Customer satisfaction equals success

When Rip Stephenson and his partner Todd Salony of  Mitre Wright Woodworking Inc., York, Penn., incorporated in 2002, they quickly learned that experience didn't guarantee success they needed to set themselves apart, and they did it through customer satisfaction.

"We had all our connections from installing and didn't think it would be that hard of a transition to start fabricating as well as installing. But it was harder than we thought. In some ways you have to start all over again, because we were known as installers, but not as fabricators," says Salony.

Mitre Wright's forte became its reliability by getting jobs completed on time, despite lower bids from some competitors. Salony says the shop is really all about custom fabrication and accommodating the customer.

"That whole idea comes into play with our company's name, Mitre Wright. We spent so many years building a name for ourselves that we don't want anyone or anything spoiling it for each job that goes poorly it takes two more good ones to make up for it."

Mitre Wright now works with a number of contractors who call up and tell the shop to take care of a job. "Our clients know they can rely on us to be thorough and professional," says Salony.

Mitre Wright works typically for eight different contractors in York, but there are perhaps a half dozen more which they could get work from, but they simply don't have the time to pursue them.

Accommodate the customer

"In a market where competition is strong, going to great lengths to accommodate the client has given us the edge," says Salony. "As a result, we're more well-known and winning more difficult jobs, such as complex geometric shapes and detail-specific millwork packages."

"Clients will seek us out when they need a guaranteed solution. The guys in the shop are really stepping up to the plate in such demanding conditions. Mitre Wright is also becoming an area leader in LEED compliance and FSC certified products. This market trend is one more way to accommodate our clients."

Now they're doing elliptical cased openings, something few area woodworkers are equipped to make. The shop's efforts are paying off as 2007 was its best sales year to date.

On a recent job, everything from the teller line, check writing desks to the receptionist desk and the whole lobby was a circle around the perimeter of the room.

Growing pains

Now nearly 20 years into woodworking and with much success, Salony is quick to point out the growing pains they're experiencing. They need a larger facility and to upgrade some of their machinery. They would like the relative stability that comes with owning instead of leasing their building.

Their ShopBot CNC router was purchased six years ago. They liked the fact that it was easy to use and was basically an entry-level machine, which helped them learn from that point on. "That's why we want to upgrade," adds Salony. "We're looking at the purchase of an Onsrud router at present."

The router they're looking at is heavy-duty, faster and has tool changers where the router bits do not have to be changed manually and can be set up in the program to let the cutting run uninterrupted. It will combine processes and take care of some things that are now done manually.

On the opposite side of technology, a Whitney 30-inch planer from 1918 graces the shop. "They remain real nice planers to this day," says Salony.

Though their finishing room isn't large enough and is not set up the way they'd really like it to be set up, it still works for them now. When they get into a larger building, they're planning on setting it up a little differently.

Expanding the office

Mitre Wrights' growth has created a large demand for more office personnel. The shop is looking for a full-time estimator now. Both partners would like to be free of estimating demand, so they can focus on core company issues.

Mitre Wright recently hired an office manager to take care of billing, typing up all invoices or estimates and answering the phones. QuickBooks is the office software the company uses. The company would like to find an estimating software package as effective as QuickBooks.

Some of the larger jobs now on the books require total concentration, and estimating is still done by hand, says Salony.

Mitre Wright is looking forward to a technology-based future to power them into becoming an industry leader. "Software and production CNC equipment is key to being competitive," says Salony.

"I guess our big fear is purchasing a software estimating package, then finally finding and hiring an estimator who uses a different software package. In that case it would be a waste of money; but we must do something very soon."

The company's current location could not be better suited for quick transport of their cabinet work. Mitre Wright is situated at the intersection of two main travel arteries, including an interstate that puts them in reach of the state capital region within less than a half-hour. Getting deliveries or work crews out for installations couldn't be easier. Trying to locate another building in this bustling region of Pennsylvania remains a challenge.

Timing is everything

"The situation is made especially problematic by the fact that, though we are ready to upgrade our machinery, we still don't want to obtain that equipment and then have to pack it all up when we find another, larger location," says Salony. "Will we find a building that meets our needs, how long will it take and what comes next are some things we're wrestling with at the moment."

They've met with their accountant to come up with a game plan for dealing with these concerns.

For the future, the company is trying to avoid getting too big too fast. They also want to take their time and be cautious when it comes to all the sales and the growth coming their way.

"The personal touch is lost when you get too big, and I really think that's something a lot of the contractors like when they're dealing with us," says Salony. "As the owners, we're more hands on with what's going on.

"Our company is a work in progress always. Basically our goal is to be able to reach the point where we can have the business run itself without us having to be here every minute of the day."

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About the author
Peter Hildebrandt

Peter Hildebrandt is a freelance writer with a background in writing for a wide variety of publications, including CabinetMaker and CabinetMakerFDM. He has profiled a variety of cabinet and furniture manufacturers mostly in the southeast region of the United States.