In terms of money spent per square foot, remodeling a garage is one of the best home investments a person can make.


"It's a far better spend than any other room that you can improve in your house," says Mark Loberg, the founder of PremierGarage.


Since its founding in 1999, PremierGarage has capitalized on this fact. The company has been in a near constant state of expansion since its conception. In the past four years, PremierGarage has opened 76 franchises in the United States and Canada.


Loberg started the company in a 4,900-square-foot space in Phoenix. He originally outsourced most of his parts and focused on assembly. As business picked up, he made the decision to focus on automation.


Panel processing

Loberg purchased a Biesse Rover 15 point-to-point machine, a Holz-Her 1265 vertical panel saw and Genesis edgebander, as well as a Selco EB 12 panel saw. With the addition of these tools, his sales grew from over $500,000 in 2001 to about $1.8 million in 2003.


Loberg accommodated this growth by expanding into a second 20,000-square-foot plant in Atlanta in 2005. The Atlanta plant features a production line that starts with a Selco WNT 600 rear-loading panel saw. Parts then move through a Stream 7.5 edgebander and are machined on a Biesse Rover 24 XL dual zone CNC machine.


In 2006, PremierGarage expanded again, opening a 45,000-square-foot plant in the company's home city of Phoenix. The plant features one production line identical to Atlanta, as well as a second line with a Selco EB 120 front loading panel saw, followed by a Holz-Her Triathlon edgebander and a Biesse Rover CNC router.


In addition to the production plant, Phoenix is also home to the original PremierGarage franchise, which means the business there operates on two levels. It houses training workshops for franchisees and coordinates shipping from both Phoenix and Atlanta, at the same time producing cabinet parts and acting as a franchise that builds and installs cabinets.


As PremierGarage's production capabilities have expanded, so has its distribution. In 2003, PremierGarage opened its first franchise. The company now has 72 licensed franchisees in the United States and Canada. The franchisees are trained by PremierGarage on CAD software and the cabinet assembly.


Customers interested in purchasing the cabinets contact a franchise that will use the CAD software to plan out the person's garage. PremierGarage has roughly 80 different and highly interchangeable parts, and the software allows the homeowner to pick which parts suit his needs best.


The franchisee then assembles the cabinetry from its inventory (shipped every three weeks from Atlanta or Phoenix) before delivering and installing it for the customer. The franchisee also removes any existing cabinetry, and offers the option of installing custom flooring.


The franchisee then ships replenishment orders to either the Phoenix or Atlanta plants. The plants run on weekly rotation schedules. This schedule allows each plant to keep an inventory as well as fill any orders it gets during the week.


The replenishments are then shipped to the franchisees on a fleet of eight 48-foot curtain side trailers owned by PremierGarage and pulled by a contract driver. "Every single day of the week there are PremierGarage trucks running back and forth throughout the country," Loberg says.


Heavy duty cabinets

PremierGarage offers real cabinet-ry to its customers. "Each cabinet is a real cabinet box, unlike many of the closet companies that assemble on site," Loberg says. "The cabinets don't share walls with the cabinet next to them, each one is its own individual model."


And the models are built very similar to standard kitchen cabinetry. But the construction is where the similarities end. People are storing heavy duty items in these cabinets, and the cabinets are built to accommodate them.


PremierGarage builds on the 32mm European system. Each cabinet is made from one-inch-thick thermofused melamine particleboard, instead of the common 3/4-inch thickness.


The cabinets feature full backs locked into a dado groove. Behind the back is a horizontal nailer system that attaches to cabinet sides using wood dowels. The sides themselves are system drilled on a point-to-point router to allow for adjustable shelves also made from one-inch-thick melamine.


The cabinets are mounted directly to the garage wall studs using four-inch steel screws. Also different from many kitchen cabinets, all PremierGarage cabinets are mounted six inches from the floor to avoid the water damage and insect problems common to garages.


PremierGarage also offers a flooring option to complement its cabinetry. The effect is a complete garage remodel that's suited to the needs of its customers.


Planning to grow

As the garage continues to grow as a new element of the home remodeling industry, Loberg plans to keep PremierGarage growing with it.


"I don't think we're going to continue to grow at the same rate, but we anticipate revenues exceeding $100 million by 2010," reports Loberg. He plans to keep the focus on automation, as he has from the start.


Despite having more than 80 employees (20 in Atlanta and the rest in Phoenix), Loberg sees the value in cutting edge technology. While working with engineers in Italy this past October to plan the newly opened Phoenix plant, Loberg and his partner saw a lot of very new equipment that hasn't been seen much stateside.


"Now we're moving toward automation from the material handling side of things," says Loberg. "We're looking at throughfeed CNC rather than the standard suction table-type CNC that most people use." He's also looking at double-sided edgebanding.


The goal is to keep the focus on high-volume panel processing to accommodate the company's projected growth.


According to the National Assn. of Home Builders, the garage enhancement market is an $800 million annual industry. Loberg sees the market's potential. "In 2006, we're projected to do in excess of $20 million in sales to our franchisees," says Loberg.


"Our best estimates are telling us that PremierGarage will account for roughly $50 million in 2006."


New advertising campaigns for PremierGarage ensure that any time someone types "garage" in a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, PremierGarage will come up as a sponsored link. This strategy accounted for more than 1,000 Web site hits in a month and is starting the foundation for a brand recognition Loberg hopes to foster.


"Of all America's garages out there, only about 5 percent of them have been improved. That leaves a whole lot of market left to sell to," says Loberg. And Loberg is taking the precautions necessary to make sure that PremierGarage is the go-to source for people looking to remodel their garage.

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