The news video is amazing and shocking. You see in real time a woodworking factory building collapse under the weight of a massive snowfall. For most folks that would clearly be the end of the line, but not for the resilient people at Sunco, now doing business as the revived Eastman St. Woodworks in Easton, Mass.

Not only has owner David Sun rebuilt the factory, taking its new name from the street it is on, but also he has made it a showplace for state of the art cabinet manufacturing. Furthermore, he has created a new market segment he calls “quarter custom” that he hopes will help Eastman become the clear leader in the cabinet industry in the Northeast.

Terrifying disaster

News crews rushed to the Sunco factory on February 2, 2011, when they heard that the weight of a massive snowfall had partially collapsed the building. But just as they arrived and had started filming, the entire roof buckled and flattened the building to the ground. In the video, you can see the videographer hurriedly wipe the lens to clear raindrops for a better picture.

The good news was none of the employees in the building were harmed. They all made it out safely, but it was still a terrifying experience. After the disaster, some employees told Maria Papadopoulos of Enterprisenews.com, how their “hearts were pounding, we were just petrified running through the building. You could hear the ceiling crackling. We were just afraid it was going to fall right on top of our heads.”

Commitment to rebuild

Amid the questionable economic climate of 2011, especially in the woodworking industry, no one would have been surprised if a cabinet manufacturer suffering such a disaster would have just closed up shop. But that’s not the attitude of David Sun.

“Whether it’s crazy or not, we never seriously thought of not rebuilding,” he says. A family business, Sunco was founded in 1983 by Linda and William Sun, and David is committed to continuing that legacy into the next generation and beyond. His dream is to make Eastman the leading cabinet manufacturer in the Northeast. And he says he is very appreciative of customers and employees who have enthusiastically supported the rebuilding effort.

Sun is confident that there is a strong demand for regionally made cabinets that can compete with national manufacturers. “I believe we can establish something special here in Massachusetts,” he says.
New technology

Rebuilding a factory is not just about putting up a new building. It makes you think about everything to do with the business and how it can be done better. At Eastman St. Woodworks, that means a heavy dose of modern technology.

From rough mill to finished assembly and shipping, the company has worked closely with technology partners to build a more efficient cabinet manufacturing facility. One of the foundations of the company is a commitment to use 100-percent domestically sourced materials, and a significant portion of the new 150,000-square-foot plant is devoted to storage and processing of solid wood. From atmospherically controlled storage areas to the first step on a Weinig Raimann ProfiRip KM310M rip saw, Eastman is looking to optimize its processes. Even waste is optimized, collected and ground at each station with a Weima system and then ported through ducts for further processing. A Weinig Powermat 400 moulder is the next step in the process, followed by a Weinig Dimter Opticut S90 optimizing cutoff system.

On the panel processing side, the first step is a Holzma HPP 350 computerized beam saw, followed by a Weeke point-to-point CNC machining center to machine the cut parts.

Some of the most sophisticated activity comes in the finishing process when Eastman makes use of an automated Superfici finishing line for flat finishing of most parts. There are still some hand stain and spray processes in effect in keeping with “quarter custom” high-end niche the company has targeted.

In final assembly, automated pneumatic clamping stations and roller conveyors help make the process fast and efficient. And a huge shipping area in the plant gives silent testimony to potential capacity of the facility.

Finding a new niche

But all the technology and production capacity is worthless unless there is a market for the product. Rather than compete head on with semi-custom manufacturers or at the lower end of the market with mass production factory goods, Sun says Eastman is staking its future on a middle territory it calls “quarter custom.”

The idea is to offer the best features found in higher end semi-custom and custom cabinet lines, blending the most important aspects of each category and combining them into a single product with a focus on beauty, value and quality. From a practical standpoint, what the company has done is recognize that roughly 80 percent of the custom and semi-custom customers want the same set of features. So, optimizing production on that 80 percent, Eastman can produce very cost-effective products to compete for the lion’s share of the high-end market.

Features of the line include all wood construction with domestic species such as maple and cherry, limited design modifications, and a variety of choices in door styles and finishes.

“Our mission is to provide quality and value in the high-end cabinet market by focusing on the core essentials of what consumers and home owners want in their kitchen and bathroom cabinetry,” says Sun. “By taking the mystery and skepticism out of cabinet shopping, we provide our customers with the best quality and styles for the best value.”

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.