Mike Payne is quick to explain that he’s not a high-tech kind of guy, but he’s just as quick to credit computer software for giving him the edge and helping him to prosper in the down economy while other shops struggle.

His shop, JM Custom Cabinets LLC in Liberty, Texas, specializes in higher end residential cabinetry. It benefits from a fairly high-profile location in town, but Payne says that just wasn’t enough when the economy soured.

Discovering software 

About two years ago, he started working with KCD cabinet design software, first trying their trial version. He really liked the ability to easily produce photo-realistic renderings for potential customers. “When we were busy, people would take your word for it,” he says. “But things have slowed down, and the software really helps.”

He adds that the benefit isn’t just in supplying pretty pictures for customers, but also the software makes for more efficient production and handling of projects from start to finish. For example, he explained, before he used the software, it was more difficult to handle misunderstandings and changes in a project. With the software in use, he says there are fewer misunderstandings and most design changes can be done very quickly on the computer.

Because the computer takes care of many of the calculations, it’s also more accurate, and there is less chance of wrong numbers being sent to the shop. And Payne says KCD was “very easy to learn” even with his lack of a background in computer technology.

More marketing tools 

Besides the software, Payne has developed other marketing tools to help him compete and keep business flowing.

As soon as his current building started to go up in a highly visible location in town, Payne says people started to ask about what he could do. “They’d ask do you have anything look at,” he says. As much as he hated to steal the space from his shop, he knew he had to devote at least a little area to a showroom.

Combining the showroom with his office area, it is still a work in progress. Currently there is one main wall of sample cabinets showing a good variety of styles and features JM can do. Plans are afoot to add an island to the small space to show off even more.

Another marketing tool, Payne has used is direct mail. “Referrals only do so much,” he says. He developed a full-color brochure and mailed it to everyone in the zip code area that he served. He was initially disappointed with the results, but he found out that people hung onto the brochures and kept him in mind. He sold one job on the mailer two years after it was first sent out.

Dealing economic pressures 

Like many shops across the country, JM is feeling the pressure. “Everybody that walks in has four to five bids,” Payne says. He says the attitude among contractors contacting him is often “how hungry are you right now.”

But Payne is highly resistant to artificially lowering prices to get work. “The whole back and forth thing drives me nuts,” he says. “You can’t work for free.”

He is also careful who he does business with. “If you don’t have a good feeling about somebody it doesn’t matter what the price is,” he says.

Describing his shop as the only truly custom shop in the area, he prides himself on working well with customers and providing individual attention. “You have to go in and listen to these people,” he says. “It’s their house.”

But at the same time, he doesn’t let demanding potential customers take advantage of him. For example, he won’t do a full drawing in KCD for a client until the deal is all signed. He is very concerned about balancing time in the shop with time for his family.

Production efficiency 

In the shop, the KCD cutlists are used to accurately size parts. Crosscuts are done on an SCM sliding table saw, and must rips are done on a Delta Unisaw. The shop uses and SCM edgebander. There is a trio of Jet shapers for door construction, which is done mostly in house.

Payne is fond of pocket hole construction using the Kreg system. He has two Kreg stations set up on sliding pullouts next to miter saws. One is targeted for solid wood work, and the other is for panel processing. Cabinets are pocket screwed to face frames so there are no nail holes to patch before finishing. He also uses pocket holes for drawer construction.

Payne tries to avoid finishing on site, noting that factory finished cabinets present a shorter installation cycle. He uses finishes by Sherwin Williams and M.L. Campbell.

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