When  Lowes and  Home Depot opened stores near  Hagerstown Lumber Co., its owners, brothers Mark and John Myers, realized they needed to make a significant change simply to survive.

They knew customers wouldn't keep coming to their small lumberyard when the bigger stores were closer and had more selection, so they decided to concentrate on the millwork and cabinetry end of the business.

In 2003 the owners broke completely with the past, changing the name to Maryland Millwork Inc. and became a commercial cabinet and millwork business.

The changes they implemented have led to a thriving operation that makes from $4 to $5 million a year with 20 employees.

The whole package

Mark and John remain the owners, but John's son, Tim Myers, is general manager and has been involved with the business since his early twenties. Myers finds that many clients like the idea of dealing with just one shop. Focusing on the entire package has been a key to their success.

Their business comes chiefly from schools and hospitals under construction in rapidly-growing Virginia and needing extensive cabinetry.

"We take care of it all, handling the entire project management, doing our own field measuring, building it in the shop and installing it ourselves," says Myers.

Although the shop can do residential work, the vast majority of jobs are commercial.

The company purchased a Holz-Her CNC machine in 2001 and another in 2006.

"When we got our CNC machine back in 2001, the manufacturer told us we were the first of the shops in this area to purchase one," adds Myers. The first CNC machine is set up for cabinet parts, while the second is for solid wood jobs.

Assembly-line model

The company has found an assembly-line setup works best for the shop. Myers discovered when he worked out in the shop it's much better to have a person stay on one machine. Because they're going to be doing the same thing every day they will know their job inside and out.

"If you're jumping people around from machine to machine it's hard to get them in that groove where they're doing everything uniformly. With the way the machine is cleaned, set up or taken care of in general, you can see a big difference between someone who has their own machine versus someone who has three or four different machines to run and never knows from day to day what he's going to be doing."

Finishing work

Finishing has had its share of growing pains, says Myers.

"We've come a long way from the days of doing our finishing work in a garage, with one booth and mixing all our own stains," he says.

The biggest issues, he says, are keeping the finishing area clean, dirt and dust-free, the equipment clean and up-to-date, and giving proper training to the finishers. Simple things like dust and dirt can have a noticeable effect on the final product.

When using pre-catalyzed and post-catalyzed lacquers it's important to mix only the right types of chemicals, as each has a certain shelf life which must be adhered to.

"We pride ourselves on staying focused and sticking to  OSHA standards," says Myers.

"We have a fire and explosion-proof booth and a sprinkler system. We're doing it right and have spent the extra money on this segment of our business. Ventilation is key in the finishing area, as is having enough light."

Maryland Millwork is a member of the Architectural Woodworking Institute, which requires its certified members control the climate of work areas.

"This is one more way to ensure that the product we're putting out is exactly what the customer is paying for," says Myers.

Space challenge

Space is the one challenge the company continues to face. Maryland Millwork Inc. has been in its current location a long time and its building is paid for, so it's difficult to justify going from what basically is profit to getting into a mortgage for more space.

If all the company's operations were laid out to make them 100 percent efficient, Myers figures they'd need 50,000 square feet. The company currently is 15,000 square feet away from reaching that goal.

"The trick for cabinet shop owners out there is to make sure what you have works for you as long as it can," says Myers.

"If a new building makes you more efficient, that's one reason to invest in a larger building, especially if you absolutely must have the extra space."

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