During the current economic downturn we’ve heard lots of depressing stories about struggling cabinet shops. One of the hardest hit areas has been Florida, so I was curious what I’d find on a recent visit to a central Florida cabinet shop.

The drive to the shop gave a hint of the recent economic impact. I hadn’t been to Florida for a couple of years. On my last trip, I recalled seeing all sorts building boom signs everywhere. This time things were different. I drove past empty storefront after empty storefront. Signs of new development and boom were replaced by weeds coming up in abandoned strip mall parking lots and business sale and lease signs not offering much hope.

Frankly, I was getting more concerned the closer I got to my destination. I’d heard this shop was doing well, but I’d also heard they were doing significant business out of state. Maybe that was the answerI was in for a surprise. Not only was the shop filled with work, it was mostly jobs from the immediate region. Was business really coming back or did this shop owner have some magic potion to scare up new clients?

The truth was almost prosaic. Yes, there are some signs of life in the economy. But the real story was how the shop owner was completely dedicated to the long-term success of his company. He talked about getting really excited about creating a business entity that has a life of its own and that can outgrow its creator. Of course, he has an added incentive in that regard, as he wants to turn the business over to his sons who are currently in their 20s.

Too many owners of woodworking businesses have really just bought themselves a job by running a shop. They haven’t built a real business. They are too focused on short-term goals to create long-term success. The Florida shop owner I visited talked about selling quality and developing a reputation for jobs that please customers even if they have to dig a bit deeper in their pocketbooks to pay for them. He was talking about buying new machines and constantly making improvements in production and manufacturing. He was talking about investing in and grooming a talented staff that will stick around. (One of his top guys was homeless when he was first hired years ago.)

If we want to build back the economy we all need to first build back our businesses and do it for the long haul.

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