When Chuck Bloodgood planned for the growth of his shop, he knew he needed space and machinery. But what he didn't anticipate were all the natural and legal obstacles he would have to overcome.

Bloodgood began his business, Architectural Cabinets, early in 1996 in a rented garage with a dirt floor. His biggest machine was a contractor's saw purchased from a pawn shop. But the company grew and incorporated in 2001. Today, the Ruskin, Fla., shop reports $350,000 in annual sales. Far from its dirt-floor origins, the shop takes up 5,800 square feet with a 450-square-foot office and an undeveloped area of 8,900 square feet, all in a building owned by the business.

Machinery has come a long way, too. The shop now has an Altendorf sliding table saw, an SCM edgebander with Doucet return conveyor, a Biesse Rover CNC machine, a Selco beam saw, an Oliver planer and an SDS widebelt sander.

Surviving building hurdles

All that might sound like Chuck's dream of a bigger and better shop has come true, but first consider some of the nightmares along the way.

One of the most challenging and difficult things the company faced was getting more space. The building and land the shop bought ultimately turned into a good choice, but a number of daunting problems arose after the purchase of the property that could have broken a less-determined individual.

When Chuck first discovered the property, he considered it to be in an ideal location. But he did think it was overpriced. A price decrease, the size of the place, its capacity for expansion and the three-phase power setup are what sold him a year later.

When the company moved in, two-thirds of the shop was on a concrete slab and one-third of it was asphalt. Chuck placed the sliding table saw on the asphalt part. Then came the storm.

"It was a brutal storm and dropped a lot of water," Chuck says. "I wasn't here but an hour and I was standing in water right in front of that big saw above my boots. And it was around my table saw about knee deep." But that wasn't the end of it. The weather station next door and the fish farm behind are 48 inches above grade, and the water was pouring in. "When I came outside it was like a waterfall."

"We were getting everybody's runoff," says Chuck's wife, Sandy, who works in the shop primarily doing bookwork and taking care of the showroom. Their son, Justin, also works in the business.

They fixed the runoff problems, but only after living through a few storms. "I fixed everything. I raised this floor up," says Chuck. "We evaluated what was going on and where the water is supposed to go and why it wasn't getting there. We got in touch with the county, and it helped us get the ditches cleaned out some, and we diverted the water off."

Nightmares continued

"When we bought the property, it had a 'special use' permit on it, which allowed the previous owners to run a metal shop on it," says Sandy. Even though the property was zoned agricultural, Chuck, Sandy, the lending bank and appraisal company were all led to believe the permit was transferable if you didn't exceed what had been done before. That proved to be incorrect.

Architectural Cabinets Inc. used the covered, unused section of the property and the land to store motor homes for a fee to help offset the mortgage. When an inspector came by, the Bloodgoods not only found out that wasn't allowed but also that their whole operation might be in violation.

"They came back and said that not only can't you store the motor homes, but a metal shop and a wood shop are two different things. They actually shut us down and gave us 30 days to apply to rezone," says Chuck. As soon as the shop applied for rezoning, it was allowed to do business.

After eight months and about $10,000 spent on consultants and attorneys, the issue was completely resolved. "It drains you because you don't know what's ahead," says Chuck. "Most people would be out of business now if they had to deal with what I've had to deal with this past year. This past year has been one of the hardest. But, all in all, when it's all said and done, I wouldn't have it any other way."

Automating

Before moving to Florida and deciding to start his own shop, Chuck worked for nearly five years in a state-of-the-art shop, Universal Custom Millworks Inc., located in upstate New York. So when he moved, he knew he wanted to work in a shop with automation, to work with equipment he was familiar with. Shops in the Florida area that he visited were doing work the old way, so he started his own shop.

Chuck admits that he still relies on conversations with his old boss from UCM, Jeff Paul, for advice prior to many of his major purchases.

But Chuck couldn't start right out with all of that big equipment. "He bought a lot of his tools from a pawn shop in the beginning," says Sandy.

It wasn't until he got enough work and enough money to buy what he says was his first big piece of equipment in 1998, a used sliding table saw. He updated that machine with the purchase of the Altendorf F45 sliding table saw in 2001. "That was a huge improvement," says Chuck.

"The machines open doors for you, work you wouldn't get without it. To do the volume of commercial jobs the old way would take too much time. It wouldn't be feasible," says Chuck.

Their edgebander was purchased in 1999, using a lease. It does trim and has a buffing wheel on it, with two additional openings available for adding cutters to round off hardwood edges in the future. The edgebander return conveyor was added in 2002, when both the need for it and the money to buy it were there.

The CNC machining center, purchased in 2001, was also done through a leasing agreement.

Chuck does not use the machining center for nesting cabinets, although he does use nesting for jobs he does for other companies, such as radius work and specialty projects.

Most of the work the shop does is quality high-end residential and commercial European-style cabinetry, using dowel construction and the 32mm system.

With dowel construction, he felt nesting was not the best way to go because not all the machining and cutting could be done on one machine. Since parts would have to be moved off the machining center for doweling anyway, he decided to buy a beam saw.

Not his first choice

Chuck had not intended to buy a beam saw when he did. "I was going to buy the dowel inserter because I had the Altendorf and the point-to-point and I had the bander. I figured with the dowel inserter I'd be covered," he says. But because the price of the saw was expected to go up the first of the year, he bought it in December 2004, six months earlier than originally planned. "We went to the Selco beam saw to keep up with the other machines."

Both Sandy and Chuck are grateful for the help the shop has received from Dale Bucy with Hi-Tech Industrial Automation Inc. "Dale Bucy sells Biesse and other equipment; he's a technician and a salesman, and on both ends of the situation he's been great. I haven't had any better," says Chuck.

"He follows up to make sure everything is working OK," says Sandy.

Chuck still wants to get a dowel inserter, but he says that if he's going to spend that much money he wants one that drills the holes as well. Now, Justin does the dowel insertion by hand.

The shop does not use any design software or any software for optimization and cutlists outside of the software that came with the machines.

"There isn't one piece of equipment on the floor that hasn't made us money," says Chuck. "The machines that have been paid for make money every time they're turned on." l

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