David Casey, owner and president of Designer Cabinets in Whiteville, Tenn., is eyeing 20 percent growth in sales volume for 2007, and it's an achievable goal thanks to several steps he took last year.

First, he moved his entire manufacturing operation from Summer Street in Memphis, a city with more than 1.3 million people, counting the close-in suburbs, to larger space in bucolic Whiteville, Tenn., population 3,148. The new location is about an hour east of Memphis.

Casey also increased his work force and upgraded his shop's equipment, acquiring a Frame Pro Model C.R. Onsrud CNC router, a new flat line Kleenspray reciprocating spraying machine and 37 x 24-ft. Falcioni drying room from the Cefla Finishing Group.

"We have found a good niche that we can fill quite well semi-custom wood framed cabinetry with mitered doors," he says. "Finishes are mostly white with glaze, and distressed finishes also are popular. And everything is made to order, keeping us a lean manufacturing operation with very little money tied up in inventory."

Finishing boost

While every element of the expansion plays a role in the company's arcing sales curve, Casey credits the Cefla equipment as providing the most significant boost. "From the first day that we began using the new finishing line, we were able to double our finishing output," he says. "In Memphis, we were never able to finish more than 350 pieces in a single eight-hour day. Here, we regularly do twice that, and, on one extraordinary day, we reached 900 pieces."

Casey has nothing but praise for the way the Cefla equipment is engineered, the quality of the work it produces, its speed and ease of maintenance. He lauded the work of Cefla's salesman, Dave Greer, who spent time working with Casey to make sure this was the right equipment for his operation and the installer who taught Casey and Rick Zuba, the cabinetmaker's computer specialist, how to operate the system and keep it in tip-top shape.

Drying room

Casey is very excited about the drying room, which enables him to speed curing with the help of technology. "When we were in Memphis all those years, everything was air dried, and it took forever. Now we have this heated 37 x 24-foot space where we can roll in loaded drying racks."

Still, this advance did not come without a stiff price and it might have been more, had Casey accepted the vendor's offer of a sophisticated heating system. Instead, the cabinetmaker turned to his father-in-law, Bill Whisel, a retired Quaker Products engineer. Whisel and a colleague, Jimmy Turner, created a homemade boiler for less than half of the commercial alternative, and it is so sensitive that it comes up to drying temperature in about eight minutes and cools back down in five.

Casey admits he is probably not using the new finishing equipment as much as he could. "For the first year or so," he says, "until we really know this Kleenspray system inside and out, we're using it only for sealer and topcoat clear finishes. We still apply color with handheld guns in a standard Binks spray booth."

The flat line performs so quickly and reliably that, linked with the drying room, it has eliminated the only major workflow bottleneck at Designer Cabinets. Casey says, "If I had to identify a bottleneck now, I would say it is our uncertainty about how much volume we can produce and that's a nice problem to have."

Changes

For the first 12 years of its existence, says Casey, Designer Cabinets built an all-wood box, and 100 percent of the work was done in-house, including doors and drawers. "The only thing we outsourced was hardware. Now we get our doors from Decore-ative Specialties, moldings from Hardware Resources and hardware from Village Square, a Nashville dealer. For the most part we use Salice and Grass, but we also like Knape & Vogt."

The first big switch in production methods came in 1999 when a vinyl box replaced the wooden one. "That helped streamline our finishing. We only had to spray the doors and exteriors, not the interiors."

In 2002, Casey's life would change forever and for the better. "Mr. Reid called me one morning and said he was planning to sell the cabinet shop in order to spend more time concentrating on his other businesses. He wanted to know if I would buy it."

The two worked out a deal for a 10-year payout, and Casey found a bank that provided financing for equipment that the new owner felt was necessary for the firm's continued viability.

"We were able to get a MultiCam nested-base CNC router, and at the same time, we installed a Gorbel 250-lb. lift system to facilitate materials handling."

Moving

The latest major milestones for Designer Cabinets came last year with the move to Whiteville, an extension on his business buyout schedule, and the installation of the new CNC router and the Cefla finishing line. "I had begun researching CNC routers more than a year ago," says Casey, "and I was very impressed with Onsrud's machine."

Casey is proud of how that move was accomplished. "We worked at the old place until Friday, Dec. 8 and opened for business in the new plant on Monday morning, Dec. 11." During the intervening weekend, using two company forklifts and the muscle of its own labor force, the company completed the move without major incident. And, thanks to advance planning, the three biggest items the new CNC router and the Cefla flat line sprayer and drying room were already installed, having bypassed Summer Street altogether.

Casey could have lost good people when he shifted the shop's venue an hour out of town, and a handful of people declined to come along. "But," he adds, "not one of our lead people defected, and we were able to hire replacements and additional people too, with just a little bit of advertising and a big helping hand from the Hardeman County Chamber of Commerce."

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