Going after the high-end market
November 4, 2012 | 6:00 pm CST

From his stylized signature logo to luxurious four-color brochures and ads, to even his Newport Coast business address, everything about James A. Grove says high-end. And that’s exactly what he wants as a general contractor and custom cabinet shop going after business in homes that typically price out for $1.5 to $5 million. But behind the glitzy front is a no-nonsense operation that uses a no-frills cabinet shop, outsourcing, and creative custom work to routinely deliver spectacular results that build more business with top echelon customers.

Grove started out in 1987 as a general contractor doing tenant improvements, but now his business is entirely devoted to high-end remodeling, which he describes as a “boutique” operation. “We don’t want to make 1,000 widgets of something,” he says, explaining how his shop tackles demanding one-of-a-kind custom work often involving veneers and curved work. “It’s a little more complicated than building a box.”

Unassuming shop 

But just because the work is complex, don’t expect to see all the latest cutting edge technology in the James A. Grove shop. An SCM sliding table saw and edgebander are the primary pieces of equipment. A Blum boring machine sits against a back wall.

Grove’s father was a carpenter and Grove picked up most of his woodworking skills on his own. He was an early adopter of the European 32mm system and says frameless vs. face-frame is not much of an issue in his market with very little face-frame work. He says most of the jobs are contemporary with flat faces and different veneers. He relies on GL Veneer as his primary veneer supplier. His shop prefers to work with prefinished plywood for the most part.

Breaking the image that high-end custom work requires doing more work in house, Grove outsources his doors from Decore-ative Specialties. But he frequently uses the doors as a starting point for more custom work. “We take their doors and tweak them,” he says. For example, the shop took some stock Decore-ative Specialties glass doors and added a curved wave form mullion across the top to make a stylish statement.

High-end networking 

With a shop based in an industrial part of Covina, Calif., far from his target market of high-end Orange County, Grove knew he needed to take a different approach to marketing. He established his business address and office in Newport Coast to have a more prestigious address to help demand respect from clients and designers. Then he went to work getting to know the designers.

Grove aggressively networks with designers and architects especially through the American Society of Interior Designers, attending their functions and advertising in their publications. The result is that most of his work involves negotiated contracts without having to do competitive bidding.

Recently he’s trying a new tactic, being included in a special gift box created by Luxe Interiors + Design. The gift box takes the old Welcome Wagon idea and takes it upscale big time. Given out to new luxury homeowners, the box includes information on luxury products and services. Grove is the only cabinet company included in the exclusive promotion, which gives out 100 boxes a month. He says if he wins just one project from the effort, it will pay for the whole thing.

Grove also participates in designer showcase home projects. He has gotten support from Blum and Decore-ative Specialties to build spectacular work in showcase homes that grabs attention from the design community. “Suddenly they knew who I was,” he says. “Networking does pay off.”

Presentation important 

Grove says he has to present the right image to earn the initial respect of demanding high-end clients and designers. You won’t find him meeting clients in a beat up old pick-up truck; his shiny black late-model BMW sedan creates a more appropriate image. His business cards and brochures all carry a stylized signature logo, and the same logo shows up in all the drawers in projects he builds.

“People just think that’s neat,” he says.

His 12-page, 8-1/2x11, full-color brochure is printed on heavy stock and features lavish professional photography of a wide sampling of his work, ranging from contemporary to more traditional styles. There is very little text, letting the beautiful big images speak for themselves.

And although his shop is not fully computerized, Grove uses computer design programs to deliver top-notch full-color photo-realistic renderings to help clients and designers better visualize his proposals.

Keeping up to date 

With the competitive and forward thinking market he serves, Grove says it is essential for him to stay on top of all the product advances in the industry. He is constantly on the lookout for new ideas in lighting, hardware, and accessories.

“People want the widgets,” he says. “I really want to know everything in the industry.”

He uses that knowledge to surprise designers and clients with new ideas that they might not have seen before. He says he is a big fan of products from Blum and Rev-A-Shelf. He’s also experimenting with some breakthrough LED lighting products and the latest developments in environmentally responsible products, such as Decore-ative Specialties eco-friendly Pure Colors line.

“Newport Beach has a green inspector now,” he explains. “Everything has to be compliant, and you have to have the paperwork to prove it.”

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.