By most measures, Phoenix is one of the worst cities for foreclosures and falling real estate values. It’s been a tough time for cabinet and millwork shops in Arizona, with hundreds of company closings.

But the situation created by the housing issues and the recession was seen as an opportunity by Astor Stave. The cabinetmaker and businessman saw this time as similar to buying stock in a solid company with a relatively low price.

“When the stock market crashed in 2008, the solid companies that were well funded, financially secure, and had the technology to grow, did just that,” says James L. Englebrecht, operations manager, Crown Custom Millwork, LLC.

“In Arizona many very large and small cabinet and millwork companies closed in the past four years. We feel there will be a need for good quality companies with solid staffing and equipment to fill the need our clientele require.

It may have been the right time, but there were still challenges.

“We hired many experienced people as shop employees, engineers, office staff, and management,” Englebrecht says. “It has been my job to create a group that takes the best of their knowledge and ideas, and creates a team that puts us on the same level of many regional and nationally acclaimed architectural millwork companies.

“We started with a solid plan and integrated office software along with manufacturing software to integrate the company. By this summer we will be fully integrated and this should accelerate our ability to pass information from sales to engineering and to manufacturing very efficiently, thus reducing costs and allowing us to provide up-to-the-minute information and schedules to our client and reduce manufacturing time.”

To find good skilled people, Englebrecht says the new company worked through other employees, with carefully placed ads, and
with vendors who knew quality people in the region.

“There are experienced individuals (that are out of work), but employers are doing whatever they have to keep the best,” Englebrecht observes. Many individuals have found work out of state or have changed to other forms of work.”
Crown Custom had plenty of experience to draw on. Company principal Astor Stave had been a successful businessman and developer for more than 45 years. Stave started years ago as a carpenter. He combined furniture and cabinetmaking skills with business expertise and that led to his starting a small cabinet shop in Tempe.

“He was able to purchase many pieces of excellent used woodworking machinery due to plant closures around the country,” Englebrecht says. “He later found he was out of room in Tempe so he purchased a foreclosed property in North Phoenix. From this point the idea of Crown Custom Millwork was born with idea of providing exceptional service and quality.

Today, Crown Custom makes custom cabinets and fixtures, moulding, passage doors, cabinet doors, dovetail drawers, and AWI premium finishes for high-end residential and commercial projects. Customers are construction management, designers, architects, general contractors and direct to owners. About 30 percent of work is residential and 70 percent is commercial.

Millwork and cabinets 

“We are concentrating on projects that best utilize our work force and equipment,” Englebrecht says. “With our level of experienced employees, we can do high-end architectural millwork, cabinetry, and installation for high end residential and commercial projects,” Englebrecht says. “In addition, with our estimating software almost complete we are able to provide very accurate proposals at various levels of pricing and instantly provide value engineering so our clients can stay within their budgets.”

Crown Custom’s 26 employees work in its shop in Phoenix. A new showroom for cabinets and architectural millwork is being added at that location.

In the shop, TradeSoft ProjectPAK and ShopPAK are used, and the company is looking at Scheduler. “We wanted an integrated estimating, job management, and control system that could be used by all essential employees to streamline our daily operations,” Englebrecht says. “We have also added data collection so we can accurately know where jobs are costing out and to review times against our estimates to ensure we are accurate.”

In the shop, Crown has a Holz-Her Pro-master 7123 CNC machining center, Biesse Polymac edgebander, Biesse Regal 53-inch three-head sander. Martin equipment includes a programmable tilting head shaper, jointer, planer, and sliding table saw. The company also has a Weinig Unimat moulder, Opti-Cut saw, and several door and dowel machines from Accu-Systems. Two automotive spray booths are in the shop, one can be heated. Conversion varnish from Sherwin Williams is used.

Phoenix market still tough 

Englebrecht says the number of foreclosures is slowing in Phoenix, but the level of work is still down, and projects are very competitive. He estimates that between 200 and 300 local shops have closed, based on conversations with vendors.

Over the next few years, Englebrecht says the goal is to do a great deal more negotiated work, to have a strong relationship with many clients, and to expand the area of work from the southwest to nationally and internationally.

“We want to be a company that isn’t awarded a project only on cost, but on excellent management of the project from estimating to installation,” he says. “Our quality will give our customers assurance that they will get the product they want completed and managed on time.”

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