|Success through familiarity|
Coughlin started subbing out his installations about 15 years ago, but it is not the normal outsourcing arrangement. Once again, experience is a key.
“One fellow, his dad and uncle had a cabinet shop locally, so he was raised in the cabinet industry and they’ve installed for me for years,” he says. “The one guy I use mostly is just incredible. If there’s a slight problem, he doesn’t call you unless he can’t fix it. And the cabinets don’t come back to the shop. He’ll do the slight modification on the job if he can. He was a cabinetmaker and an installer. If you get guys who are strictly installers, they don’t understand the cabinetmaking aspect of it.”
Word of mouth can often be an overused term, but in Coughlin’s case, it’s right on the money. The business doesn’t have a showroom, has never had a Web site and doesn’t advertise. Business is acquired through recommendations and referrals, normally from contractors and interior designers. The familiarity of living and working in the same town for one’s entire life combined with putting out a quality product has been enough to keep Coughlin busy for 30 years.
“It’s kind of funny not having a showroom because when these designers bring their customers out here they say, ‘Now don’t be scared by his display area.’ One thing that always helps us sell a job is if the person has done some research on how cabinets are put together, then they can kind of see. I take people out in the shop and show them how things are being built and how things are being put together and that usually helps sell our jobs.”
Coughlin began using Cabnetware software in 1989 as a sales tool, but its main use now is for project layouts. He relies heavily on the software, although he occasionally has to create life-size layouts by hand for intricate custom projects. It certainly is a long way from the ‘L’-shaped kitchen that existed when he started his business.
“From the ‘L’-shaped kitchen, we went through a phase where everything was an oak slab door with a clear finish and routed finger pulls. Those jobs were just gravy train, you could bang those out. But then the market changed — there was a separating. The middle class kind of went away, so it now seems like it’s either starter homes or the upper-end stuff. We went the upper-end way because of the size of the shop. We could do all the stain and glaze, the mitered door styles, a lot of the carving, that sort of thing. We don’t do islands, we do massive continents.”
Remodeling, new housing
Work produced by Coughlin Custom Cabinets is about 95 percent residential. Commercial jobs don’t normally pop up on Coughlin’s radar. Before the housing market dried up in 2008, the cabinet shop’s business was about 50/50 new housing versus remodels. Now it is at least 70 percent remodels and that number is increasing.
“I think a lot of people are deciding to stay in their homes because the homes aren’t selling like they were before. So they are doing remodels, even just an average-size home where they want a nicer cabinet, something a little more personalized. They don’t want off-the-shelf stuff having to use fillers and working within the 3” increments that modular shops will.”
The remodels range from kitchens to multiple pieces throughout the house such as new entertainment centers, buffets and built-in furniture.
“I think it’s more work for the designers, for Dean and myself, for us to get the remodel stuff out sometimes because there’s more work on our end.”
The new housing market isn’t dead, but its pulse is definitely weaker than it has been for many years. The local growth management plan has made it tougher for the middle class to afford property, according to Coughlin, and therefore new housing is primarily for the wealthy.