Starting a custom woodworking shop in the struggling Florida market may have seemed foolhardy in 2011. But Grand Woodworking has taken a unique approach as it literally carved out its niche — one that involves using profile knives.
Grand Woodworking was started in 2010 by Neil Heuer, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Eddie Martin, a woodworker accomplished in fine residential interiors. Their paths crossed as Martin remodeled Heuer’s home, and the two hatched a plan to start an architectural millwork company in the Naples, FL, market.
“Eddie actually did a job for me building my home theater,” says Heuer. “We became quick friends and I learned about his capabilities. He had a desire to be his own boss and to be aggressive. Given my entrepreneurial spirit, we decided to pursue this business.” That was in April 2011; the new shop was up and running by July 2011.
As Martin and Heuer laid the framework for the company — providing kitchens and baths, organizational projects like libraries and wine storage, architectural millwork and commercial projects — market conditions began to weigh on their investment decisions.
“When setting up the shop and purchasing equipment we kept in mind the economy as a major factor,” Martin says. “You just can’t get the same money that you could eight years ago. So our key was to produce the highest quality piece for the most cost effective price.”
According to Heuer, “Ninety-nine percent of the equipment is refurbished. This was a motivating factor for us to start this business during the economic lull.”
Pursuing residential architectural millwork as the southern Florida real estate market declined more than 60 percent also lead to leaning on renovations and remodeling, which is a major revenue stream for the company.
“People are renovating their bathrooms and kitchens like we have never seen before,” says Martin. In Naples, he says, estate owners use millwork and other fine woodworking to distinguish themselves and their properties. “It’s no longer ‘low end’ or ‘medium end’ — it’s exclusively ‘high end’. That’s where Grand Woodworking fits in.”
Carving a Niche
This reality has boosted business for Grand who are often called upon to match or extend fine woodworking from solo contractors in high-end homes and businesses.
“With two like kind homes — one having a number of custom features such as hand milled cabinets or quality custom built-ins will always sell faster and typically for more than the blank canvas,” says Glenn Bradley, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Naples.
Grand Woodworking purchased a Holz-Her CNC wood router to streamline production, and soon after obtained 1,800 profile knives which they acquired from a struggling competitor. These knives allow for permutations of cuts and finishes running into the millions of versions, some of them used in their their market for decades, says Martin.
“This is one of the greatest benefits of starting this business in these times,” Heuer explains. “We bought these knives from a company that went out of business. Now we have a library of mouldings that have been in use throughout Southwest Florida for the past 30 years.”
With the CNC router and the extensive knife set in place they were now able to “reproduce or match any molding necessary from crowns, base, chair rails and also radius casework, arches, radius crown moulding, radius casing and radius bases,” Martin explains.
While Grand continued to whittle itself into the woodwork niche of southern Florida, it simultaneously diversified services to radius multi-piece, veneer work. “Really anything and everything related to architectural millwork,” Martin says.
The ability to take on such projects left room for sizeable expansion as Grand continued to gradually grow as the market shifted. Such growth allowed Grand to begin setting up their Naples shop warehouse, which took 10 weeks of 16-hour days to complete their 6,000-square-foot warehouse, which includes around 20 pieces of equipment.
Quality Business Practices
“Our Holz-Her CNC machine is our crown jewel of our manufacturing,” with an SCM edgebander and a Mikron moulder capable of arched mouldings, more equipment is on the horizon. “We are constantly looking for the best tools to help us in our process,” Heuer says. “We were only open for eight months and already replaced our sliding table saw,” Heuer adds. An outdated model was replaced with a newer Altendorf F45.
That CNC machine has helped Grand create complex job components nearly impossible to make by hand. These pieces have been profit centers for their business.
With the equipment and warehouse in place, Heuer and Martin formulated a very specific and focused business model that includes hiring skilled craftsmen, some with over 30 years of experience. Currently, Grand employs around 20, recently adding a second shift due to increased demand.
They also pride themselves providing quality product, which is achieved through up-to-date equipment and a significant business sense. Networking with potential clients is one of the most important aspects of their business model. It is key in driving sales through word-of-mouth.
“We cultivate relationships with people,” says Martin. “When we meet with potential customers it isn’t always about selling, it is more about getting to know this customer and what their expectations are. We work with them to determine their needs and we feel more like consultants than anything else. We hope that our advice, perspective and professionalism are enough to sell the job. We believe in the best for the customer even if it affects the bottom line.”
Grand Woodworking’s owners say they maintain a business model destined to thrive under a wide variety of economic circumstances. Though they want to offer the highest quality product for the best price, “We want to do that without painting ourselves in a corner financially. We aren’t a guy in a garage with a table saw. We are a full-blown operation with a large investment in this to win. We are business people first, conscious of the customer, and we employ the best people we can to provide the best product,” Heuer says.
Grand’s technology extends to more than just the equipment used. From straightforward in-the-shop time tracking to a more involved website for sales lead generation, they are incorporating best management practices in the operation.
According to Martin, many displaced woodworkers are attempting to take on large projects and can’t seem to complete them due to lack of time and resources. And though those woodworkers are bidding low on those projects, often the quality suffers, which has become a harsh realization for designers and contractors.
“We are a well-funded successful business focused on customer satisfaction. A vast number of trade people in the Naples area have recently gone out of business due to their lack of funding,” Heuer explains.
Despite that fact Grand offers some advice for a woodworking marketplace stuck in a state of change.
“Stay strong in your pricing. Don’t give your product away.”
Quality is key in every business but Grand tries to encompass quality relationships with quality products which in turn should encompass quality pricing and help Grand Woodworking maintain an attitude of success.”
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