When you visit Gann’s Cabinets in Lavergne, Tenn., don’t expect to see state-of-the-art machinery and automation. Owner Ray Gann has been building custom residential cabinets with conventional machinery in the same location since 1983. Rather than converting the manufacturing equipment, he has converted the way he does business, adopting an outsourced cabinet box system and design software.

“Some people build the same way they’ve always done. I’m all for change,” says the 62-year-old Gann, who has been building cabinets since he left school at the age of 15. “If it speeds me up and saves me money and it doesn’t hurt the quality of the cabinet, then I’m for it.”

Since opening his own shop in the same location 30 years ago, he’s proud to say he’s never done any advertising. He admits that times have been tough in the cabinet business the last few years, but that’s one of the reasons he went with the Cabinotch system.

Saving time

The Cabinotch system, which won a Challengers award in 2010, features cabinet box components that have a unique interlocking design and are manufactured with nested based CNC routers. The idea is that shops can order the Cabinotch boxes, using them as a core for a cabinet project and then adding their own customized touches.

“The time you save building them is humongous,” says Gann. “They’re probably built better than my cabinets. The first set I got I knew this was the way to go.”

Gann still builds his own cabinets, but he estimates that he does at least half of his business these days with Cabinotch cabinets. He also likes that the boxes use plywood from Columbia Forest Products. “We don’t use particleboard,” he says.

“Every two minutes we can put a set of cabinets together,” he says. “There’s no nails, no pulling, just glue and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a great product.”

Knowing what you get

Another reason Gann likes the system is cost control. Because he is purchasing the boxes instead of manufacturing them in his own shop, he worries less about manufacturing time and expense. “With Cabinotch I know what it’s going to cost me,” he says.

He also makes sure customers have a clearer picture of what they are getting. He uses KCD software integrated with the Cabinotch system. That way he can design a custom kitchen and present customers detailed 3D renderings to show exactly what their kitchen is going to look like. Gann says that is a powerful selling tool, and it also helps to avoid misunderstandings as customer sign off on the design for their project.

Changing face of business

Having been in the cabinet trade most of his life, Gann has a good perspective on changes in the industry. At one time, he says, his business was doing 250 to 300 new houses a year. Since 2008, he says, the company has done only six new houses, and his current business is all remodeling projects. Before the economic downturn, he had eight employees in the shop, but now he’s down to three plus himself.

He is saddened by what he sees as the changing face of business in the industry. “When we opened, we got tax breaks for expanding and adding employees,” he says. “It’s tougher now to make money.”

He also deplores cutthroat competition that has shops constantly trying to underbid each other. “I don’t bid against nobody,” he says in his characteristic crusty plain talk. He says it is better to work with competitors and help each other out. “You’ve gotta help everybody ‘cause you never know when you’ll need help.”

Gann talks about helping a competitor who suffered a shop fire. That’s something he is intimately familiar with. At one time his entire shop went up in flames. But that didn’t stop him.

“We were building cabinets on the slab,” he recalls. “We ran a 220 cable from the house (next door) and borrowed a saw.”

Don’t be afraid.

Although Gann’s shop is completely conventional, centered on a bank of three vintage table saws, Gann is not adverse to modern manufacturing technology. Despite not having finished high school, he started using software in his business with a DOS program back in 1986. He has strong advice for those just starting out with software today.

“Don’t be scared of it,” he says. “You can’t hurt nothing.”

Still, he recognizes that sometimes machinery upgrades can be a challenge. He relates a story of a machine he bought as a big investment years ago that just didn’t do what he thought it should have done. But it’s more his age than previous experience that holds him back from automating his shop.

“I’d have CNC if I wasn’t as old. If I had it to do over again, I have a shop like Bob’s,” Gann says referring to a nearby shop that was a CNC operation but recently closed when the owner retired.

Without updated manufacturing, Gann is happy to rely on simple solutions. For example, he purposely keeps his finish room door the same size as a conventional home entry door. “If a cabinet won’t go through that door, I know it won’t work on the job,” he says.

His choice to increasingly rely on outsourced cabinet boxes from Cabinotch is another simple solution. It gives him the precision and speed of CNC-manufactured boxes without having to buy or maintain the equipment himself.

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