Ninety percent of A. Biggs Love's business is institutional casework. Located in Florence, S.C., there are only 13 employees working at this 55,000-square-foot shop with $3 to $5 million in sales. Owner Love believes that to succeed in commercial automation is necessary.

"It doesn't take a lot of people to do the work when everything is automated, even when you are producing approximately 100 boxes per day as we are," says Love.

The vast majority of the shop's business is for schools, hospitals and other institutions. Owner and president of  Biggs Casework Inc., Love has been in business since the early 1990s.

Biggs started his cabinet shop after South Carolina's  hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 when he moved to Camden, S.C. Eventually, Love moved to Florence, S.C., where his residential cabinetwork dried up. When an architect friend had a job that he couldn't get his regular contractor to do, he convinced Love to take it on.

Love also has a thriving two-year-old closet component business. Love kept his eyes on the closet business for some time and realized it was a good one. From there he figured out how it worked and what it would take to get it up and running.

The right equipment

"We've also found that with the technology moving up, bigger isn't always better. We can have a smaller edgebander and still produce as much or more than before." The company has two Brandt edgebanders and a Homag edgebander.

The way the plant is set up, the boards come around from the back and the  Homag rear-loading beam saw can carry whatever material they need, up to three different types of material. The Homag rear-load beam saw is four years old.

Biggs Casework doesn't do face-frame cabinets, though it constructs plywood-type cabinets. Virtually all its work involves laminate, European-style cabinets. When the wood comes off one of the company's two banders, it goes to one of two  Weeke CNC machines and a  Busellato. A new  Brandt edgebander and  Ligmatech conveyor were installed this month.

One of the edgebanders is set up for edgebanding 3mm thick for the doors and another is set up for laminate of another 0.5mm edgebanding for the casework. The 0.5mm thick edgebanding is used for all of the shelves, interior cases and box work.

The return conveyor lets one operator run the machine, saving on labor costs. "Those machines are expensive, but so are employees," says Love.

New direction

One new development on the horizon with commercial and institutional cabinetry and building in general is the push for formaldehyde-free cabinetry. "This is getting very big for us, despite the fact that it's also 50 percent more in costs," adds Love.

"For specialty items such as reception desks or nurse's stations we have a separate operation. One builder of tract homes in the Myrtle Beach area is also going green; in fact, everything in the house must be formaldehyde-free, including paint, glue and all the building production."

The only effect this development has on their business is to raise the cost of material. However, the company realizes this fact and factors in the difference.

Family affair

Love's daughter Elizabeth is the Chief Financial Officer and her husband Brent Mozley, who is plant manager, has been working with the company for six years. Daughter Catharine does all her estimating for the company from the Internet. Blaine Smith does all the shop drawings by computer CAD program prior to sending them off to the architect. David Hawkins, project manager, oversees all project installation.

When they hear about a project, Catharine bids on it from the plans and specs. If they get the project, the company must submit shop drawings showing precisely how they're going to do the manufacturing.

"They review that and if they don't like it, they'll change it and go back and forth with us until we get it all right," says Love. "Estimating is done basically all by hand. It's a game; you never know quite where you are."

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges with commercial work is cash flow. Sometimes the 10 percent retainer will be paid a year later. "You have to have financial stability in order to wait for the money," says Love. "With commercial, you don't get a deposit, and you get paid 60-90 days later."

Another problem can be that architects are often so far behind in writing their specs. "Most of the time, their specs are so antiquated, they just don't meet today's standards. We have to bid it based on what AWI would expect us to do, how the job should be done. But sometimes architects will insist it's done their way, even if it's from the way things were done 50 years ago."

Finally, Love says that with big equipment buy now because trends are leading upward in costs for European machinery and this could be critical when it comes to the bottom line. "Six months from now, equipment could easily cost $50,000 more than it does now," says Love. "That was the case for us. Our costs have been definitely going up in the past six months. Boards are the only things we use from the United States. All the rest of our tools and equipment come from overseas."

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