Buying a cabinet shop in 2007 in the midst of a serious recession while having no prior cabinet manufacturing experience might not seem like the best of business plans. But Matt and Shelley Wehner did exactly that, and through hard work, new technology, and an upscale design focus, they’ve transformed the operation into a growing and thriving enterprise.

Huge gamble

Matt had been a math teacher, not a woodworker, and he was not looking for a woodworking business. He was actually working for a company involved with chemical sales, and he had hopes to work out a deal with the owner to buy that company. But someone else beat him to it. Still, there was a silver lining, because the new owner showed Matt the ins and outs of really running a business. When the opportunity came to buy Cabinet Concepts by Design, a small 4-man cabinet shop in Springfield, Mo., Matt took a chance.

“It was a huge gamble, but it did pay off,” says Matt.

The challenge was indeed big. When Matt and Shelley took the reins, the shop had just two weeks of work (actually just two orders) on the books. Today, the company has 19 employees, and orders booked for 12 weeks out.

“One of the local builders gave us a shot,” recalls Matt. “We did a really good job for him.” That first job with Ramsey Homes started things rolling and began a solid new relationship, but the Wehners knew for long-term success, they needed to take the shop in an entirely new direction.

Going upscale

One of the first tactics Matt and Shelley took was to redirect the business to a much more upscale market. Shelley has a design background and was ready to really push the shop’s designs in a more creative direction, but at first, the shop staff was not on board. Matt insisted on a new company policy: “We will not use the word ‘can’t’.”

When they bought the shop, it came with a copy of Cabinet Vision software. But the previous owners had used only it for cutlisting. Shelley explored the design and presentation power of the software, while Matt looked to its manufacturing potential. The 3D renderings from the program helped make creative, upscale designs more real to customers.

“Our clients love Cabinet Vision. It allows us to show them a 3D rendering of what the project will look like instead of having to ask them to use their imagination on a blueprint drawing,” says Matt. Today, Shelley works with two other designers in the company to do all of the CAD work.

Shop technology upgrade

Cabinet Vision also helped Matt up the ante for technology on the manufacturing side of the business. The prior owners used the software to make cutlists for conventional manufacturing. They were using conventional manufacturing with a couple of table saws. Matt added a Homag panel saw and a Biesse Rover 15 CNC machine to the production mix. He’s hoping to add another point-to-point machining center this year. Using the current older machines they have, Matt says they still enter cutting data at the machines, but he hopes to have full screen-to-machine integration in two years.

“Cabinet Vision has the flexibility to transform construction methods to suit what we have and what our limitations are,” Matt says.

Being new to the software, Matt and Shelley were also appreciative of the online support available. “I use the blog a lot and have found a tremendous support through the Cabinet Vision Blog,” he says. “For example, recently we had a problem where we had a drawer that was not responding properly (in the program). After posting a question on the blog page asking why this is happening, I had several responses within an hour.” To get even more from the program, he recently hired a dedicated IT employee to coordinate the software interface with production.

Matt figures the program saves 50 percent of the time needed to create cutlists. That combined with the CNC machinery has slashed milling time in half. He also takes advantage of detailed reports for materials, assembly, and costs.

Another recent addition is a TigerStop SawGear cutoff system. Matt uses the doors and face-frame cutlists from Cabinet Vision to provide cutlists for the SawGear. The shop also has a 36-inch Speed Sander and a Timesavers orbital sander.

Building big

All of this has enabled Cabinet Concepts to go far beyond the low-end remodels and new construction that were the prime target for the previous owner of the shop. The shop currently has orders for two of the largest homes in the U.S., both of which are being built in the Ozark area.

One of the homes has achieved national publicity because it is a super mansion designed to withstand an F5 tornado. Cabinet Concepts won the bid to do three of the kitchens in the massive structure, including redoing one that had been attempted first by another shop. To give a hint of the scale of the building, the home’s library has two stories to be wainscoted, says Matt.

But big successes require a big work commitment. When Matt is asked for his advice for others thinking of taking over a struggling cabinet shop, he talks seriously about time. “If you can imagine how much time you’re going to need to make it successful, double that,” he says, noting that he and his wife easily each put in 60 hours a week on the business. 

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