Always a step ahead - Staying busy, self-sufficient

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A majority of the material used is maple. Cunningham says his favorite supplier is Downs and Reader in Stoughton, Mass., which he calls a "woodworker's paradise." He subcontracts a finisher after letting clients look through his book of samples.

Back to earlier years when he was still influenced by his older brother's independent thinking and entrepreneurial mind, Cunningham admits he became accustomed to delegating work. To this day, he refuses to hire employees on the chance they might break his stride.

"I've had guys work for me before, and even if you have one extra guy, production doesn't pick up — there's too much discussion. I go into the shop in the morning, put my headset on and go to work. There's no talking."

Cunningham doesn't rule out employees completely, but they would have to be a necessity. For now, he relies on family help. His wife, Stacey, does the brunt of the bookwork. His two teenage sons have helped with installation and odds and ends.

Staying busy, self-sufficient
Things change rapidly in the cabinetry business, and Cunningham has learned he has to stay busy producing a cash flow in between commissions.

"The wider the market you're in, the more power you have to get the money you deserve for it. If you're busier, you have more ability to stick to your price, rather than lowering it to try to stay busy.

The drive-by and walk-in clients are great income gap fillers. They may only want small projects — a few extra doors or an added pantry for their older kitchens — but it's work. Cunningham is also putting more effort into marketing whole house interior finish packages, which are larger blocks of work. Still, he likes to be selective. He may just complete a wall unit and someone else will do the rest of the trim package.

"I've got a job in Cumberland, and because the trim is being painted and caulked, the guy is using a lesser-grade quality on the material. But the media unit that's going into the great room — he wants it to look like a piece of furniture — that's where I come in. So I don't want to get the whole package on that job, I just want to get the finesse work."

As for other interests, livelihoods and hobbies outside of woodworking, Cunningham says he has none. However, pictures of his home during popular holidays decorated with countless vintage yard decorations are a tell-tale sign of his e-Bay shopping habit. Nevertheless, he is proud of the fact that his children call him a wood geek.

"I'm a workaholic. I'm divorced and one of my ex-wife's chief complaints was I worked all the time. I also heard it a lot from other people afterwards. But if it's the worst thing I get accused of, I can live with it. I'm not going to change. I like what I do."