Exactly what is custom cabinetry? The Oxford Dictionary gives several meanings to the word "custom" but starts with "usual behavior," established usage, business dealings and customers. Looking at the custom cabinet business, the term custom relates more to building exactly what the customer wants.

Custom or standardized

Certainly custom is about choices in materials, color and finish, meeting space requirements and looks to please the customer. It may even be about specific sizes for very special purposes customers might have.

When we speak about size we look to accommodate the customer's needs with the available space to house them. A kitchen, for example, may well be filled with standard cabinetry in fixed incremental sizes. Or, we could introduce special sizes to create symmetry, thus appealing to a particular customer need.

Either way, it should not make any difference to the productivity of a modern shop because we can now make a one-off almost as efficiently as multiples.

Finding real value

To be sure the front end that is, the design, parts generation, material needs and production planning is more time consuming in custom work. But when it comes to actual manufacturing, a modern CNC nesting machine does not care much as to what size the pieces are. Efficiency comes from loading and offloading the machine only.

So is it the variation in sizes that defines custom versus a shop that builds standard modules? Shops that build to standard sizes have the burden of inventory, packaging and ever-increasing shipping costs, which the custom cabinetmaker does not have. The non-custom shop typically relies on others to install the product and therefore is unable to deliver the real value that the customer is buying.

The essence of the custom cabinet business is about being able to deliver a product in an efficient and cost-effective manner while delivering real value. After all, stock cabinet companies make only cabinets, while the custom cabinetmaker makes a kitchen.

Delivering value

So, if the good news is that modern custom shops are delivering real value without some of the burdens faced by stock cabinet companies, why is it that the custom cabinet business seems so tedious to so many? Why is it that many shop owners work more than 60 hours a week?

We established the value that you deliver. The secret is to focus on that and ask yourself what needs to be done to deliver it. Look at all other activities which are required to make it flow. Streamline those, automate them or eliminate them altogether. Standardize all aspects of the operation which are not part of the customer's value expectations.

Things like construction details, sizing of parts to maximize yield and standardization of drawer system, as well as operational procedures, are of no interest and have no value in the majority of your customers' eyes. Savings and efficiencies may be gained there for you at no cost to the value perceived by your customer.

The custom cabinet business is not a walk-in-the-park. It is about making the right choices amongst a thousand little things.

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