More bang for your buck

30_feature_01For nearly 30 years, Jim Maddron has run Maddron Cabinets in Sevierville, Tenn. The shop specializes in designing and manufacturing custom cabinets for kitchens, baths, libraries, home offices and more. It caters to a full range of residential and commercial clients, most of them located in the northeast region of the Volunteer State.

While it may appear to outsiders that the company was founded by a skilled craftsman who naturally fell into the flow of making money, that wasn’t the case. Maddron says he learned how to run a business the hard way. He taught himself nearly everything, lacking any formal training other than his high school shop class.

“There’s a lot more to a business than just building cabinets. You have to be good at a lot of things and have a grasp on the business end. I think a lot of shops fail by being weak on the business end, and the bigger your company gets, the more challenging that becomes,” says Maddron.

Learning the trade

Born and raised in Cleveland, Maddron says he wasn’t interested in woodworking at all as a teenager, even though his father was an avid hobbyist. Auto-body repair was his fancy, but he gradually picked up woodworking skills from his father. He was a natural in high school shop and took that for granted. After graduating, he worked for 11 years in a factory that manufactured aluminum.

30_feature_02Owner of: Maddron Cabinets

Location: Sevierville, Tenn.

Shop size: 10,000 sq. ft.

Employees: 7

Years in business: 22

About: The company produces custom cabinetry and millwork for residential and commercial clients in northeastern Tennessee.

Quotable: “I like to design and build things, so woodworking is perfect for me.”

In 1989, Maddron moved to Tennessee to build cabinets with his father. The business was under the same name, Maddron Cabinets, and produced just about anything made of wood, especially doors and cabinets.

Maddron helped guide the business to the next level, purchasing used equipment and building the two facilities that currently house the fabrication and production operations.

“As we started out, everything was slow because we weren’t really pushing the product. After I got settled in, I got more serious about it because I had to make a living. I just kept buying more machinery and expanding. The best thing I ever did was to build a bigger shop. It is difficult to work in a cramped area.”

The customer base

About 70 percent of the company’s workload is acquired through general contractors and repeat customers. In the early 1990s, Maddron networked with a few general contractors and has maintained those relationships. Other orders are received from homeowners lured by the shop’s reputation and website.

Maddron occasionally agrees to out-of-state jobs, but a majority of his clients live within an hour’s drive, specifically in Sevier, Jefferson, Knox, Blount and Hamblen counties. The Sevierville area is becoming a haven for second homes since it’s close to tourist attractions (Dollywood, for example) and a rage of outdoor recreational opportunities.

Tourism has contributed to the shop’s increasing volume of commercial work, which makes up about 15 percent of the business. “A lot of the local hotels and motels are being turned into condos and I see lots more commercial work coming in the future,” says Maddron. He says he is proud to have worked on the Bush Brothers visitor center, detailing the rise of the baked beans business, in Chestnut Hill, Tenn.

With any job, Maddron believes in keeping prices as low as reasonably possible.

“You have some customers out there that pricing’s not an issue to them. But most of the time, everybody wants to shop around and save. I understand because I shop around, too. You don’t go out and buy the first thing you see. You’ve got to be competitive about it.”

Adjusting to the times

Maddron says the company’s specialty is its custom casework, such as kitchen and bath cabinets, and entertainment centers. Millwork services are offered and done on occasion, but there are plenty of shops nearby to handle those jobs.

The volume of work in and out of the shop fluctuates, but the company produces at least two full kitchens a month and many other items in between.

“We actually do some outsourcing work for some other shops from time to time. This helps fill in any gaps we have and it’s good to network with other businesses in woodworking.”

31_featureThe local economy bottomed out in the second half of 2010, but orders have picked up in 2011. “The economy has changed the types of orders and requests we get,” says Maddron. “Now, our middle class clients are ordering smaller amounts of cabinetry and built-in units. They’re not doing whole home packages, for example; just their kitchen or their bathroom.

“We’ve also been doing a lot more remodels lately. There are people out there who waited and waited because they thought they could get a better deal now that the economy’s like it is and they’re right. There’s less work, so you have to get your prices in line to get your jobs.”

Maddron’s shop is set up to build traditional face-frame cabinetry “This is a more conservative area. Our clients like natural wood and there’s not much interest in modern cabinetry. People are aware of their choices, but choose traditional. This is more of a country area and most houses here are not modern; even houses that are high-end have a more traditional look to them.”

30_feature_03About 30 percent of the work is painted, while glazing, antiquing and distressing are the most popular finishing choices. The remaining work is stained with darker hues, a trend which only began recently.

“It seems we’re getting back into darker woods and stains, which hasn’t been popular for a long time. We sell a lot of maple and do a darker stain on that. Some people want cherry because they want to get a dark, black cherry. To me, when you’re staining a piece that dark, you can substitute materials if you want to save your customers some money. We can substitute for maple versus using cherry and give it the same look to save money. It helps them, it helps us.”

Lumber suppliers include Musser Lumber of Rural Retreat, Va.; Gilbert Hardwoods of Huntland, Tenn.; Hood Distribution of Greenville, S.C.; and A&M Supply of Knoxville, Tenn.

In the shop

Maddron lives on the same property as his business. “I like this area. I’ve got 15 peaceful acres and I like to be close to the business. I also have an 1,800-sq.-ft. showroom in Sevierville, which is easier for my customers to reach, but I always invite them out to the shop if they prefer.”

The 10,000-sq.-ft. shop includes two buildings — one for fabrication and construction, the other for large machinery such as the shop’s Komo CNC router and Brandt edgebander, along with three woodworkers. Other employees include a bookkeeper, salesman/designer/estimator and an installer.

33_feature_01“It seems easier to find employees that are good in certain areas of work,” says Maddron. “Laminate fabrication, assembly or installation, for example. Work flows better this way. A good salesman can work directly with new customers and a good installer makes a big difference, too, because he will be in direct contact with some customers.”

Maddron wears many hats, but spends most of his time reviewing and approving drawings generated with KCD software and helps run the CNC router. Maddron has had as many as 10 employees at one time.

The shop also features a Unique 250 door machine; JLT door clamp; Delta shapers and saws; Powermatic table saw; Invicta, Woodmaster and Belsaw planers; Williams & Hussey molder; Ritter face-frame system, boring machine and edgebander; Timesaver widebelt sander; Evans panel saw and Safety Speed Cut panel router

Maddron purchased the Komo CNC in 2004 and happily reports it’s paid off. “A router keeps labor costs down and having one is one reason I don’t need so many employees. It’s a big investment up front, but you need technology to make profits today,” he says.

Wholesale changes?

As for future plans, Maddron says he’s just like every other shop owner with goals to expand his business. “I’d like to grow the volume of work produced. When I had 10 employees, it was pretty hectic, but that’s just natural when you have a lot going on.

33_feature_02“I would also like to get set up with an outside salesman. We get tied up with customers and that takes a lot of time. Going over a customer’s needs is part of our business, but you have a lot less time involved. I would like to get the product done and ship it out.”

Maddron says he’s also looking at wholesaling some cabinets and plans to get started by further developing his website.

“I want to expand into Internet sales; they can really help move products. It is the first place most people look when they are ready to buy something.”

Outside of woodworking, his hobbies include fixing cars — what he originally set out to do. But he adds, “Woodworking is a natural thing for me. I am happy to be making something of value in the U.S.A.”

Contact: Maddron Cabinets, 1180 Parrotts Chapel Road, Sevierville, TN. Tel: 865-429-3423. www.maddroncabinets.com

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.