Apple Valley Woodworks, Southington, Conn., is a two-year-old manufacturer with a long-standing tradition in the custom cabinetry market. A reincarnation of LesCare Kitchens Inc., which went bankrupt in 2004, the company has reunited management and employees, met marketplace needs and manufactured a range of products to achieve success and growth.

"It wasn't really a new startup per se," says Lou Lestorti, president. "There was a lot in place. Someone just had to catalyze it."

Lestorti and vice president Robert Castriciano, who had worked together at LesCare for 30 years before leaving two years prior to the bankruptcy, were the catalysts. Lestorti bought one of the three former LesCare facilities, the modern 200,000-square-foot Southington manufacturing plant and much of its equipment, and set out to establish Apple Valley Woodworks.

"During that hiatus we had contacted many of the key people involved at the Southington facility," Lestorti says. "The feedback we got was Hey, if you guys do it, we're with you.' So, having key people on board, we felt it would be easy to get things fired up and maybe bring back quite a few of the former employees."

Getting started

Of Apple Valley's 107 full-time employees, 101 had worked for LesCare. "That was one of the most rewarding things that happened," Lestorti says. While he concedes that some people probably couldn't find comparable employment after the company closed, he believes many returned because they had enjoyed working for their former employer.

"I think a lot of it was that people know me, my work ethic and my type of management, and appreciated working with me before," he says. "As a whole, LesCare took good care of its employees. Other than the fact that the company was out of business, there was really no ill will against the company itself on their part."

Starting a company requires exceptional confidence in the product and the ability to sell it. "That's the way I felt and all my key people felt," says Lestorti. "There's a certain void in the marketplace for exactly what we make, which is full access cabinetry in a wide variety of price structures, colors and appearances."

These products include entry level foils and woods, polymeric laminates, thermofoils, decorative laminate veneers, wood veneers, exotic veneers and solid wood doors. "There's no one else doing exactly what we're doing in a frameless product," he says.

"Bob Castriciano and I felt that we had enough credibility and confidence in our former relationships with dealers and distributors throughout the United States that we would be successful in achieving what we needed," Lestorti says. "We felt we still had the rapport with people in the field so that we could launch this company successfully."

Back to work

Though Apple Valley manufactures some products that had been made by LesCare, Lestorti says the new company is very different. "We feel that we've fine tuned, added to and tweaked the line beyond what LesCare was offering," Lestorti says. "We've established an even higher quality basis and some new standards." Manufacturing has remained essentially the same; Lestorti developed the basic process years ago when LesCare converted to frameless and full access cabinetry.

Apple Valley's products are a mix of innovations and responses to customer requests. "We do it both ways," Lestorti says. "In the case of the decorative veneer laminate doors, we developed the product in conjunction with outsourced vendors and then brought it to market."

The recently introduced decorative veneer laminate doors combine American craftsmanship with state-of-the-art impression technology from Italy. The doors are a step above a standard thermofoil product, says Lestorti. "It's a true five-piece door. It's not like thermofoil, (which is) all in one piece, so you get true grain direction. They're glazed and topcoated, so it's hard to tell them from a wood door."

The DVL doors sell for 25 to 30 percent less than comparable solid wood doors. "We're not the first to offer this type of product, but we're one of the first to offer it in custom sizes," Lestorti says.

Reading the market

At other times, Apple Valley listens to the market and strives to create what customers want. It recently developed and introduced the Soft Brushstroke Glaze to meet the trend toward a softer, more subtle glazed appearance. The finish is a process that works with the company's custom wood series in select Colourtone finishes, and is designed to provide light coverage, minimal hang up and durability.

The company's broad product offering appeals to dealers. "We had found during the time that LesCare was out of business that a lot of dealers and distributors needed two or three suppliers to handle all of the products that LesCare had made for them," Lestorti says. "By coming back into the business with not only what we had before, but more product available, it really sets us apart as being someone quite unique.

"We're also one of the few frameless cabinets marketed nationally that are built on a 3/4 inch carcase versus a 5/8 box," Lestorti says. "That sets us apart. I think we're probably the best value in the full access industry, and we've got some great styles and designs."

Combined effort

Lestorti attributes the company's success and growth to a combination of "our product, our people, our service, customer loyalty, people we've had relationships with in the past." The company also has hired a number of independent reps who had formerly handled LesCare's product line.

Apple Valley Woodworks' major challenge is reaching its sales goals in a softening economy. "I would say that some of our dealers are feeling that softness in the marketplace," Lestorti says. "However, as we're growing and adding new dealers and distributors at quite a good pace, we more than make up for same-store sales being somewhat on the soft side.

"We like what we're doing." Lestorti adds. "We've really built a great team here. We want to grow at a reasonable rate and put our name on the map."

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