Building a million-dollar business
October 15, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

One shop. Three people. A million dollars in sales.

On the surface, it doesn't appear to add up. However, upon closer examination, the math isn't so strange after all; it's what you get when you combine simplicity with efficiency and innovation.

In short, Kitchen Cabinets Factory in Calgary, Alberta, Canada makes a lot of uncomplicated cabinets very quickly and very efficiently.

Keep it simple

Probably the one driving force behind the shop's success is a single maxim: Keep it simple. In the 21 years of the shop's existence, Walter Kostur has worked hard to make the cabinet building process as straightforward as possible.

Material is cut on a customized Sicar sliding table saw, edgebanded on a modified SCM Basic edgebander, and drilled on a Blum drill press. Even though the machinery is more than two decades old, each piece has been extensively modified by Kostur.

KCF only builds modular (3 inch increments) frameless cabinets. KCF's materials are uncomplicated as well. Cabinets are built with 5/8-inch melamine, drawers with 1/2-inch melamine, and cabinet backs are 1/8-inch one side white Fibrex. Assembly is done with 1-inch multi-fluted maple dowels, glue and staples.


Kostur is a big believer in outsourcing. Doors and drawer fronts painted and stained are obtained from a nearby shop. "It would be insane for me to build doors. For me to do it seriously I would have to at least double the size of my work space and add $200,000 in equipment," Kostur says. "I don't need the headache."

What's more, Kostur does not confine outsourcing to cabinet parts. KCF does not do granite countertops, and laminated countertops are sub-contracted. Installation services are also sub-contracted.

Spend to save

Kostur is keenly aware of the relationship between time saved and money earned. He points to KCF's hardware as an example. "We use clip on hinges and expensive staples because the savings are so great down the road," Kostur says. "If we used screw on hinges we would save money on the hinges, but it would cost me two man weeks per year for tightening up the screws on the doors. Instead, we use the clip on hinges and the kitchen goes out. It's worth it."

Kostur uses the same philosophy in his finishing. "You'd be surprised how little we spray in every kitchen," Kostur says. "For example, in every kitchen a part of the cabinets' gables are partially exposed above a cooking surface or sink. Instead of gluing a piece of veneer to the gable, we just build the gable using one side white and one side veneered material. The material is more expensive, but the installer does not have to mess around onsite with a brush and contact cement. After all," he adds, "we need the installer somewhere else the next day."

Customer ownership

One unusual thing that KCF practices is that of insisting that customers do their own measurements. "With very, very few exceptions, all kitchens that we build are based on the customer's information," Kostur says. "People make a sketch of the kitchen walls with the dimensions as if they were looking at the kitchen from above without a ceiling. They include window, refrigerator, stove and sink locations."

And while asking customers to supply their own measurements might seem unusual to some, Kostur says the time and money saved are crucial. "Legally it would be described as a conditional agreement," Kostur explains. "We build a kitchen on the condition that the customer measures the walls. People are careful and get involved. Strategically that also means a little bit of commitment. People could go to 15 shops and ask, Could someone visit my house and give me a quote?' There's no commitment there. However, if they spend that five or seven minutes measuring the walls, that always means something. If I did that, I would be running all over the place doing estimates instead of working," he says.

Shop and innovations

Not surprisingly the KCF shop is a model of efficiency. Lidia Mis, Kostur's wife and co-owner of KCF, is the shop manager, her brother Henry Zaba works as an assembly technician and her son Chris works as their assistant. Everybody rotates between various work stations and tasks as needed. The shop, together with its complement of machinery, has been modified to maximize efficiency.

One of the first modifications Kostur made to the shop space was to cut two feet off the opening to the shop so that deliveries could be made directly into the space by a delivery truck's crane without the staff having to unload and move materials.

Kostur modified the shop's Sicar sliding table saw by adding an electric pneumatic valve to it. Now, when the scoring saw is turned on, the blade lifts up, and when it is turned off the blade automatically goes down. "That saves a few seconds of going there and turning it off, and also saves the blades," Kostur says.

Next to the saw is a custom made scissor table powered by a garage opener. It can be raised or lowered by the saw operator using a remote control pilot. It performs as the saw's table extension or allows parts to pile up. The saw is also equipped with a pneumatic remote controlled clamp and has been retrofitted with the Tiger Stop system.

There have also been modifications to the SCM Basic 2 edgebander. To avoid stringing, Kostur added a custom bracket and pulley system to keep the edgebanding tape moving in a linear fashion through the machine.

There has also been a modification to keep the machine clean. "The normally-closed and normally-opened valves provide a blast of air to the hood," Kostur explains. "Without this, chips would bunch up and block the hood every few minutes. Now every edgebanded part causes a one second long blast of air from the jet that removes the chips."

Acting as the edgebander's outfeed table is a stand that was intended to be used for motorcycle repair. Although originally outfitted to be hydraulically lifted, the stand is now pneumatically powered. As the parts drop from the end of the edgebander and pile up, the stand slowly lowers itself, allowing the machine operator to keep working without interruption.

KCF's Maggi dowell boring machine has also been modified. "We immediately ordered two more pistons after we got it because it came with two and I thought, Well, if we are drilling parts of different widths, we can't survive with the two clamps,' so we added two more."

KCF also maintains jigs for all possible gables of cabinets. "If it's a typical 8-foot-tall kitchen where you go to 95 inches, you take the jig and set up the stoppers in about two minutes."

On the shop's dust collector, flat bars have been welded to the rotor and a three-phase motor is used. "It sucks like you wouldn't believe," Kostur says.

Moving up

KCF added the second bay to its shop for assembling about eight years ago. The mezzanine above both bays is used for finishing. Kostur notes that using the mezzanine and area often ignored by shops is a built-in cost savings. "You pay for the floor footage," he says. "The mezzanine is free."

Running an efficient shop clearly makes Kostur happy. "Not only is it a very profitable operation, you have no idea the satisfaction we get," he says. "We live for the satisfaction. It's like a dopamine."

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About the author
Ken Jennison

Ken Jennison was a senior editor at CabinetMaker and FDM magazines from 2006 to 2008, writing more than 70 articles about cabinet and furniture manufacturers. He is currently director of acquisitions at Hearland Historical Properties LLC in San Francisco.