Volume for B&M Custom Cabinetry, Blackwood, N.J., has just about doubled since 2000, and, at the same time, "schedules have tightened up quite a bit," says co-owner Mark Leonetti. "This has put tremendous pressure on us to work faster." Easier said than done!

"Before we computerized our machining," Leonetti continues, "we really felt as if we were in a time vise being squeezed for every hour it took us to complete a job.

All that started to ease up in December 2006 when we installed a Weeke Optimat BHP 200 CNC machining center. I don't know how we ever managed to get along without it."

For Leonetti, business has been good almost from the start in 1988. But things picked up substantially the past five years, averaging about 10 percent growth per year.

The shop does custom millwork and although woodworking now represents about two-thirds of the company's annual volume, its installation operation continues to be an important contributor. The two sides of the business are managed separately, however, says Leonetti, and each has its own dedicated staffwith about 12 people devoted to construction and about 10 focusing on installation.

Good employees key

As good as the Weeke is, Leonetti says, it still needs good people to run it. And he prides himself on having good people at B&M. High on the list is Brian Hislip, project engineer and project manager, who is involved with sales, job design, job scheduling, customer service and more.

Another key employee is Frank Raffa, now in his 70s and an 11-year veteran employee at B&M. Raffa confesses to having worked with wood since he was 6 years old in his native Italy. Leonetti credits him with having "great dedication, experience and a work ethic that never quits. He arrives at work at about 4:30 a.m. every morning, and opens the shop for the rest of us when we get here at 6 am. Frank was the first experienced cabinetmaker we hired, and he was instrumental in teaching us construction and fabrication techniques that we use every day. He still is our most skilled guy on the floor when it comes to working with solid wood, and he is a great troubleshooter."

One former "employee" also receives a word of gratitude from Leonetti. "My dad Tony, who died in 2004, helped start this business by providing the space we needed, and he even worked with us for a while. His name got us in the door with some of our earliest clients. And, most important, he taught us business ethics and the meaning of service."

Leonetti recalls one piece of advice he heard on more than one occasion: "It's OK to make a mistake. The important thing is how you handle it."

Lessons learned

Today, Leonetti tries to apply this and other lessons learned across the "broad range" of jobs done by B&M. "General contractors come to us for the whole package casework, millwork, solid surface, even installation. We have a lot of information to digest," he says.

As a member of the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI), B&M frequently works with architects, and, says Leonetti, "They want to know how we approach things. We encourage them to call us when they have an idea, especially a non-conventional idea, so we can collaborate on the best way to build the project.

"For example," Leonetti continues, "we recently had a job in which we were asked to make room for wiring and a junction box in a job that involved a desk, a nurses' station and a knee wall. By shortening the interior of the cabinet three inches, we more than doubled the area for the wiring. Meanwhile, we lost no drawer space whatsoever; because drawer slides generally max out at 24 inches. The space we took for the wiring and junction box would have been dead space at the back of the cabinet."

Leonetti concludes, "Our customers know we really listen to them and are willing to give them choices. We can, and will, accept changes on the fly. I believe it is this willingness to work with clients on their special needs, as well as our range of services that give us an edge against our competition.

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