction. All the rails are either a mortise-and-tenon, or groove-and-dado construction. Parts are machined and then glued together with Franklin assembly glue and then stapled.

With 260 employees, building cabinets at Evans is a more people-intensive process than a machine-intensive process. Plywood for the cabinets is cut on a SCMI Delta38P panel saw and parts are edgebanded on a Holz-Her Triathlon 300 edgebander. Lumber for face frames is ripped on a Mereen-Johnson ripsaw. And face frame material is cut to size on a Whirlwind chop saw. Solid wood doors are glued up on a James L. Taylor clamp carrier.

Evans Cabinet Corp. has three Timesavers machines. One is an abrasive planer for sanding door panels, and two are three-headed widebelt sanders where all face frames are sanded smooth. Cabinets are constructed along a lengthy assembly line. Assembled cabinets are finished with a stain, a sealer and then a varnish.

Weekends in the tractor shed

Evans Cabinet Corp. was started in 1957 by Clyde Evans and his brother Preston. "We just started to piddle on the weekends out in the tractor shed on the farm," says Clyde. "Eventually, after a year or so, we had built enough customers doing odds and ends that my brother quit his job. Then, about a year later, I quit my job."

Clyde says the two men and their families experienced some lean times at first. "What really got us started was doing work for contractors that were doing low-rent housing projects. In the 1960s, building low-rent housing projects was really a big thing. The government was putting them up all over everywhere."

Clyde and his brother bought an abandoned trash pile from the county and built an 8,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on the property.

Along with the low-rent housing projects, Evans began to get involved in producing kitchen cabinets for the military. "That grew really, really big," says Clyde.

M.L. Knight, Clyde's best friend, gets a lot of credit for the company's success, says Clyde. His friend was a top salesman for 40 years.

Forty-seven years later

Evans Cabinet Corp. has grown considerably from the days of the tractor shed. The company is now housed in two 50,000-square-foot buildings in Dublin and Rentz, Ga., as well as in a countertop fabrication facility in Rentz. It produces more than 6,000 cabinets per week. With 260 employees, the company had $23 million in sales for 2003. Today, Clyde and M.L. are semi-retired and retired, respectively. Ashley, Clyde's son, is working in the family business as vice president of operations.

When Ashley joined the business, his father charged him with the task of creating a computer system that could help run the business.

Clyde had always done the company's business with pen and paper and a few office staff, says Ashley. "He could tell you at any moment in time, any job that was running, how much the bid was for, what the cabinet was like, the intricacies of each job and remember every one of them all in his head. And he could remember down to the individual pieces and parts. It's amazing."

Ashley says it was a "huge step" for his father to relinquish this knowledge to a computer system.

Clyde wanted a system that could draw kitchens, figure the parts for kitchens, print the parts lists in a format that workers could easily use, do invoicing and bid work.

Finding what works

Evans Cabinet's size made it difficult to find a computer system that could meet the company's needs. "We're there in the middle," says Ashley. "We're not big enough that we could spend $200,000 or $300,000 on a program to take in absolutely everything, but we're bigger than companies that can just go out and say, 'Buy Cabnetware and print little part lists.' Everything that we did was custom."

Evans Cabinet Corp. put in a Windows 2003 network with 22 machines running Cabnetware. "We'll get drawings from the military or public housing offices and we'll actually redraw them using Cabnetware," says Ashley.

Parts lists are stored on a SQL server database. "We want to save [parts lists] forever, so if these guys call us back in two, three, four or 10 years, and say, 'I just need you to build the same thing you built 10 years ago,' we can do it very easily," says Ashley.

Evans learns about most government jobs from the F.W. Dodge service. For example, they might learn that there will be a HUD housing project in New York City that will have 1,500 units.

"We will then find out what contractors are going to be at that job. We'll download the plans, figure out the cabinets and we'll supply the contractors with prices for the cabinet part of the work," says Trexler. "So it's bonded work, public bid. Everybody gets to bid one time on it. Of course, the contractor is really our customer, not the government."

Once the bid's awarded, Evans gets the purchase order. Then it takes a couple of days to produce work orders, which become the paperwork for the plant, says Trexler. It takes a couple of days to machine the parts, a few days to assemble and a few days to finish.

"We say we'll deliver it in 21 days, so on about the 19th calendar day, we'll ship it wherever it goes," says Trexler. "We've got about 55 trailers that we load, and we've got a local company that we partner with that's a common carrier to pull our loads to job sites. We don't unload or anything. We just get it to the site and the contractor unloads it. We don't install anything. Everything we bid is to a contractor who is going to do the installation work and he's probably doing other renovations at the same time."

The process for getting military jobs is similar. But, "if it's a military job, you've got to get all the signatures," says Trexler. The contractor signs off on the approval for the job and sometimes the Corps of Engineers must also sign its approval.

Be competitive

A competitive bid is the key to success in both military and government work, says Trexler. "Because it's bid work, you have to be competitive." If the company is really busy, they may put in a slightly higher bid. "But if it's like most business conditions today, you bid very competitively on every job because you want to get them."

To be more competitive, Evans Cabinet Corp. has worked on several areas within the company to increase efficiency.

"We've worked on the flow through the plants. We've worked on balancing our lines," says Trexler. "We've done lots of things to improve our labor efficiency and our labor costs. We've put in lots of measurements so we know our lines are running efficiently, what percentage of the day they're running, downtime and that kind of thing."

To improve labor costs, says Trexler, the company outsources some parts that have a high labor content. The company has also worked on material costs by improving yields and reducing waste. The company has also worked to eliminate mistakes from the final product, so that no parts are missing from a load or the company doesn't have to replace any damaged cabinets.

The company also switched finishing companies. "We use a better-quality finish now. We're using Valspar," says Trexler. "We're getting a more consistent finish. Those are the kind of things that have helped us become more efficient, which helps us be more competitive." 

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About the author
Stephanie Steenbergen

Stephanie Steenbergen was on the editorial staff and wrote feature and news stories for FDM and CabinetMaker magazines.