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Given the opportunity to perform, Rick Cunningham of RMC Wood Works in Cranston, R.I., exceeds expectations. He has a high-energy work level that helps him meet the fast-paced demands of running a one-man custom cabinet shop. Competition can be fierce, he says — not with other cabinetmakers, but commercial shops. His secret to finding success is interacting with the end-user, particularly when going through a contractor.

"If I can get through and get to the customer themselves and connect directly with them, people like the fact that they're talking to the person who's going to make the project," he said.

Cunningham, 43, says there are three things that make a good craftsman: skills, talent and the right equipment. With all of the above, he caters to a high-end clientele throughout Rhode Island, building and installing custom cabinetry, wall units, bar and cocktail centers, bathroom vanities, stairs, millwork and trim packages, and any special requests that come his way. While he's always done only residential work since establishing his woodworking business 10 years ago, a recent restoration project for a local top-of-the-line restaurant has sparked his interest in the commercial sector.

Unequivocally, Cunningham's clients have come to respect and count on him. However, he still gets nervous before the customer looks at the work. Customers love it, but to him it can always be better. It has to be perfect.

A strong work ethic


Owner of: RMC Wood Works
Location: Cranston, R.I.
Age: 43
Years of experience: 24
Shop size: 2,600 sq. ft.
About: Rick Cunningham builds custom cabinetry and moldings, as well as mantels, stairways and cocktail centers, mainly for residential homes of Rhode Island clients. He recently got his foot in the door at a high-end restaurant, which has sparked his interest in doing more commercial work.
Quotable: "There are probably 1,000 of me out there. We're all just trying to make a living doing what we love doing."

The 10th-born of 12 siblings, Cunningham says he gets his strong work ethic from his older brother Bill, who owned a landscaping business when he was younger and agreed to let him earn some spending cash pulling logs out of the woods starting at age 12. He learned to show up for work and do his job and it was immediately instilled that nothing would just be given to him. Even more importantly, he learned that in business anybody can get by doing the bare minimum that's required, but that you can get farther by doing a better job than everyone else. He's kept this mentality throughout his entire career.

After graduating from East Greenwich High School in East Greenwich, R.I., Cunningham enrolled at the New England Institute of Technology in Warwick, R.I., where he studied building and cabinetmaking. Upon completion of the program in the early '80s, he spent his next 10 years doing residential framing; the first year working for a residential construction company, then as an independent contractor. Cunningham gradually became more interested in doing finer work, not to mention disinterested in working outside in the brisk New England winters. He had always made furniture on the side and made the decision to offer custom woodworking services in 1998 when he opened RMC Wood Works.

"I wasn't really enjoying the other end, it wasn't challenging enough," said Cunningham. "I essentially wanted do something no one else was doing, and be the best of the best with every piece I do."

Initially, Cunningham had few referrals and pictures of completed work, which made early clients apprehensive. But now when they visit his well-established Web site or talk to his other clients, they understand their money will be well worth the investment.