Back in 2007, Levi Mize was enjoying running a thriving six-man custom cabinet shop with CNC equipment and an emphasis on a strong team. But located in Camarillo, Calif., his Woodcraftsman Inc. is at the center of the real estate collapse and subsequent economic crisis that has so dramatically changed the landscape for the woodworking industry. Mize couldn’t escape those changes, and like lots of shops he’s faced a cutback in business. But unlike most, he’s developed new technologies and tactics to better compete and prepare himself for eventual recovery.

Before the downturn, Mize was already a veteran user and enthusiastic advocate of computer design software, working with Planit Solutions Cabinet Vision. But now he has found a way to make that an even better marketing tool by pairing it with remote meeting capabilities to bring his design software to customers wherever and whenever is most convenient. He’s also explored the power of video for marketing.

Virtual meetings

Most custom cabinet shops spend a lot of time on the road or in the office to meet with clients. And when dealing with busy modern homeowners, it’s often difficult to get everyone in the same room at the same time to make the decisions necessary to move a project forward. Mize found a great solution to that problem in the form of Citrix software’s GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting products.

“Instead of going to a client’s home, they can join me on my computer wherever they are,” says Mize. “Everybody loves it.” He tells of a woman who told him she was able to sit down at the computer in the evening in her pajamas with a glass of wine and still be able to have a comfortable design session with the virtual meeting technology.

Clients can more easily put a design meeting into their schedule. “They can eat dinner, put the kids to bed and sit down at the computer.” Working remotely, Mize can share his computer screen over the Internet with the clients wherever they are. He can show them all the design details and options available in his Cabinet Vision program, making it an even more powerful presentation tool.

Opening new doors

Being able to offer this service gives Mize a big competitive advantage. “The big thing people like now is the convenience of not having to leave home.” He explains how a woman in Michigan was planning a project for a home she bought in California and was trying to choose a cabinet maker. She was worried that she would have to make multiple expensive and time-consuming trips to not only select the shop but to work through the design with the chosen builder. As soon as Mize explained his virtual meeting service, she gave him the job.

Initially, Mize thought that was the kind of customer the service would appeal to most, expanding his reach farther beyond his immediate market. But that hasn’t really been the case. “I thought it would appeal to longer distance clients, but the local people love it, too,” he says.

He describes a situation where a man he’d done a kitchen for was having lunch with some friends in the area and started talking about his cabinetmaker and the neat virtual meeting service he provided. One of the other guys at the table piped up, “Oh, you mean Levi? We used him, too.”

Mize says it definitely has helped differentiate him from the competition.

Making adjustments

Founded in 1990, Woodcraftsman Inc. has developed a solid reputation in the area over the years, and Mize says that has helped him weather the storm. “I have three really good contractors who throw me a job here and there,” he says. But the economy has dramatically changed his business. “It’s a whole different ball game,” he says.

He has downsized the shop from six to two people. And he has really dived into marketing efforts. “I hand out business cards like crazy,” he says. “I always give a stack to clients.” He has developed very professional video presentations complete with titles and animation as part of his online portfolio to present to clients and potential customers (see sidebar).

His efforts have borne fruit, but the competition is fierce, he says. Customers pit shops against each other hoping to prompt a bidding war and lower prices, and lowball bidders are often only too happy to comply. “Sometimes I get people that show me a stack of drawings from other shops,” he says. “I don’t give out plans until I have a 10 percent non-refundable deposit.”

He says he is very up front about that policy and it helps to qualify serious customers. He’s flatly refused to bid on work where he felt the customer was just shopping for price.

Still, Mize is cautiously optimistic about the future. “Me and my guys were talking about it. Things are starting to improve,” he says. “People are just tired of it and want to get started again. But the economy is so fragile right now. It wouldn’t take much to shatter what little bright light there is.”

Mize figures his renewed efforts in the area of design will give him the edge no matter what happens. 

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