Can a small shop owner run a successful shop without being in the shop? Sean Benetin does.

Can you have all the benefits of a retail showroom without the overhead? Sean Benetin does.

Can you drive a custom business almost entirely by networking? Sean Benetin does.

Benetin is the president of Millwork & More LLC in Bernardsville, N.J., and he has found success by taking a different path than most other small custom shop owners.

Owner as telecommuter

When Benetin says he visits his shop only every couple of months, you might get the idea that he acts like an absentee owner or runs a loose operation. Actually, the complete opposite is the case.

Benetin and his staff have thoroughly analyzed every facet of the business and developed specific and extremely detailed “SOPs” (standard operating procedures) for literally everything the shop does. The main feature of the shop’s office is a bookcase with row upon row of these procedure manuals. And every machine in the shop has printed lists of standard procedures. Specialized setup jigs are built for many of the machines so settings can be repeated instantly without measuring. For things that don’t fit the SOPs, Benetin is just a cell phone call away.

Whether he’s in the shop or not, Benetin is confident his employees will do the right thing because they largely wrote the rules themselves. But that wasn’t always the case.

Near failure

“I ran my own business into the ground,” says Benetin. “We were going to close in 2001.”

As he tells it, the business reached a crisis point, being behind on work, then having no work, no money and no customers. “I went on vacation. I figured I’d have to liquidate so it didn’t matter anyway,” Benetin recalls. “Then I realized I was blaming other people, but I was the one really at fault.”

He came back to the shop, went through the procedures with his employees and told them, “You guys run the shop. Don’t call me. I’ve got to sell.”

The result was 25 percent faster work in the shop. At first he’d come back to the shop every two weeks for a meeting, then it went to every couple of months. He’s never had to worry about the work getting done.

He keeps an open book policy, so employees know what the expenses are. All the four workers in the shop are on salary with full paid health benefits and three weeks of paid vacation every year. “I don’t track hours. I track production,” says Benetin.

Selling on the road

Not being in the shop frees Benetin for more selling time. He maximizes that by driving his showroom, which saves him thousands in overhead when compared with a storefront showroom. Working mostly with designers, Benetin comes to them and their clients directly with his mobile showroom equipped to answer all their questions and close the deal.

But the real magic of Benetin’s selling and marketing isn’t just an unusual showroom. It’s really more of a matter of no-holds-barred networking. Benetin makes a point of joining every association he can to extend his networking reach. One of those he joined a few years ago was the Cabinet Makers Association, of which he is currently president. Recently, he helped launch a new networking opportunity for architects, designers, engineers, and contractors in New Jersey that saw more than 100 people show up for the inaugural meeting. Hosted by Karl’s Appliances in Fairfield, N.J., the event had no speakers, no agenda, no presentations. It was pure meet and greet.

Benetin’s approach is not so much to push his own services, but to help others find the right people to get what they need. For example, in working with designers, he says, “I’m trying to be a problem solver. I lead them to think it’s their idea.” And that makes Benetin and his Millwork & More the go-to solution for many.

“I don’t ask for work,” says Benetin. “I connect people.”

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