Mr. [and Mrs.] Hendrickson's Neighborhoods - Building a business

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Over the next decade, he experienced some success, but also some very slow periods. During one of these, he filled in at Above Board, an Austin, Texas, cabinet shop that handled mostly commercial jobs — counters, desks and specialized teleconferencing kiosks. "I swept up and helped anyone who needed help," he recalls. But he also discovered he had a gift for this type of work.

"I learned how to handle laminates, veneers, do radiuses, and a lot more. It was a quick, broad-based education," he says.

In Austin, he met Lisa, who is originally from Albuquerque, N.M. A business strategist, marketing specialist and consultant, she had an organized turn of mind that was to prove invaluable later on when Felix was three months along as the owner of HCC.

But there were a couple of other stops along the way. When his supervisor at Above Board left that company to begin a residential furniture business, Felix trailed along. There, he worked on custom nightstands, beds, tables, chairs and home entertainment centers.

And, still feeling the beat of his music career, he created his own drum set, using six alternating layers of maple and gum. One of these drums is now kept in the mezzanine-level office at HCC, and he is happy to show it to visitors. The drum project led the musician cum cabinetmaker into a gig building drum sets for the Fibes Drum Co., another Austin-based firm with customers all over the world.

Building a business
By the late 1990s, however, Felix and Lisa had tired of Texas and were ready to return to New York. "I went to work for Phillipe Besnard, an old-school French cabinetmaker, and stayed with him for five years, until his retirement," Felix says.

That was the moment Felix went from employee to employer. "I bought his tools and took over his lease, and I was in business," he says.

In the beginning, with just four people rattling around in the 8,000-sq.-ft. facility (6,500 of which are "usable," says Felix), it may have seemed lonely. That changed quickly when Lisa, with her administrative skills, joined the company in April 2003, barely three months after start-up.

The previous owner had an artisan's approach to business, says Felix. Each cabinetmaker worked alone, handling all aspects of a project, from milling the wood to assembling the piece, except for finishing. "We were doing the equivalent of 'knitting sweaters,'" Felix remembers. "We didn't even have an edgebander."

A 5-step program
Recognizing that there were more efficient methods available in the 21st century, the newly minted entrepreneur aimed to break the production process down into steps that could benefit from technology and specialization. "I was convinced that we would complete jobs more quickly and with improved quality," he says. And he was right.