For Pat Murray Taylor, becoming the owner of Afton, Tenn.-based Murray Custom Cabinets seemed a natural step in her 25-plus years of employment in her father's shop. Since Pat has always been an integral part of the running of the shop, she has not seen any real problems with clients accepting the change.

The transition, however, has not been as easy as Pat and her husband Rick Taylor hoped it would be. Pat still includes her father, Ruble Murray, in a lot of the decisions being made and he still works in the shop. Ruble says that he's still involved in the decision process and doesn't see that changing quickly, but he says his daughter is a very hard worker and is doing a good job handling the business.

"His heart is still in it," says Rick. "At the first of the year, I felt the transition was going to be fairly quick and fairly easy." But as the year has progressed, Rick says he realized it was going to be more difficult.

"I think that there are times that he leaves everything up to me, and then there are times that he wants to control things," says Pat.

"We're more or less working together, so everything is going along pretty well," says Ruble.

Ruble bought Humphrey's Cabinets in 1973, where he had been purchasing cabinets for his construction business. As the shop became more successful and Ruble established a reputation for producing high-end cabinetry, he changed the name to Murray's Custom Cabinets. In 1988, he moved the shop into an old school building.

Time to let go

Ruble relinquished control of the business to his daughter in December 2004. "It really came about in October, November of 2004. We were working in the shop and he said that it was getting harder and harder for him to come to work," says Rick. "A couple of days later he said that if we wanted it, it was ours."

But Ruble did not make this choice lightly. He had looked into selling the business to someone else earlier in the year before realizing his daughter was not only the obvious choice, but the best choice to carry on the business with the craftsmanship and passion he had put into it.

Ruble had double knee replacement surgery in December, so it was a good time for the transition for all parties, says Rick. Besides that and other health problems, he really shouldn't be lifting heavy weights, adds Pat.

Many of the contractors the shop has dealt with in the past that would recommend the shop to customers are also older and passing their businesses down to the next generation, says Pat. "The young ones are taking over, and they're going to the faster, pre-made, get it done, get it out."

"What makes our cabinets special is Ruble's craftsmanship and his reputation for being able to do pretty much anything the customer wants," says Rick. Scheduling, however, is not really his strength and it is something the shop is hoping to improve.

Rick has met with a number of contractors and explained that the shop is under new ownership and keeping schedules is a high priority.

"I just want to get our reputation back for dependability and that we do what we say we're going to do, when we say we'll do it and that we maintain the quality of workmanship that we do," says Rick.

Small steps first

"Ruble's run a successful business and has been able to make a good living, but I think there's a potential for improvement and a future for this company," says Rick. Most work the company gets is through word-of-mouth. The shop did not have an updated brochure.

"We've done quite a bit this year to get out the word that the business has changed hands," says Pat. Besides an ad in the Yellow Pages and a brochure Rick created, the shop sponsored civic club and community events. Rick has also spent time developing contacts with contractors and developers.

As far as shop improvements, a new loading dock pad was recently poured and doors were fitted with new locks, where there were none before. MCC also upgraded Peachtree accounting software to provide a way of keeping better track of profit and loss, material costs, cash flow and expenses.

Pat is only beginning the process of getting everything into the system. Now, she admits that she doesn't know what the profit is and she doesn't like it. She's looking forward to getting profit and loss statements from Peachtree.

"What I want Peachtree to do is print out reports of costs, sales, etc. and how it all relates to everything else," says Rick.

The shop also bought Cabinet Vision software in February 2005 to help with drawings and various tasks in the future. Ruble does face drawings for customers, so buying the software was about looking ahead, trying to plan for when Ruble wouldn't be doing the drawings anymore, although they hope that's a long way off. Ruble doesn't believe computers work in a custom shop like theirs. "A computer can't build these cabinets," he says.

More changes ahead

Pat and Rick think that doing fewer jobs at a time will improve the flow and scheduling.

"I think things would work a lot better if we would concentrate on one kitchen at a time," says Rick. "I think you can have more errors doing multiple jobs mixed together."

Pat says that there have been times she's had a number of projects waiting for her to finish, and it can make things confusing. "There was one time I put white paint on a piece of cherry."

One of the biggest challenges the shop faces is hiring qualified employees and it has not been an easy task. Since the couple took over, they've hired six people who all left, for a lot of different reasons. Some employees couldn't read a rule, some were not familiar with the equipment, although they had claimed they were, and some wanted a lot higher pay, though they were far from qualified. The couple even tried to use a temporary service but it just didn't work out.

Finally, there's the matter of traveling on jobs. Before, when Ruble would go out on jobs, he wasn't really concerned about the number of trips or time the travel took. "He wasn't considering how valuable his time was and how much it was costing the shop, because he's not an hourly employee," says Rick. "We're trying hard now to account for all the travel and the time spent on a job that we didn't really think about before and figure it into our pricing."

"We know how we want it to run, and I think everyone is ready for changes, too, and they see we're actually changing, but it's not going to happen overnight," says Pat.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.