Networking and a philosophy of continually seizing new opportunities are powerful tools to fuel growth. That's the lesson learned by one New Jersey shop that last year posted nearly $1 million in sales just five years after it was launched.

In fact, Technical Cabinetry & Millwork in Cedar Knoll, N.J., was born out of an opportunity. TCM was launched as a division of Livingston Technologies, a company that offers technical services to various industries. In 2001 the shop was started to manufacture cabinetry to house highly technical biomedical equipment that Livingston Technologies installed.

"I tested the waters by designing and offering millwork to accompany our medical equipment installation services," says Mark J. Hari, director and general manager of Livingston Technologies. "Our designs took into consideration proper equipment placement, power and ventilation requirements and structural soundness to hold our customers' large equipment investment; the customers liked the idea."

The secret to TCM's success lies in its ability to network with a number of sources and to look at every situation and every person as a potential for jobs and growth. "Our divisions feed us with work," says Hari. "Every division knows what the other division does, so it's like having 105 salespeople."

Other elements contributing to the shop's growth are its attention to detail and its ability to provide a complete package of services for its customers, doing everything from building cabinetry to installing systems and electronics.

Networking

TCM is a member of a number of organizations like the National Kitchen & Bath Assn., Cabinet Makers Assn. and the International Solid Surface Fabricators Assn., all of which provide networking possibilities. Hari attends woodworking shows and seminars to listen and learn from the solutions of other shops.

Although it's true that TCM gets a lot of business networking with the other divisions of its parent company, it also gets work through other sources. "The potential for new business really is everywhere, when companies know you're there and what you do," says Hari.

TCM gets jobs through word-of-mouth, general contractors and a salesperson dedicated to developing sales for the manufacturing areas of the company. Livingston Technologies' expertise in electronics has also worked to bring in more customers, who may not initially be looking for cabinetry.

Hari says that the most important thing to remember is that everyone can be a potential source for business. When TCM saw that a housing development was going up near the shop, for example, it checked to see if there was a possibility of work.

The shop has also aligned itself with contract furniture representatives who sell commercial office furnishings such as cubicles and file cabinets and who need local vendors to install the product. Many of these customers often need some custom items that the contract furniture manufacturer does not offer.

"Since we are in the building, assembling someone else's product, we now can offer that custom reception desk, bathroom vanity and employee break room/kitchenette that you can't buy out of a box," says Hari.

More services

When a company moves again, most contract furniture companies don't want to be involved if there is no purchase of new furniture. However, because TCM has already worked with the customer, they'll get the request to de-install/install the move and with it possibly get new business.

"With this business, we offer the complete move, which would include computer/office equipment takedown and reinstallation, cable pulling if required to connect computer and telephone equipment at the new location and then setup of the cubicles and furnishings," says Hari.

"A big potential for residential work is entertainment or media rooms where the mix of electronics and millwork are coming together," says Hari. "Since we offer both services, we can provide turnkey solutions to the customer."

Moving forward

While the shop got its start in health care, its biggest customers now are general contractors, banks, the corporate business environment and some residential clients. "We were seeing that many of the services we offered were no longer just focused toward healthcare, but were now being used by many types of businesses," says Hari.

But not every customer was buying large systems that needed millwork. "We continued to offer other services which were related to our business such as cable installation for computer networks and telephone systems, hotel television systems, satellite communications systems and the like," says Hari.

Initially, Livingston Technologies subcontracted the millwork and cabinetry to small local shops. It was in 2001 that the company decided to make the cabinetry in-house to get total control of the quality of the product and to ensure that the equipment would fit in the cabinetry properly. TCM was set up in a 1,500-square-foot space, some basic pieces of equipment were purchased and a cabinetmaker was hired.

Today, the shop is expanding into a 5,000-square-foot space so it can meet the growing demands of an expanding clientele. "Our current shop cannot meet the needs of our customers' projects, which are bigger in scope and demand quicker production times," says Hari. The shop now has seven employees including installers, production workers, cabinetmakers and an estimator.

To be competitive, the shop needs to be doing three or four jobs at the same time, says Hari. With the old shop that was impossible. "Now we have a flow," he says. "We have work coming in. We have the ability to spread out."

Building product

The new shop has cutting stations set up to use either a Striebig Compact or Holz-Her 1205 Super Cut vertical panel saw, depending on the material being cut. The company currently works primarily in laminate and solid surface and occasionally in plywood and solid wood. Expectations are that the shop will be doing more work in solid wood and veneers with the growth of the residential markets. What the company can't make efficiently such as raised panel doors or trim, it outsources.

The old edgebander that couldn't handle 3mm roundovers has been replaced with a newer model Holz-Her 1315 with a finishing station. For laminating there is a Bleeker Brothers spray booth and a Binks spray gun for nonflammable contact adhesive. There are also two other booths for finishing along with a Binks high-volume, low-pressure gun system. There is an Oneida dust control system with blast gates on each individual machine.

TCM builds frameless cabinets using the 32mm system, primarily in relation to attaching hardware. The company does not yet do dowel construction.

The shop is air-conditioned because that resulted in a better finishing job and employee comfort. There are two compressors, one a refrigerated Kaeser air compressor to deal with moisture problems the shop was having with glue and finish. TCM also purchased a WorkRite glue welder and a Costruzioni Meccaniche hydraulic pinch press with rollers that will be used in the new space.

Hari says that although a CNC machine would be nice now, it's just not necessary. "We have all the individual tools. And granted there may be a few more physical steps going from here to here to here, everything we do is custom." Hari also says that he's used the various seminars and conferences at the wood shows such as IWF and AWFS to learn some new methods of doing some things.

"There has been more than one occasion where I learned how to do something with our existing equipment at these shows that saved us time and money," says Hari.

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